The Evolution of Social Movements

by Sereen Yusuf

Social movements have certainly changed over time, along with the effect of supranational organizations on the nature of such conflicts. Historical and modern social movements vary in a multitude of ways: different rights are being demanded by the protestors, they face different challenges, the individuals taking part in the protests are treated differently and different groups oppose such movements. Two such examples that highlight the similarities and differences between the historical and modern social movements are the US Civil Rights Movement and the Human Rights Movement. 

The US Civil Rights Movement is an example of a historical social movement. This movement was a struggle for social justice which took place mainly during the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. It was a campaign led by African Americans and their like-minded allies to end institutionalized racial discrimination, disenfranchisement and racial segregation in the United States. In contrast, the Human Rights Movement is an example of a modern social movement. This movement began in the late 1900s and is still prevalent today. It engages in activism related to the issues of human rights and its foundationary aspects include resistance to colonialism, imperialism, slavery, racism, segregation, patriarchy and oppression of indigenous peoples. 

The Civil Rights Movement aimed to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans and secure legal recognition and federal protection of the citizenship rights enumerated in the Constitution and federal law. The protestors demanded equality for Whites and Blacks living in the United States. Similarly, the Human Rights Movement urges the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights for all humans in the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Similar to the Civil Rights Movement, the Human Rights Movement focuses on equality for all. However, unlike the Civil Rights Movement which focused specifically on racial inequality, the Human Rights Movement encompasses all aspects of equality from gender and race to ethnicity and religion. 

Historical social movements faced various unique challenges that many modern social movements do not. As highlighted by the Civil Rights Movement, connectivity was a key issue in historical social movements. Due to the lack of international communication, the Civil Rights Movement occurred at different times around the world. Different individuals led the movement in each region/country, their persuasive techniques working best for people in their respective regions. Contrastingly, rapid globalization has allowed the international community to become more connected than ever. Due to the introduction of the internet and social media platforms, individuals can easily communicate with one another from across the world and relay messages in a matter of seconds. Thus, the Human Rights Movement is an international movement and although much of the movement is local in nature, with the protestors being concerned with human rights violations in their own countries, individuals from around the world are working towards the same goals and rely on an international network of support. There are also many leaders that lead and inspire individuals from around the world, not just the country/region they are from. 

Individuals involved in the US Civil Rights Movement often faced threats and violence. Many were stoned or beaten with baseball bats and buses were bombed while the police looked the other way. During the Birmingham March in 1963 and the Selma March in 1965, protestors faced electric cattle prods, powerful water hoses, vicious dogs, tear gas and clubs. Thousands of the marchers were arrested and faced legal obstacles as the judiciary system was dominated by White males. Furthermore, federal ruling was often ignored as evident by the Central High School, Little Rock incident in 1957. Contrastingly, such violence does not often occur now. Many peaceful protests and marches take place around the world on a daily basis. While some oppose such displays, the protestors do not usually face violence. The opposing groups are aware that if they were to react to peaceful protestors violently, they would lose support as their actions would be broadcasted to the international community. In recent times, protests are joined electronically with support from around the world. 

Many groups oppose social movements, both historical and modern. One key group that opposed the Civil Rights Movement was the Ku Klux Klan. This was a white supremacist group that aimed to maintain white supremacy over black people and immigrants. Dressed in white sheets and hoods, they carried out violence and intimidation through whipping, branding, kidnapping and lynching on both blacks and whites who were seeking to enfranchise the African American population. Some groups, such as radical or extremist nationalist or religious groups also oppose certain aspects of the Human Rights Movement. 

The key supranational organization in place during both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Rights Movement was the United Nations, an international body that is still around today. Founded after the Second World War, the United Nations is committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the United Nations as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and nations. This document states human rights should be protected by the rule of law and the peoples of the United Nations are determined to promote social progress, human rights and a common understanding of these rights. It goes on to say that everyone is free and should be treated equally, everyone has the right to live in freedom and safety, everyone has the right to be treated equally. Although this was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948, they did not interfere in the Civil Rights Movement when protestors were facing threats and violence. Both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Rights Movement strive(d) to uphold the terms laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but neither received aid or support from the United Nations. 

As made evident by the examples given above, social movements have changed drastically over time. Different rights are being demanded by the protestors of historical and modern social movements, they face different challenges, the individuals taking part in the protests are treated differently and different groups oppose such movements.

The Joe Biden Series: Lloyd Austin

The Biden Administration Series is a series of short articles doing profiles on the politicians Biden is appointing to his Cabinet. Each article will discuss the person’s political history and the potential implications their addition to the administration could have on the public.

Lloyd Austin

  • Party: N/A
  • Education: United States Military Academy (BS), Auburn University (MA), Webster University (MBA)
  • Four-star Army General
  • Vice Chief of Staff of United States Army
  • Commander of United States Central Command

Continuing Joe Biden’s streak of selecting Cabinet members that break barriers is Lloyd Austin. The retired four-star Army General has just been confirmed as Biden’s Secretary of Defense, making him the first black person to serve in the position. Austin has had a long and distinguished career in the military and was confirmed as Secretary of defense by the Senate on January 24th. 

Austin’s whole life has been involved with the United States military. After graduating from West Point, he immediately began serving in the Army. In 2010, he became Commanding General of the United States Forces in Iraq (USF-I); this is where he first met Joe Biden. Over the next year, Austin oversaw the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, a massive operation involving 150,000 soldiers. 

After leaving Iraq, Austin became the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, managing the day-to-day operations of the organization. Under his supervision, the army took steps to implement better mental health care provisions and reduce cases of suicide. The wellbeing of the military has always seemed to be a priority of Austin’s, and we’ve seen this pattern continue during the short time he has served as Defense Secretary. Hours into being confirmed in his new position, Austin ordered a thorough review of sexual assault prevention practices in the military, demanding reports on how the military’s current practices were doing and whether or not they needed to be overhauled. He reportedly wants to ‘stamp out’ sexual assault in the military. 

An interesting facet of Austin’s appointment is that Joe Biden felt the need to pen an article for The Atlantic, aptly titled “Why I Chose Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense.” As far as I can recall, this isn’t a common practice. But this article sings praises of Austin, and in Biden’s defense, he does seem like a good choice for the position, especially evidenced by the few things he’s implemented since being confirmed. In the article, Biden describes Austin as ‘the definition of a patriot,’ ‘distinguished,’ and a ‘trailblazer.’ However, his nomination was met with some concern. Some Congress members were concerned about his confirmation’s impact on civil-military relations. However, when it came time to vote, only two members of Congress, Josh Hawley (MO-R) and Mike Lee (UT-R) voted against him. We look forward to seeing more from Lloyd Austin in the future, and hope that whatever decisions he make are indeed in line with the following statement from President Biden:

“We need a leader who is tested, and matched to the challenges we face in this moment. I know how he reacts under pressure, and I know that he will do whatever it takes to defend the American people.”