Historical Framing and Solidarity

The words that resonated with me most during yesterdays conference at Harvard/Berkman was from the second session about why social mobilization happens in so many countries at once. The third presenter simply said that global waves always happen and have happened since the 18th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite catch every single case he had to prove that global waves happened but I appreciated the simplicity of his case.  He mentioned imperialism and how in most of history the waves have started from European/North American regions. There is a historical precedent for global waves but what does that mean for future movements? What can movements learn from history? What are the most important lessons to learn?

With that being said, the article “Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and Historical Frames: 2011, 1989, 1968” by Michael Kennedy fit in nicely with what the presenter was saying about global waves and history.


It is helpful to compare movements by thinking historically. According to Kennedy, it can help us reframe our expectations for global transformations too. The first portion of his article focuses on making the distinction that the global wave in 2011 is not the same global wave as in 1989. There are important parallels between the two. In both movements, the Western elites were unprepared and did not expect protest mobilizations to spread with such speed or to endure for very long. The dynamics of the relationships between politicians and people changed.  Kennedy argues that there are three big differences between 1989 and 2011 and therefore, if we are seeking historical parallels, we should look to 1968 as a better comparison to Occupy.

His main argument is that 1968 is better to look at when comparing Occupy historical movements because during 1968 the normal was defined by imperialism struggling to hold on to the world defined to elites alienated from mass public. The Occupy movement has no clear road map but like 1968, public demonstrations for dignity and justice are expanding across the world,  “the normal has become insufferable.” Without a clear map, some say that Occupy movement is doomed to fail and for his end point, Kennedy looks back to 1980 for his final historical frame.  Poland’s Solidarity movement of 1980-81 is what Kennedy believes should inspire the future movements. Solidarity is especially important in 2011.

After reading Kennedy’s article and listening to the conference at Harvard/Berkman I thought about my final project with Kelly about comparing the historical frameworks of the Bonus Army during the Great Depression and Occupy movement.  Global waves occurred during both movements but what is the impact of the global wave on the movements itself? Is solidarity gained through knowing that the rest of the nation is facing a depression or “occupying”? Can these global waves give the world a solidarity that Kennedy believes is the greatest good to be realized in 2011? While solidarity might not have been reached after the Great Depression it will be interested to see if this solidarity can be reached in the future.


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