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Social Movement Digest #5

It’s been a pretty busy start of the year for those of us interested in social movement activities, protest and more! From Extinction Rebellion, one of the most well-known climate activist groups globally, saying they’ll pause public disruption to huge climate protests in Germany fighting against the expansion of a coal mine.

On the topic of German climate activism against coal, you can listen to a podcast that James did with DW, the German news broadcaster, on their environmental podcast Living Planet. The whole episode is definitely worthwhile listening to, but for those curious few - James talks from 19:15 about the impact of radical tactics, nonviolence, government repression and more. We were also asked for some comments and quotes about XR’s new strategy to avoid public disruption, which you can see in a Guardian article and France24 article. For the German readers, James was also interviewed for the Swiss NZZ newspaper too.

Top Recommendations

  • Quite an amazing article (paywall bypassed link here) by the Financial Times about Just Stop Oil and radical protest. It’s one of the most in-depth explorations of the motivations, both philosophical and empirical, behind the radical tactics of Just Stop Oil and similar activists. I highly recommend checking this one out!

  • I’ve been reflecting on why we tend to see spurts of high-intensity action, such as Extinction Rebellion and Fridays For Future in 2019, which then usually quietens down quite quickly (even with no global pandemic). This piece, Why radical activism has a short shelf life, touches on this, and draws similarities between the UK climate movement in the 2019-2021 and the climate movement in the late 2000s. A key reason the author concludes is the difficulty in retaining committed activists: a reason all too common who have witnessed amazing activists suffer burnout after burnout (see more of his writing here)

  • For the third post of a great series of explainers, two of the co-founders of the Sunrise Movement explain, in wonderful detail, what the structure and governance of the Sunrise Movement looked like. For people who want to understand the difficulties in governing a rapidly growing mass-movement organisation, with a preference for democratic decision making, this is the piece for you!


  • An interesting MSc thesis provides evidence for the (intuitive) view that people's attitudes towards a protest group and the underlying cause are strongly influenced by how the media frame the protests. Essentially, when the same protests are framed negatively, people support the protestors and their cause less, are less willing to join etc. They also varied whether the protests used radical tactics or not and this also mattered to some extent but less relative to media framing. Building on similar results we’ve found in our various public opinion studies, radical tactics were not associated with decreased support for the cause

  • A new paper on the outcomes of the 15M/Occupy protest movement in Spain finds that “street protests can have long-lasting effects on political concerns and electoral choices, explained, in part, by the creation of a persistent online social network.” It also claims that the Spanish 15M/Occupy movement caused “cities with higher attendance to be more concerned about corruption and vote more for left wing and anti-corruption parties and less for far-right parties.”

  • Interesting experiment on how getting arrested affects people’s likelihood of winning votes at an election. In a nutshell, getting arrested seems to always harm your likelihood of winning votes with right-leaning votes, but this isn’t true for left-leaning voters. If you get arrested at a left-wing protest, this could actually be seen as an asset by left-leaning votes. Additionally, certain demographics face much more severe consequences if it known they have been arrested, such as black people if trying to attract right-leaning voters

  • Whilst I haven’t read it yet, this paper argues that violent revolutions have actually been more successful than nonviolent revolutions. The paper states that “Though nonviolence may be superior to violence when it comes to toppling autocrats, it is less effective in bringing about lasting change and guaranteeing that these autocrats never return.”

News & Media articles

  • James wrote a personal blog post about a movement strategy called “prophetic promotion” - an often used tool to excite people about a big vision.

  • Insulate Britain activists were acquitted by a jury for the second trial in a row. However, shortly after the third Insulate Britain case for public nuisance led to a guilty verdict, with sentencing to come at a later date.

  • The UK government is trying to further criminalise protest with the proposed introduction of new legislation. This legislation would mean that:

    • The police could stop protests before they even disrupt anything

    • Protestors could be forced to wear electronic tags, not be allowed to attend protests, prohibited from talking to certain people and even restricted from using the internet in some ways if deemed a threat.

  • In late November, the Tyre Extinguishers took their biggest action to date by targeting 900 SUVs in one night.

  • New UK-based grassroots movement funder - the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Fund now has a movement fund

That’s all for this month, but please do share our newsletter if you found it interesting! If someone forwarded you this email, you can sign up to our newsletter here.


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