Social Movements and Professionalisation: The Indignants of Greece

During the last decades there is a debate between those who believe that professionals should get involved in social movements and those who disagree with this approach.The last ones argue that as professionals work in these kind of movements just as paied employees they can undermine the legitimacy and trustworthiness of social movements.On the other hand the activists that participate in social movements ,do it in terms of shared values ,shared motives and shared points of view that they want to express.

Personally I find myself in favor of the first approach.Professionalism should not only discussed in negative terms.As a professional is defined as“A person who does something with a high level of competence, commitment or expertise”(Oxford English Dictionary)  I find myself indined to agree that professionals can contribute effectively in social movements as they know the key tools that have to be used from the movements in order to succeed.

Nevertheless, when it comes to social movements, professionalism can also be defined as the structure and organisation inside the movement , in terms of statements and beliefs.

As Wim van de Donk,Brian D.Loader,Paul G.Nixo,Dieter Rucht(“Cyberprotest:New Media,Citizens and Social Movements”) state,social movements need media in order to attract attention and promote the goals.On the other hand,media do not need social movements as there is a vast variety of different issues that they can cover.As we can see there is an assymetry at this point.If protest groups and social movements want to gain attention they need to meet media’s criteria and requirements(eg:innovation,surprise,drama,passion,spectacle,conflict,threat)The thing is that there are many groups that do not meet these requirements and they are not characterised by professionalization,thus they fail to gain what they want.

An example that actually illustrates the need for professionalisationin protest movements,not only in terms of media coverage, but also in terms of organisations and mobilisation,is the movement of Indignants.

syntagma-2

The beginners of this movement where 2 young citizens from Thessaloniki who were actually inspired by the Spanish movement ” Indignados ” and decided to create a Facebook page called “Indignants of White Tower”.

“Indignants” were protesters who were against the Greek Government and the austerity measures which were imposed in Greece due to the financial crisis. was a mQuite soon, the response of the citizens was tremendous and finally the movement became very popular in many different cities of Greece and especially in Athens.

vouli1

The movement of “Indignants” in Athens became huge.It is estimated that in 29th of May(2011),80.000-100.000 people from all ages and different backrounds participated in the demonstration that took place in Syntagma Square. During the period between May and July, the movement was really alive and active.Even though it gained the attention of the media due to its organised media team and the surprise that caused to the Greek society,it collapsed.Even though today supporters of the movement make efforts to make it alive again, the results are dissapointing.

This movement was the response of Greek people against unemployment, inflation, corruption, harsh austerity measures and recession.Nevertheless, the problem might be that the protesters were people from so different backrounds that finally failed to find a common ground. A characteristic example is that the square was splitted in two:on the one side there were left-wing protesters and on the other side there were right-wingprotesters(there was also a large number of people who were more neutral).

The problem was that even though both sides were indignats, they were protesting many times for different reasons.Thus the effort to make a specific change, failed due to the lack of the similar values and motives.The absence of a specific request beyond the very general and indefinite”leave all” was the problem.Some groups proposed some statements of policy but the majority did not produce a specific proposal.

Finally, I think that the reason that this movement failed, is because of the lack of specific requests due to the absence of organisation and mobilisation for a specific reason. Furthermore, I think that another reason for this failure, was the the fact that “Indignants” didn’t want to politicize the movement in order to come up with concrete proposals.The supporters of the movement were so against the political parties that they didn’t actually realize that at the end..political parties(beyond all wrong) are essentially organized views on the settlement of society’s problem.Thus I find that if the movement was more professionalised in terms of specification of requests and needs,proposals,structure,and organisation,and specification the results would be much more different when it comes to the its contribution to social change.

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with your view that professionalisation is inherently beneficial, yet difficult to balance with trustworthiness and legitimacy. I think a point can be made by comparing this with professionalised lobbying. There is a perception that there is a difference in honour between interest groups that lobby for themselves and interest groups that hire PA (public affairs) firms to do the lobbying for them. Many seem to perceive that the first alternative is more legitimate and trustworthy than the second. The problem with this is the tendency to define lobbying depending on who is lobbying, rather than on what lobbying activities that are taking place. By doing so, hired professionals will be called lobbyists and be treated differently than other actors with in-house lobbyists, such as trade unions and corporations. These would fall outside of that definition and be considered more honourable (?), and this could have a big impact on access and democracy. Indeed, the act of lobbying is independent of who manages it, and I believe the same can be said about professionalisation in campaigning. By focusing on the whom instead of the what, social movements risk failure because of narrow definitions of legitimacy and of who is a legitimate campaigner. In this case however, being honourable would not mean more access, but less.

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