Author: William Yagatich
In order to make a broader and more general appeal, the organizers intended to gather a great diversity of groups and people. At the same time, organizers arranged for participants to gather at specific block locations so that each group could be visually recognized and attributed a specific voice in the call for action on climate change. The planning of the demonstration was meant to accomplish two goals: to showcase the array of actors involved in the climate movement and to create a call to arms that world leaders could no longer ignore. As the organizers said, “To make that happen, we’re trying something new and arranging the contingents of the march in a way that helps us thread our many messages together” (2). To accomplish these goals, they attempted grouping people into one of six contingents as pictured below.
So, why does this matter?
The question is, how successful were they? Reasonably, we would expect to find some differences between these blocks and contingents. If 350.org’s vision of organizing the demonstration was a success, then it follows that we can show these differences statistically from block to block (or in this case, contingent to contingent). While we can continue the social science research that is concerned with who gets involved in these demonstrations, highlighting what may make this demonstration similar or different from those before it on climate change or other issues, we can also begin to address questions concerning the professionalization of social movement organizations and large-scale protest.
No doubt, the PCM was hugely successful when it came to creating a spectacle—a demonstration that is unrivaled in terms of numbers of participants. Looking more closely however, it remains to be seen if we can actually tell those contingents apart from one another once we disregard the names affixed to each of them. Having the block-level data gives us the tools we need to evaluate how effective 350.org was when putting people into separate contingents by testing for statistically significant differences and variation in behaviors like networking, civic engagement, and protest history, and social characteristics like where they are from, their age, and education level. For instance, PSE Fellow Joe Waggle has already written a short piece that appeared on Cyborgology, a blog of The Society Pages, about how a non-statistically significant association was actually an important finding for understanding how survey questions are designed.
With these data, we hope to examine the claim of diversifying the crowd. With analyses such as these, we begin to answer questions that have not been addressed when it comes to the professionalization of social movement organizations, which is due in part to the unique case that the PCM presents. While there is no question that 350.org intended to send the message “Here Comes Everyone,” and did a great job of presenting that image to popular media, it remains to be seen whether or not the numbers will support that success story.