Blog 13- Media and Social Movements

The conversations on social movements transitioned to a discussion on the role of the media and affirmative action.  Thomas Shapiro shared Prof. Crenshaw’s idea of building off of the globalization movement by globalizing the need to transform the existing social hierarchy.  One way to do this, he noted was through the media. Shaprio stressed, however, that a more nuanced approach was needed since the media plays a different role from country to country. He also saw the need for a “go to” organization that the media would seek out whenever issues on affirmative action arose. 

Shapiro brought up the need for nation specific “think tank” organizations that can provide a counter narrative to existing conservative organizations against affirmative action policies. With the goal of the think tanks coordinating efforts internationally. 

Eleonore Lepinard also argued for an approach to the media that saw it as a useful tool, not just as the opponent of affirmative action.  While the media is often seen as conservative, she mentioned an encounter with a journalism professor in France who actually thought more gender equality training programs would be good for the next generation of journalists. With people in the institutions willing to consider change, Lepinard felt that the media could become an ally in the affirmative action movement.  

In terms of creating a social movement, Steven Friedman noted three elements that needed to be addressed: 1) mobilization 2) correlation problem and 3) negotiation. But the key element is time and the need to start laying the foundation for changes in the coming years. As he pointed out, it took corporate interests 25 years to invest themselves into the government, and the same sort of time is needed for affirmative action advocates. 

In addition, a participant from India noted, that even with implementation of affirmative action policies, that these can change due to conservative forces coming to power or simply due to time.  

Another participant noted the tension between academia and activism. In France, the feminists of the 70’s were appropriated into academia. Now feminists or activists are “created” by attending university. So, the affirmative action movement needs to be able to reconcile academic work with grassroots mobilization. In fact, the participant felt that was what was required of good academics, the ability to meld the intellectual with activism. 

In addition to building links with academia, was the need to link with other coalitions. One participant noted the benefits of learning from the HIV/AIDS movement. What were the problems and successes of these other movements? These elements could help affirmative action activists learn how to build the movement from the bottom up, instead of the other way around.   

The role of NGO’s and international conferences such as those in Durbin also helps mobilize people and create an international movement around social inclusion issues. These conferences also help returning activists and scholars put pressure on their own countries to implement better policies, as in the case of Brazil.  It also offered an opportunity to highlight the successes and failures still existing in countries like India, with one of the longest existing affirmative action programs in the world.

Ultimately, constituency building was also a big priority suggested by one of the participants.  In order to do this, a participant Brazil noted the need to increase public education on affirmative action. More often then not, people turn against the policy due to lack of information.  One “homework” for the participants suggested by one speaker was to write an article each year reaching out to the broader public.  One participant noted the effectiveness of writing socially conscious children’s books in India.  In general, all the participants agreed that in order to overcome public resistance to affirmative action and build a social movement, more coalition building, public education and working with the media is needed.





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