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Left Social Justice Movement in the US, Report

Social justice leaders N’Tanya Lee and Steve Williams wondered, “Where is the outrage?” about recession austerity measures led by “neoliberalism’s elites,” high unemployment, ecological disasters, and racism. They got their answer in the global uprisings of 2011. To update activism in the US after the 2011 Occupy mobilizations and look into the future, Lee and Williams started the Ear to the Ground project. They interviewed 158 social justice leaders and were surprised to find a high degree of consensus. Most (65%) said they were anti-capitalist, but many lacked a descriptive political label and a systematic strategy for a better world. The authors bemoan the absence of a strong Left and advocate building “a new kind of Left for our times, rooted in feminist social relations and “on-the-ground social movements.”

Two-thirds of the interviewees were people of color and slightly more men than women, with one-third of the interviewees from the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite their efforts, they didn’t include young people under age 20. The interviewers found fragmentation and a lack of a unified front, recognizing the need for what Naomi Klein called a “movement of the movements.” They believe the time is now with multiple crises generating a “tipping point” for change.  The authors propose a one-source movement media center and a new Left political party, “united for socialism.” They suggest reexamining the culture of the social justice movement to eliminate competition for funding, judmentalness, ego, crankiness, obsession with process and ideological purity, racism and sexism, overwork, lack of leadership training for youth, and expressing more anger than hope. Not one activist said the movement’s overall culture sustained them. They were united in believing the uprisings of 2011—the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall St., were the most exciting political events they’d ever experienced. They believed that Occupy shifted Tea Party power to the left and helped elect President Obama. They also pointed to protests against the governor of Wisconsin’s attack on public sector unions, Florida demonstrations against the vigilante against murder of black teen Trayvon Martin, and student immigrant “Dreamer” protests as signs of continuing grassroots action.

N’Tanya Lee and Steve Williams, “More Than We Imagined,” Ear to the Ground, May 2013. http://eartothegroundproject.org/report


Do women and men have different styles of activism, leadership, organizing?

Do you observe that young women and men have different syles of leadership, organizing, priorities? Could you ask this question of your acquaintances? I divided my global youth book into two books, one about youth culture and one about activism. Thanks, Gayle gkimball at csuchico.edu


Here’s the first response from a young woman:

Christina (age 18) Trinidad and Tobago:

Well I believe that women are generally more organized than men and have a more perfectionist attitude
They know what they want the out come to be and they know the way to get there
Whereas a man may know what he wants too but will more likely take the go with the flow approach
He may quicker delegate duties than a woman which in some ways can be considered better or more advantageous Leadership styles I think depending more own personality than gender”

Some believe that women are more likely to be peacemakers than men. The Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Haskin said she would use her feminine qualities of “strength and gentleness” to heal her country’s divisions. The president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye campaigned saying she “would govern like a mother dedicated to her family. To make you happy is reason I do politics.” (Both these leaders were preceded by powerful male relatives, the former her brother and the latter her father.) However, North Korean leaders blamed Park for increasing tensions on the peninsula with her “venomous swish of skirt,” a Korean term used to describe controlling women.

Gloria Steinem explained, “Women are not more than men, but we don’t have our masculinity to prove—so we are and will be good peacemakers,” as they have been in Ireland and Liberia. However, a review of psychological studies of men and women in the US concluded that gender differences are small.[i] Women may be more aggressive than men when they think they’re anonymous. In a survey of support of military force in recent US conflicts, 51% of men and 43% of women supported the use of force, only 8% difference.

Ecofeminist Vandana Shiva argues that capitalist patriarchy has constricted women and that “we need another worldview that happens to be more alive in the sustaining and caring culture of womankind.”[ii] The Dalai Lama stated that the world’s future is in the hands of Western women because “females have more sensitivity for others’ pain and suffering,” implying that women with economic resources have the motivation and power to improve the human condition.

A Foreign Policy magazine survey of 43 international women politicians reported that 84% believe that having more female leaders would alter their government’s policies and 65% believe they would bring more peace.[iii] In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker argues for increasing equality for women because of what he calls “feminization” and “the feminine style” of leadership results in less violence.[iv] He states, “Traditional war is a man’s game: tribal women never band together to raid neighboring villages.” Examples of women’s groups that work for peace are Code Pink, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Nigeria’s Niger Delta’s Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Center (www.kebethachewomen.org).

[i] Rosa Brooks, “Women Are from Mars Too,” Foreign Policy, August 9, 2013.


[ii] Rob Sidon, “Vandana Shiva: Ecofeminism and the Sanctity of Seed,” Common Ground Magazine, October 2012, p. 48.

[iii] Margaret Slattery, “The FP Survey: Women in Politics,” Foreign Policy, May 2012. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/23/the_fp_survey_women_in_politics

[iv] Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature. Viking Adult, 2011.


Millennials are Practical Idealists says author David Burstein

When he was only 24-years-old, Millennial David Burstein wrote Fast Future about Americans born from 1980 to 1994, having spent six years interviewing hundreds of his peers. He got started in activism as a filmmaker of Generation18 that was used to encourage young voters to register in 2008. He concluded that Millennials are practical idealists and activists. Unlike the Boomers, they’re not ideologues, revolutionaries, or anti-authority. He traces his generation’s patient pragmatism to realism learned from growing up in an era when rapid change is the only constant, when institutions and authority are collapsing and disaster follows disaster—environmental and social. Enabled by their use of technology and free social media (over half of them add online content every week) they’ve already made significant change. “We’ve toppled dictators, helped elect a president, created social networks that have connected the world, forced businesses to adopt a social agenda broader than profit—and all before most of us have turned thirty.”[i]

Burstein believes Millenials have a “passion for making a difference” as by building large online activist organizations such as Facebook’s Causes as the larges online activist platform with over 100 million users, Mobilize.org, Ourtime.org, and DoSomething.org. The latter claims to be the largest US nonprofit for young people and social change with 1,425,974 million members who “kick ass on causes they care about” such as bullying or homelessness. Millennials use technology for relief work such as raising money for Haiti through texting and cell phone donations. (He adds that they also bought more books than other generation in 2011.)

Most Millennials (88% according to a Pew survey) believe they should and can change the world. Because of high youth unemployment, they’ve become social entrepreneurs who create their own jobs with a social conscience: Burstein reports almost a third of all US entrepreneurs are Millennials. As effective changemakers, they’ve generated “cultural shifts” in the workplace with less hierarchy, more access to executives, dialogue with customers, insistence on a social responsibility policy, and a more enjoyable work environment.

Wanting to hear from a Millennial about these charges of apathy, narcissism, anxiety and depression, I talked with David Burstein, author of Fast Future. He agrees alarmists have a loud voice and books like The Dumbest Generation become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He notes you can conduct research to tell you what you want. He pointed out that narcissism is not unique to this generation and Boomers in the 60s were known for “free love” and sexual liberation. Popular culture today is about self-confidence and self-branding, a culture of self-empowerment, which has resulted in young people becoming leaders in the present, not just future leaders as they get older. Every generation has partyiers, it doesn’t matter if there are more of them, what counts is the ability of an individual to influence many others. What does it matter if they’re doing activism and drinking?

If you look at all the studies of Millennials, far more are socially engaged. If you scan all the analysis of what they want in employer relationships, business, and politics, the picture is pretty clear. Social-mindedness has a bigger footprint and individuals have more impact through access to theirs peers. The people Burstein went to high school with can read about Fast Future and are aware of what he’s doing and his issues. He gets messages on Facebook even from students he knew in middle school that are inspired by his activism. Burnstein says people become ambassadors and carry their message forward. The fact that Millennials have introduced change before they turned 30, suggests their long-term impact on social awareness. Also, many volunteer and give money to charities, which suggests they’ll continue with their giving habits.

About mental illness, Burstein asks where do we draw the line between mental illness and stress in an era of increasing stress? Stress is not necessarily a bad thing, only if it is managed poorly. If you look at a Harris poll conducted for The American Psychological Association study of generations, Millennials are more stressed than older generations, with an average of 5.4 self-report on a stress scale from 1 to 10, compared to 4.9 for older respondents to the poll.[i] Their main sources of stress are work (76%), money (73%) and relationships (59%). They are more likely to be told by a health care provider that they have depression (14%) or an anxiety disorder 12%). Burstein says Millennials have to figure out how to find a job and make money, and be happy, but we have the ability to adapt. Why are so many optimistic about the long term? We’re trying to make something out this time in our 20s, not just getting married, but having new experiences.

I also asked David Burstein about the difference between Generations Y and Z. He thinks the big difference is his generation experienced both pre-digital and digital technology: The guiding principle for Millennials is they straddled the line. They know what it’s like to do a research project in the library but intuitively used Twitter and other social media to create political change like the Arab Spring. In contrast, Gen Z knows nothing but digital technology, as illustrated in a popular YouTube video showing a one-year-old girl trying to make a magazine cover move like an iPad.[i] Gen Z could know far more growing up with educational games on their iPhone, but Burstein questions if this familiarity with technology and instant culture will allow them to navigate the world better. “If you’re not grounded in real world experiences, it’s harder to see the problems; they have more instant culture without first being grounded in the pre-internet and pre Facebook world.” Whereas Millennials are often entrepreneurs due to coming of age in a recession, “my feeling is Gen Z will be less entrepreneurial. Also, the biggest impact is coming to technology fully formed rather than helping to shape it.” Their parents are Gen X, characterized as being rather apathetic, not as focused on parenting as Baby Boomers who raised Millennials. He thinks Gen X parents are so comfortable with social media they aren’t as protective about privacy online, and setting up ground rules, while Millennial parents are still figuring it out.

[i] Sharon Jayson, “Who’s Feeling Stressed: Young Adults, New Survey Shows,” USA Today, February 7, 2013.


[i] David Burstein. Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World. Beacon Press, 2013, p. xviii.

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