Activists are comprised of many individuals. David S. Meyer says, “Movements are always comprised of a wide range of people – people who have an equally wide range of reason for engaging in social action.” (Pg 45) This suggests that although there may be common reasons for people to join in on a social movement, there are a multitude of reasons why each individual actually becomes an activist.
Meyer’s accounts some descriptions written by reporters of activists from a protest. All had different opinions of who the activists were, and all list witnessed first hand the activists and their approach in a protest. One described them as a certain type of people, nearly labeling them bums. Another said that they were a people who just wanted to act out. While another called them intellectuals looking for participation. Meyer’s argues all reasons are true.
Doers and Followers
“Every social movement is composed of both committed and informed organizers and nutty hangers-on.” (Pg 46) So this means activists are comprised of doers and followers. Just like any other political organization. Meyer’s even says that these movements are liken unto political parties, or modern day politics. The exact same principles apply because they’re heading for change, and trying to organize.
Activist = Intellectual
While the media might portray the anarchy tendencies of a protest, or suggest activists are hippies... It is probably the opposite. Being an activist is really the opposite of being a hippie. “Activists in social movements are disproportionately advantaged in terms of education, resources, familial support, and social connections.” (pg 47) This suggest then that the more educated, the more intellectual, the more likely you are to participate in a social movement. Obviously the powerful people who are fine in economic terms will be unlikely to join – unless the movement affected one of their ideals. But there is a bottom line. “First, the best predictor of why anyone takes on any political action is whether that person has been asked to do so.” (Pg 47) This is true because if you don’t know about something, you aren’t going to join it. What was even more peculiar was that it isn’t the people who aren’t involved in politics that are protesting or socially organizing, but rather the ones who understand the political system already. The PTA is the example Meyers gives. They know the issues, they then create the mobilization. He extends this argument to communities, which only makes sense. Someone who attends communities meetings, or is engaged actively in their own political life. There might be some irony to point out about selecting jurors here. People who vote are more likely to have some sort of ideology to default to – and are actively participating. Why then do courts frequently default to voter lists for juror selection?
The most compelling reason Meyer gives is his fourth. “Fourth, a person’s community connections, feelings of efficacy, and even basic political attitudes begin developing very early in life… (aided) by religion traditions, community values, and family.” (Pg 48) This is compelling for two reasons. One, the community you grow up in is going to have the most influence on you than any other factor. This includes religion, but it also includes neighbors. I for one feel stronger about basing my political ties to the people who aided me while growing up. For instance those silly school fundraisers; I participated in one in my “rich” neighborhood and ended up selling 1500 dollars in candles, 45% of that basically went to my pocket, paid for my choir trip with cash to spare. You better believe I’d go to bat or backup my community and neighborhood. Then there’s the religious leaders who gave much spiritual support. They are leaders in the community that everyone looks up to.
Activists are Activists for Life
Activists are activists for life. Even the one time participant thinks of themselves as an activist in that particular area for the rest of their lives. It creates commitment. But the problem with activism is the level of commitment. Each participant has their own level of commitment, and their own ideals, or reasons for their role. There’ “always an unending supply of things to do” (Pg 55) too. Which means activists can burn out. There’s also a danger that the movement gets thwarted or labeled as “evil,” i.e. undemocratic, aggressive, just those typical terrorist claims. And as Meyer concludes, people who like drama are attracted to the movements full of them. That can cause a thwarting of everything the movement stands for.
David S. Meyer, The Politics of Protest, Social Movements in America, pgs 45-55.