From colonial origins through the current neoliberal New Gilded Age, American life, politics, and policy has been significantly shaped by grassroots social movements that have made history “from the bottom up.” This class will survey some of the most significant and inspiring of these movements colonial origins through the present. Topics include the early U.S. labor movement(s), the anti-slavery abolitionist movement, the early women’s rights movement, the great “slave General Strike” (W.E.B. DuBois) of 1863-1865, the agrarian Populist movement, the early women’s movement, the radical syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, the industrial workers movement (CIO) of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the Black Power movement, the Chicano and farmworker movement, the American Indian Movement, the feminist movement of the 1970s, the environmentalist movement, the Gay Rights movement, the contemporary immigrant rights movement, the Wisconsin public worker rebellion of early 2011, the Occupy movement of late 2011, and the Fight for Fifteen and the Black Lives Matter movement today.
We will examine past and contemporary social movements with an eye (among other things) to the social and historical circumstances that led to their rise, the strategies, tactics, and world views that influenced both their successes and their failures, the responses of elites and dominant institutional and power structures (including repression, accommodation, co-optation and other methods of control), and the overall and long-term consequences of social movements in the (U.S. of) American experience. Critical questions include (but are not limited to) these: how and why social movements have succeeded and failed in American history? What obstacles to success and keys to popular and social movement failure are most clearly within the sphere of activists’ influence? What can we learn (as current or future activists) from the record that will help us to spark, nurture, and expand militant grassroots social movements in the U.S. today?  The instructor makes no pretense of being a “detached,” “neutral,” and “objective,” Mandarin-like observer of the history examined in this class. He is an open proponent of rank-and-file social movement-building and citizen action to confront and overthrow organized wealth and power. Students will be encouraged not only to deepen their understanding of the lessons of American social movement history but to apply those lessons directly in active social movement participation during this class. Activists ready and willing to share their own recent and real-time lessons are encouraged to join.