Studying Political Organizing and Activism

I got this email about a class being offered at the University of Michigan Residential College next semster on community organizing. The course is being taught by RC Seniors Sarah Barcus and Ryan Bates and supervised by Professor Helen Fox.

Here’s the description:

RCIDIV 351 Section 5
Community Organizing: Theory and Praxis

Instructors: RC Seniors Sara Barcus & Ryan Bates, and Helen Fox Ph.D

Community Organizing Theory and Praxis is a student designed and led 2-credit (credit/no credit) mincourse. This course uses a comparative survey of US social movements since 1900 to examine the theories which have molded community organizing and social change strategies. The course is targeted at freshmen and sophomore students, though all, both inside and outside the RC, are welcome to enroll. The course meets Mondays and Wednesdays, 2:00-3:00 pm for the entire Winter Semester.

The course will focus on several core questions, including:

  • -What IS community organizing? What theories of collective action underlay it?
  • What are the effects of the rise of professional social change organizations (NGO’s?)
  • How does social identity shape organizing strategies?
  • Why do movements choose certain tactics? How do tactics relate to collective action?
  • How has globalization affected community organizing strategies?

The course will look at the following movements, plus more, in depth:

  • Early industrial unionism of the 30’s and 40’s
  • Civil Rights and Black Power during the 60’s and 70’s
  • LGBT AIDS activism during the 80’s
  • Pro-Choice and Pro-Life organizing strategies during the 80’s and 90’s
  • Farmworker unionism during 60’s
  • The Chicano Rights movement
  • The many currents of Feminism
  • Environmental movements in Michigan right now
  • Latin American solidarity in the 80’s Student solidarity in the 90’s

I have taught two related courses, not quite as ambitious in scope and specifically about student activism in both cases. The first course was my Honors 135.006 course offered Winter 2004 about the history of student activism at the University of Michigan. Although the administration likes to use Michigan’s unique history as a large, diverse, and active campus while recruiting students and faculty or fundraising, there have been few systematic efforts to study the contentious history. I found through my research and our explorations in the course that not only have activists been around Michigan for a while, their concrete demands and claims have often found their way into the highest levels of the administration. The Center for the Education of Women and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (CAAS) can both trace their history to student activism. Furthermore, I would argue student activism in the 1960s and 1970s is a primary cause Michigan is a champion of “diversity” today. At the time I put together a simple webpage about the course, and I have just uploaded a complete syllabus with the majority of the course readings: History of Student Activism at the University of Michigan (PDF).

For PFAW’s Young People For project I designed a taught a course last spring on the History of Student Activism in the U.S. The syllabus was more of a challenge and I made several research trips to the Library of Congress and conducted a literature review at the time to identify some good readings for the class. I attempted to examine with the students how activists had changed the structure, curriculum, and values of their colleges and universities, and examine the role they had more broadly in impacting public opinion and serving as political actors in the broader community. Here’s the syllabus for that course, which includes most of the readings: History of Student Activism 101. I am looking forward to further developing this latter history of student activism course in my role as the coordinator of the Young People For progressive online academy.

Author: Rob Goodspeed