Sources of Change: Social Movements and U.S. Political Parties — Evolutionary and Revolutionary Change

From More than Red and Blue: Political Parties and American Democracy
Washington march for jobs.


Social movements are asking how organized and mobilized masses address power and power holders. Parties are among these power holders, but more widespread concerns about fascism have led to questions about the viability and responsibilities of parties. Therefore, we aim to understand the relationship between these two entities. We begin by differentiating between social movements seeking evolutionary and revolutionary change. Evolutionary change includes movements working within and towards maintaining fundamental governing and organizing structures (e.g., Christian Conservatism and the Tea Party). Revolutionary change describes movements working to fundamentally change power structures and underlying power distribution (e.g., Black Lives Matter and White Nationalism). Others still cross these boundaries in complex ways (Civil, Women’s, and LGBTQ+ Rights). And as for parties, we point back to the initial questions — who is holding power in parties and how might it be democratically distributed and resistant to fascism and authoritarianism? We highlight critical scholarship, that which has long addressed white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, trans- and homophobia, as key to advancing these conversations and the causes of marginalized communities. Change is less about new ideas and more about new considerations of communities with longstanding investments in the work of liberation.

Social movements are often defined either by their functioning — as mobilized dissent or strategic coalitions and compromise — or through differentiation from other coordinated action in groups, factions, lobbyists, and parties. For this reason, we begin with a baseline definition of the actual term. Touraine1Touraine, Alain. 1985. “An Introduction to the Study of Social Movements.” Social Research: 749-787. says, “social movements should be conceived as a special type of social conflict.” What makes these social conflicts special are their seeking change in political, social, and cultural distributions of power. And as for functioning and differentiation, social movements are when these special social conflicts coincide with organized groups establishing political coalitions with the masses.

The challenge in defining social movements is that they span multiple political contradictions. Later in the piece, for example, we discuss both Trumpism and the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) — aligning only in each qualifying as social movements. Even the scholarship is somewhat siloed, with social movements driving questions that political science answers in varied yet distinct ways. How many people are required for a mass coalition? Who does the counting? What criteria qualifies groups as organized? When are they being measured? And on relationships between political and social movements, these “special conflicts,” where is power held and why are we compelled to redistribute?

It is through this final question that we find the best way to explain social movements and their relationships to U.S. political parties. Our attempt to best clarify scholarly debates within, across, and beyond two categories — evolutionary and revolutionary. These categories represent different scholarly paradigms even when the reality of social movements supersedes their distinctions.

Again, we ask where is power held and why redistribute? We use “evolutionary” to describe social movements and scholarship that work within and generally towards maintaining the fundamental structures of U.S. government, politics, and parties. And then we use “revolutionary” to describe social movements and scholarship that work towards fundamentally changing the structures and power distribution. The subsequent section on evolutionary social movements discusses Christian Conservatism and the Tea Party — each answering questions of power with favorable redistribution within the current structure of U.S. government and politics. The revolutionary section then discusses the M4BL, Anti-War, and Trumpism/ White Nationalist movements.

Additionally, the foundational call of our collective chapters happens to be the very same as social movements — to investigate responsibility and norms, refraining and undermining, respect and tolerance in U.S. government, politics, and specifically, parties. To this, we acknowledge that social movements are not neatly distributed on dichotomous variables, but like parties they contain a breadth of political ideals under one shared banner. Therefore, we also discuss social movements that span both evolutionary and revolutionary categorizations — Women’s Rights, Gay (LGBTQIA+) Rights, and Civil Rights Movements (CRM).

Lastly, this wider document is commissioned in response to the political science discipline as much as the call to examine parties. We considered as much in creating the categorizations of evolutionary and revolutionary social movements. Within our discussions, we interweave challenging scholarly debates around the fundamental call of the academy and the implications for research aligning with newer disciplines of Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies, and Disability Studies, among others. Thus, we are primarily describing the contours of social movements and their relationships with U.S. parties without putting forward an argument. In this choice, we make room for acknowledging how distributions of power are affecting politics and political science, as well.

Our dispassionate assessments contribute to a larger understanding of social movements and parties over the 20th and 21st century, particularly as they relate to complicated affinities for democracy, rejections of authoritarianism, and the longstanding limitations of political respect and tolerance. And to the discipline, we continue to acknowledge the call of this document. Given this specific chapter engages social movements, we return to the same question pushing our analysis: where is power being held and why are we compelled to redistribute? We answer this question and more in the remainder of the piece.

Social Movement Modeling: Foundational Theories

Social Movement Modeling: Foundational Theories

The relationship between social movements and political parties may not be immediately visible. In fact, the literature that describes the interaction of the two is filled with references to its own paucity. In short, scholars of social movements — who are sociologists, historians, and humanities scholars far more often than they are political scientists — write that there is an important relationship between what happens in social movements and how parties eventually respond to the members of the movement as political participants. But before getting to these relationships, we must begin by describing foundational theories in social movement scholarship.

From a research perspective, major theoretical strands of social movement work include classical, resource mobilization, and political process models.2McAdam, Doug. 1999 [1982]. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. University of Chicago Press.3Tarrow, Sidney. 1989. Democracy and Disorder: Protest and Politics in Italy, 1965-1975. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.4Tilly, Charles. 1978. From Mobilization to Revolution. University of California. These models are often arranged among contentious politics models, which are broader than social movements (i.e., lobbying, groups, parties, etc.) and theorize various sites of struggle. We briefly describe each of these models below and reference them throughout subsequent discussions.

Classical theories highlight the limitations of a given society, whether from finite resources, formal and informal oppressions, or a general failing of political will. In response to these boundaries, classical theories highlight social movements as one of any number of possibilities — a resulting psychological urgency and acting out less because of individual agency and more because of structural pressures on the psyche. The idea here is that these experiences are inevitable and thus allows scholars to anticipate future social dilemmas that include the likely emergence of social movements.5Weber, Max. 2004. The Vocation Lectures. Hackett Publishing.6Durkheim, Emile. [1897] 2005. Suicide: A Study in Sociology. Taylor & Francis.7Marx, Karl. 2004. Capital: Volume 1. UK: Penguin.

Contentious politics models differ from classical theories in recognizing agency as a driving factor behind social movements. In such models, disruptive dissent is a means of deliberately conveying a political agenda of some sort. These are protests and acts of civil disobedience which, through a lens of power, become politicized through complex means.8See Piven (2006) on disruptive dissensus, Scott (1990) on infrapolitics, and Lukes (2021) on the three-dimensional view of power. Other theories are less focused on inevitability or disruption, instead focusing on the capacities of coalition and compromise as explanations for the emergence or success of movements.9Bachrach, Peter and Morton S. Baratz. 1962. “Two Faces of Power.” American Political Science Review 56 (4): 947-952.10Dahl, Robert A. 2005 [1961]. Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. Yale University Press.11Schlozman, Daniel. 2015. When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History. Princeton University Press. These include resource mobilization theories, which emphasize efforts of people with shared grievances committing to action to gather resources.12McCarthy, John D., and Mayer N. Zald. 1977. “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory.”American Journal of Sociology 82 (6): 1212-1241. Political process or opportunity theories argue that movement gains require seizing upon vulnerabilities in political structures and groups.13McAdam, Doug, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. 1996. “To Map Contentious Politics.”Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 1 (1): 17-34.

In sum, these foundational ideas have established a baseline for social movement scholarship. Where these models have received supplementary scholarly attention is around internal structuring and power relationships. The next section details these political considerations, particularly considering scholarship on social movements and their relationship to U.S. political parties.

Social Movements and Political Parties: Evolution and Revolution

Social Movements and Political Parties: Evolution and Revolution

Social movements are aligned with groups, factions, and even parties in this context. Each is seeking change in political, social, and/or cultural distributions of power. Said differently, each has a political agenda (See Chapter 4). But what makes social movements different is that these arrangements of people are the product of organizers’ mobilization and forming coalitions with the masses.14Han, Hahrie. 2014. How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century. Oxford University Press. And by differentiating the purpose of these mobilizations between evolutionary or revolutionary political change, we now address a different set of scholarly research models beginning with those most common to political science: evolutionary change.15Evolution and revolution are descriptive terms for the types of scholarship and organizing around social movements as they relate to American political development. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive or definitive categories. However, these are important differences that explain both the state of the discipline and the intentions behind select movements discussed below.

Political Science: Evolutionary Social Movements and Parties

Social movements may develop because people lack access to formal political power or otherwise feel unable to change their world in a timely fashion. When social movements are seeking evolutionary change, these changes are aiming to favorably shift politics and agendas while maintaining the fundamental structure of U.S. government, politics, and parties. Although much of the work in sociology assumes that individuals who participate in social movements work from outside the political establishment to create change, political scientists observe that social movements have the potential to shape political parties from the inside as well. This is why political scientists contend that parties should have an interest in understanding social movements, as they shift political agendas and outcomes.16Gause, LaGina. 2022. The Advantage of Disadvantage. Cambridge University Press.17Gillion, Daniel Q. 2020. The Loud Minority. Princeton University Press.18Tate, Katherine. 1994. From Protest to Politics: The New Black Voters in American Elections. Harvard University Press.19Weldon, Sirje Laurel. 2012. When Protest Makes Policy: How Social Movements Represent Disadvantaged Groups. University of Michigan Press.

These attempts to operate as or to become insiders are what we are describing as evolutionary social movements.20Blum, Rachel M. 2020. How the Tea Party Captured the GOP. University of Chicago Press.21Schlozman, Daniel. 2015. When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History. Princeton University Press. As actions influence agenda setting, their priorities show up in policy agendas and campaigns for elected office. Below we acknowledge the following evolutionary social movements: Christian Conservatism and the Tea Party. We also address the evolutionary side of LGBTQ+, Women’s, and Civil Rights movements, while acknowledging that each also contains revolutionary components to be discussed later.

Christian Conservatism

There is a close relationship between the groups that comprise Christian conservatism and the Republican Party.22Cohen, Cathy. 1999. The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. University of Chicago Press.23Oldfield, Duane M. 1996. The Right and the Righteous: The Christian Right Confronts the Republican Party. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.24Wilcox, Clyde. 2018. Onward Christian Soldiers?: The Religious Right in American Politics. Routledge. Liebman25Liebman, Robert C. 1983. “Mobilizing the Moral Majority” in The New Christian Right, eds. R.C. Liebman, R. Wuthrow, 49-73. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine. is especially helpful on the beginnings of this movement, describing how four groups worked to politically engage evangelical Christians specifically. At least the some of the movement’s shared goals have been successfully met (e.g., broken windows policing and denying resources during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s/90s, appealing the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, expanding tax exemptions, and making political donations more accessible).26Butler, Judith. 2021. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. Routledge.27Cohen, Cathy. 1999. The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. University of Chicago Press.28Goode, Erich & Nachman Ben-Yehuda. 2010. Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance. John Wiley & Sons.29Lewis, Cavin. 2017. “Anti-semitism Moral Panics.” Arena Magazine (Fitzroy, Vic) 149: 36-39.

More than perhaps any of the others, the Christian Conservative Movement is a bipartisan project exemplifying the combined efforts of social movement and the two-party system. Scholarship has contributed movement analyses, for example how groups within the movement differ from each other (e.g., Black and White Churches) and using survey data to describe opinions within multi-denominational Christian communities.30Green, John C., Mark J. Rozell, and Clyde Wilcox, eds. 2003. The Christian Right in American Politics: Marching to the Millennium. Georgetown University Press.31Oldfield, Duane M. 1996. The Right and the Righteous: The Christian Right Confronts the Republican Party. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.32Wilcox, Clyde and Carin Robinson. 2011. Onward Christian Soldiers?: The Religious Right in American Politics (Dilemmas in American Politics). Westview Press Incorporated.

The Tea Party

The Tea Party Movement emerged in 2009 in response to the economic stimulus plan of the time (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.33Pullum, Amanda. 2014. Social Movement Theory and the “Modern Day Tea Party”. Sociology Compass 8(12): 1377-1387. Unlike Christian Conservatism, this movement was composed of mostly white males opposing tax increases and was not bipartisan — lacking support from the Democratic Party.34Arceneaux, Kevin and Stephen P. Nicholson. 2012. “Who Wants to Have a Tea Party? The Who, What, and Why of the Tea Party Movement.” PS: Political Science & Politics 45(4): 700-710.

Scholars have addressed whether or how the movement influenced elections and political outcomes35Karpowitz, Christopher F., J. Quin Monson, Kelly D. Patterson, and Jeremy C. Pope. 2011. “Tea Time in America? The Impact of the Tea Party Movement on the 2010 Midterm Elections.” PS: Political Science & Politics 44(2): 303-309.36Bailey, Michael A., Jonathan Mummolo, and Hans Noel. 2012. “Tea Party Influence: A Story of Activists and Elites.”American Politics Research 40(5): 769-804. and the role of race in the movement37Tope, Daniel, Justin T. Pickett, and Ted Chiricos. 2015. “Anti-minority Attitudes and Tea Party Movement Membership.”Social Science Research 51: 322-337. Some scholars point to future developments in the Republican Party, arguing that the Tea Party Movement was a precursor for the developments in the Republican Party that led to the embrace of Trumpism.38Abramowitz, Alan I. 2012. “The Polarized Public.” Pearson Higher Ed.39Gervais, Bryan T. & Irwin L. Morris. 2018. Reactionary Republicanism: How the Tea Party in the House Paved the way for Trump’s Victory. New York: Oxford University Press. Overall, the movement has established an anchor within the Republican Party, negotiating between both contention and coalition building as they transform the party and wider government priorities.

Women’s Rights: Part 1

Women have been fighting for their rights to participate in politics for more than a century through various organizations. The role of the major U.S. political parties in these struggles has evolved over time, as Wolbrecht explains thoroughly in The Politics of Women’s Rights: Parties, Positions, and Change.40Wolbrecht, Christina. 2010. The Politics of Women’s Rights. Princeton University Press. When inclusion-based, Women’s Rights reflect evolutionary social movements spanning racial, social, and economic groups.41Brown, Nadia E. & Danielle Casarez Lemi. 2021. Sister Style: The Politics of Appearance for Black Women Political Elites. Oxford University Press.42Brown, Nadia E. 2014. Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making. Oxford University Press.43Brown, Nadia E. 2015. “Gender & Justice: Why Women in the Judiciary Really Matter.” Journal of Women Politics & Policy 36 (2): 249-252. In the subsequent section on revolutionary social movements, we address the transformative side of Women’s Rights Movements in alignment with Black and Queer movements, which includes the M4BL.

LGBTQ+ Movement: Part 1

Gay Rights Movements are seeking freedom to live as they choose while also seeking legal protection on a range of issues from how they create and sustain families to how they are treated at work and in their communities. Recently, there are also concerns about individual’s ability to have the state recognize their gender in ways that feel true to the individual and their respective communities. In this regard, the movement is evolutionary — aiming for greater inclusion rather than changing political structures.

Scholarship in this area considers LGBTQ+ organizations’ strategic legal efforts and further question how organizations fit within theories of social movements. Private Lives, Public Conflicts: Battles over Gay Rights in American Communities44Button, James W., Barbara A. Rienzo, and Kenneth D. Wald. 1997. Private Lives, Public Conflicts: Battles Over Gay Rights in American Communities. Washington, DC: CQ Press., an edited volume, covers Gay Rights movement through both those lenses. Rimmerman’s45Rimmerman, Craig A. 2002. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States (Vol. 16). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian andGay Movements in the United States, includes a more straightforward discussion of the actions of LGBT+ organizations as part of a social movement, in terms Gay Movements in the United States, includes a more straightforward discussion of the actions of LGBT+ organizations as part of a social movement, in terms that scholars use to discuss social movements.

While much of this work is focused on what is happening on the political left, some work considers the impact of the Christian Right and conservative organizations within the movement, for example the Log Cabin Republicans.46Howard, Clayton. 2020. “7. Gay and Conservative: An Early History of the Log Cabin Republicans.” In Beyond the Politics of the Closet: 141-164. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Work from Cathy Cohen47Cohen, Cathy. 1999. The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. University of Chicago Press.48Cohen, Cathy J. 2004. “Deviance as Resistance: A New Research Agenda for the Study of Black Politics.”Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 1(1): 27-45. also pushes us to consider that inclusion is evolutionary and can be transformed from radicalism towards conservatism through what she calls categorical marginalization and integrative marginalization. These are particularly evident in the final movement discussed — Civil Rights.

The Civil Rights Movement: Part 1

The Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century is subject to extensive social movement scholarship. Scholarly debates include the appropriate period of study49Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. 2007. “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past.” In The Best American History Essays 2007:235-271. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.50Hall, Simon. 2007. “Civil Rights Activism in 1960s Virginia”. Journal of Black Studies 38(2): 251-267., the overly narrow political scope of the movement51Felber, Garrett. 2019. Those Who Know Don’t Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State. UNC Press Books.52Theoharis, Jeanne. 2018. A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History. Beacon Press., and narrow political framings of key figures as well.53King Jr., Martin Luther. 2015. The Radical King. Beacon Press.54Marable, Manning. 2011. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Penguin.55McGuire, Danielle L. 2011. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. Vintage. In this section we focus on the evolutionary aspects of the movement towards integration.

Among the most well-known of the writings from a social movement perspective is McAdam’s56McAdam, Doug. 1999 [1982]. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. University of Chicago Press. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. Political scientists have written a great deal about how the Civil Rights Movement shaped political parties as well.57Dawson, Michael C. 1994. Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African-American Politics. Princeton University Press.58Murakawa, Naomi. 2014. The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America. Oxford University Press.59Rosenberg, Gerald N. 2008. The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? University of Chicago Press. Scholars consider when and how the movement changed issue positions for both parties and voters.60Carmines, Edward G. & James A. Stimson. 1990. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. Princeton University Press.61Grant, Keneshia Nicole. 2020. The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century. Temple University Press.62Schickler, Eric. 2016. Racial Realignment. Princeton University Press.

Political Science and Beyond: Revolutionary Social Movements and Parties

As stated above, social movements can develop when people lack access to formal political power. How they choose to address that power, including the purposes for which they intend to gain power, distinguishes their approaches and the methods of scholarly analysis. The language of revolutionaries can be misleading for readers, but our intention is only to convey the scholarly framing as it appears. And in the case of revolutionary politics, the academy itself has been forced by social movements — specifically, the Black Power Movement — to consider intellectual alternatives.

In some ways, this movement succeeded by creating avenues for scholarship that exceed strict objectivity into the type of work we are commissioned to conduct in this volume. Specifically, this means using the scientific method towards critical analysis — questioning political responsibility and norms, accounting for political respect and tolerance, acknowledging democracy being undermined, and highlighting politicians using their power to facilitate. In other ways, movement successes are segregated — having failed to integrate these critical intellectual practices across disciplines, including but not limited to political science.

Evolutionary social movements specifically would need to push parties to integrate structural accountability practices.

The current work maintains a non-biased and dispassionate commitment to the scientific method. Our discussion of revolutionary social movement accounts for the extensive critical scholarship connecting political science to Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies, Disability Studies, Critical Legal and Race Studies, and others. For some, the mere presence of these fields and theories violates scholarly norms or simply have no bearing on their scholarly pursuits. To these views, we return to the foundational question of this report and offer it to our skeptical colleagues: where is power held and why redistribute? When answering, in the spirit of social movements and parties, we encourage you to consider those with whom you find yourselves building coalitions.

Trumpism and White Nationalism

Trumpism and white nationalism are directly aligned with the Tea Party movement.63Kincaid, John D. 2017. “Theorizing the Radical Right: Directions for Social Movements Research on the Right-Wing Social Movements.” Sociology Compass 11(5): e12469. Scholars find that Congressional Representatives’ policy agendas have been influenced by the preferences of far-right groups.64Weiner, Amanda and Ariel Zellman. 2022. “Mobilizing the White: White Nationalism and Congressional Politics in the American South”. American Politics Research 50(5): 707-722. But what differentiates this movement from the Tea Party is their escalation towards revolutionary change.

Unlike the Tea Party, Trumpism and white nationalist social movements are aiming to fundamentally change the structure of government itself. This includes the January 6th insurrection attempting to shift the peaceful transfer of power in the presidency.65Bond, Bayleigh Elaine and Ryan Neville-Shepard. 2021. “The Rise of Presidential Eschatology: Conspiracy Theories, Religion, and the January 6th Insurrection.” American Behavioral Scientist: 00027642211046557. And unlike several of the latter examples, this movement has both intended to and successfully integrated into politics via the Republican Party.66Lowndes, Joseph. 2017. “From New Class Critique to White Nationalism: Telos, the Alt Right, and the Origins of Trumpism.” Konturen 9: 8-12.

Anti-War Movements67This should not be confused for Anti-Colonial and Anti-Imperial organizing, which has yet to constitute a social movement in the U.S. due to lack of mass support.

Some individuals in anti-war movements oppose war altogether, while others oppose individual wars that are occurring at the time. It is often the case that individuals in these movements are on the left of the political spectrum and identify with the Democratic Party or third parties when they identify with any party at all. Literature in this area describes the relationship of activists and others involved in the movement with the political parties. Heaney and Rojas have written about participants in the social movement as partisans68Heaney, Michael T. and Fabio Rojas. 2007. “Partisans, Nonpartisans, and the Antiwar Movement in the United States.” American Politics Research 35(4): 431-464. and about the interaction between the Democratic Party and anti-war organizations.69Heaney, Michael T. & Fabio Rojas. 2015. Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. Cambridge University Press. In the case of the Iraq war, they find that the Democratic Party failed to meet the expectations of activists who believed that the party was inherently anti-war. But scholars also acknowledge that the anti-war movement was very subdued post-9/11.70Mitchell, William John Thomas, Bernard E. Harcourt, and Michael Taussig. 2013. Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience. University of Chicago Press. Thus, they have intended to but not successfully integrated into the Democratic Party.

Women’s Rights (Aligning with Black, Gay, and Labor Movements): Part 2

The revolutionary wing of Women and Gay Rights have been largely motivated by questions of race.71Hardy-Fanta, Carol, Pei-te Lien, Dianne Pinderhughes, and Christine Marie Sierra. 2016. Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America. Cambridge University.72Jordan-Zachery, Julia S., and Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd, eds. 2018. Black Women in Politics: Demanding Citizenship, Challenging Power, and Seeking Justice. SUNY Press. Contributions from Black women specifically are centered in significant research highlighting their revolutionary efforts in infiltrating labor movements73Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. 1994. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Harvard University Press., racial justice and Civil Rights Movements74Ransby, Barbara. 2003. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. University of North Carolina Press., and gay rights movements75Shepard, Benjamin, and Ronald Hayduk, eds. 2002. From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization. Verso.. Black lesbian socialists in the Combahee River Collective are even responsible for coining the term “identity politics” — not for advancing individualism but rather as a fundamental shift in politics centering the marginalized to the benefit of themselves and the mainstream.76Combahee River Collective. 1977. “A Black Feminist Statement.”

As for parties, these groups seek selective inclusion while similarly pushing for a revolutionary shift in social movement organizing away from the non-profit industrial complex.77INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. 2017. The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Duke University Press. This movement has largely chosen not to engage partisan politics and instead focuses on expanding grassroots political coalitions.78Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. 1995. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. The New Press.

The Civil Rights Movement: Part 2

This movement is best known for evolutionary politics, extending housing, education, and voting rights gains and culminating in the election of President Barack Obama.79Gillespie, Andra. 2009. Whose Black Politics: Cases in Post-Racial Black Leadership. Taylor & Francis.80Harris, Fredrick. 2012. The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and Rise and Decline of Black Politics. Oxford University Press.81Marable, Manning. 2016. Beyond Black and White: From Civil Rights to Barack Obama. Verso. Less well known is the revolutionary legacy, most aptly expressed by the oft misquoted figurehead Martin Luther King who advocated against the three evils of militarism, capitalism, and racism.82King Jr., Martin Luther. 2015. The Radical King. Beacon Press.

Throughout the Civil Rights movement, multiple wings coordinated towards social change in ways that include the use of violence and alternative cultural politics.83Kelley, Robin D.G. 1996. Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class. Simon and Schuster. As for parties, this work was largely silenced by the integrative (evolutionary) wing of the movement which seized momentum and pushed towards a pathway of descriptive representation and limiting results for Black political power.84Bell Jr., Derrick A. 1980. “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma.”Harvard Law Review: 518-533.85Bell, Derrick. 2005. The Derrick Bell Reader. New York University Press.86Haider-Markel, Donald P. 2007. “Representation and Backlash: The Positive and Negative Influence of Descriptive Representation.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 32(1): 107-133.87Widner, Kirsten. 2023. “The Supreme Court and the Limits of Descriptive Representation.” Polity 55(2): 000-000.88Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Beacon Press.

The Movement for Black Lives

The Movement for Black Lives is permanently seared into the American consciousness because of the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. However, it is possible to connect the uprisings of 2020 back through American history.89Francis, Megan Ming and Leah Wright-Rigueur. 2021. “Black Lives Matter in Historical Perspective.”Annual Review of Law and Social Science 17: 441-458.

Writings about this movement have several aims. Some seek to document the movement’s history, its role in shaping our democracy, and the ways that the democratic system and some of its elites have worked to push back.90Brown, Nadia E., Ray Block Jr., and Christopher Stout, eds. 2020. The Politics of Protest: Readings on the Black Lives Matter Movement. Routledge.91Bunyasi, Tehama Lopez and Candis Watts Smith. 2019. Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter. New York University Press.92Lebron, Christopher. 2017. The Making of Black Lives Matter. New York: Oxford University Press.93Thompson, Debra. 2017. “An Exoneration of Black Rage.” South Atlantic Quarterly 116 (3): 457-81.94Woodly, Deva R. 2021. Reckoning: Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Necessity of Social Movements. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Others are explaining the etymology of this movement as connected to and through Women’s, Gay, and Black Power Movements.95Board Jr., Marcus. 2022. Invisible Weapons: Infiltrating Resistance and Defeating Movements. New York: Oxford University Press.96Ransby, Barbara. 2003. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. University of North Carolina Press.97Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. 2016. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Haymarket Books. Others still are explaining role of social media in organizing the movement, central because some of the first organizing occurred under the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.98Scott, Jamil S. 2020. “Who’s Tweeting about Black Lives? Racial Identity of #BlackLivesMatter Users.”SAIS Review of International Affairs 40(2):137-149.99Tillery, Alvin B. 2019. “What Kind of Movement is Black Lives Matter? The View from Twitter.”Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics 4(2):297-323.

The early years of the movement saw a significant foregoing of partisan politics, aligning with the abolitionist message echoed throughout the history of racial justice movements and Black freedom struggles.100Du Bois, W.E.B. 1956. “Why I Won’t Vote”. The Nation. However, after the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the White House, these dynamics have shifted towards public acknowledgment and even endorsement of Democratic Party candidates. Forthcoming scholarship from Marcus Board, Margaret Brower, Jordie Davies, and others explore these relationships.



This chapter has explored various social movements, political parties, and their complicated histories. Using a basic differentiation between evolutionary (i.e., working with the system) and revolutionary (i.e., working to change the system) categories, we have highlighted the various successes and failures of social movements in U.S. politics. What is left unexplained in this predominately descriptive chapter are the relationships between social movements, parties, and democracy.

Political science scholarship — from Deva Woodly101Woodly, Deva R. 2021. Reckoning: Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Necessity of Social Movements. New York, NY: Oxford University Press., Bonnie Honig102Honig, Bonnie. 2009. Democracy and the Foreigner. Princeton University Press., Marcus Board103Board Jr., Marcus. 2022. Invisible Weapons: Infiltrating Resistance and Defeating Movements. New York: Oxford University Press., LaGina Gause104Gause, LaGina. 2022. The Advantage of Disadvantage. Cambridge University Press., Iris Young105Young, Iris Marion. 2014. “Five Faces of Oppression.” Rethinking Power: 174-195., Michael Dawson106Dawson, Michael C. 2001. Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies. University of Chicago Press., Verba, Schlozman, and Brady107Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Harvard University Press., Bartels108Bartels, Larry M. 2016. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton University Press. — and many more beyond the discipline109Collins, Patricia Hill. 2002. “What’s Going On? Black Feminist Thought and the Politics of Postmodernism.” Working the Ruins: 47-79. Routledge.110Du Bois, W.E.B. [1935] 2014. Black Reconstruction in America. Oxford University Press.111Fanon, Frantz. [1952] 2008. Black Skin, White Masks. Grove Press.112Fanon, Frantz. [1961] 2021. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press.113Guinier, Lani and Gerald Torres. 2003. The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy. Harvard University Press.114Hamilton, Charles V. and Kwame Ture. 1992. Black Power: Politics of Liberation in America. Vintage.115hooks, bell. [1984] 2000. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Pluto Press.116 Piketty, Thomas. 2017. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard University Press.117Piketty, Thomas. 2021. Capital and Ideology. Harvard University Press.118Robinson, Cedric J. 2020 [1983]. Black Marxism. UNC Press.119Rodney, Walter. 2018 [1972]. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Verso., all pointing to the political failure to resolve systemic oppressions as the core flaw of liberal democracies. What, then, can parties do to change things? How might social movements impact this change? And where can political science be helpful in these debates?

Considering Duverger’s Law as serious, we will have two parties.120Duverger, Maurice. 1959. “Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State. Metheun & Co. Ltd. And per social movement foundational theories, parties will face coalition and contention; anchoring and undermining attempts; resource requests and opportunity seizing. Evolutionary social movements specifically would need to push parties to integrate structural accountability practices. This means moving away from disempowering the masses and instead building a capacity to represent, protect, and deliver resources to constituents who articulate grievances or who have longstanding experiences with racial, gender, class, or other forms of oppression.121Board Jr., Marcus. 2022. Invisible Weapons: Infiltrating Resistance and Defeating Movements. New York: Oxford University Press.

Further scholarship is needed to extend the range of the discipline. In the context of this chapter, the limiting role of the discipline in addressing these matters speaks to a rejection of the Black Power Movement mandate and embrace of existing disciplinary power structures. Revolutionary social movements, however, speak to questions of both parties and the discipline by asking a different question altogether. That is, can and should these systems be saved; or are their limitations a reflection of continued commitments to inequitable power distributions and the inescapability of systemically oppressive flaws? We may soon find out these answers.

About the Authors

Keneshia Grant

Howard University

Marcus Board, Jr.

Howard University

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