Posted by Guest on January 22, 2018 in Blog

2018-01-24.pngBy Mona Ahmed

“Moral shocks will motivate people to come out when they have little or no personal connection to political issues,” argued Dr. Dana Fisher, as she elaborated on how social movements develop and sustain momentum. She shared this, and other important perspectives as part of the first Arab American Institute Foundation Generations’ event of 2018. The talk was also the first in a three-part Generations series examining civic participation and movements for change that will focus on two questions: What moves people to action, and why do people choose to be part of a larger movement?

In answering these questions, Fisher pointed to the emergence of an intersectional approach to core social issues developing among political activists. According to Fisher, individuals are increasingly shying away from compartmentalizing social justice campaigns and instead are collaborating across issues such as women’s rights, police brutality and immigration policy.

Screen_Shot_2018-01-24_at_11.22.19_AM.pngDSC_3324.JPGIn more than a decade of research on protests and political actions, Fisher has analyzed the differences between major political movements in modern U.S. history, including the 2017 Women’s March, 2017 March for Science, and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement.

She cited the 2016 election cycle as a catalyst for the upsurge in U.S.-based political and grassroots mobilization. “The entire 2016 election sparked civic engagement and participation in American democracy like we haven’t seen in generations.”

According to Fisher, three motivating factors are pushing people to act: “the failure of the Democratic party,” the prevalence of big money, and moral shock/outrage. In 2017, instead of looking to political parties for leadership or guidance, individuals daringly took charge through political organizing and demonstrations, she said. Fisher described Trump’s disregard for civil discourse and divisive use of power as the root of the moral outrage that ultimately pushes many to mobilize.

Screen_Shot_2018-01-24_at_11.22.29_AM.pngFisher explained that, under normal circumstances, people are compelled to participate in political actions through their personal networks. However, under Trump, there has been a significant rise in consistent political participation among several demographics. Individuals were expanding their civic engagement beyond the streets and were more frequently attending town hall meetings and contacting elected officials. From the Women’s March in January 2017 to the March for Racial Justice in September 2017, there was a 10% increase among individuals attending town hall meetings and a 7% increase among those contacting their elected officials.

Screen_Shot_2018-01-24_at_11.22.41_AM.pngAAIF Generations’ got a first look at Fisher’s findings, which were presented during a national media tour just days after she spoke to Arab Americans. If you missed the talk, you can catch her interviews on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”or on WNYC’s “The Takeaway.” Fisher was also out with her team collecting data during the 2018 Women’s March to the Polls. You can find some of her initial observations here or check out her book which will be published at the end of 2018. 

Dr. Dana Fisher is a sociologist and the Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland. Her work has been featured in media outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Wired, National Public Radio among others, and in “The Collectors: Political Action,” a documentary short by FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films.

The three-part Generations series will continue through March 2018.


Mona Ahmed is an Spring 2018 intern at the Arab American Institute.