Publication Date

Summer 8-19-2016

Degree Name

MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management

First Advisor

Susal Stebbins-Collins

Second Advisor

Karen Blanchard

Abstract

Due to a recent upswing of college protests, and generational theory authors positioning Millennials as powerful players in building a new left to shift American politics, this research seeks to understand how different generations of organizers for social change approach their work. Emerging literature on social movements, political efficacy, and generational frameworks, combined with an analysis of the current political climate, illustrate the strong possibility of this new left being built.

This study asked participants of multiple generations about their experiences in the field to uncover perceptions of their role in the movement, differences in collective and external efficacy, and how organizers cope with organizing in the world as it is while aspiring for deeper, more structural change. To conduct this research, a survey was sent out to organizers in the field that yielded results from six members of the Baby Boomer generation, five members of Generation X, three organizers who identified as Generation Y, and sixteen Millennials. In addition, five in-depth interviews, three with Millennials, and two with non-Millennials, and a focus group with two Millennials and two non-Millennials were carried out.

The experiences of these organizers, while not representative of their entire generations, showed that while there were many common threads, the formative experiences of generational cohorts deeply affect the way they frame the work. Defensive or “SOS” organizing and a focus on electoral work and winnable initiatives seem to have had an impact on the overall efficacy of older organizers, while Millennials point to Occupy, the Bernie Sanders campaign, and Black Lives Matter as inspiration to escalate the movement… or the moment? The separation of the movement and the moment, and how to balance the two, emerged as an ongoing question that will have profound implications on the potential of organizers to build the new left.

Disciplines

American Politics | Civic and Community Engagement | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change