Sean Langberg

Guest Blogger

Atrocity Prevention: A Modern Social Justice Movement

An internet search for "social justice movements" yields what you might think - rights-based campaigns for race, gender, sexual orientation, and class equality. Courses about social movements often include histories of the Civil Rights Movement, heterosexism, and class struggles. A few themes dominate how social justice movements, and social justice as a historiographic subject more broadly, are seen. First, domestic policy movements understandably receive more attention than foreign policy movements. The peak of the Civil Rights Era in the 1960s galvanized the country on an unprecedented scale while the anti-Vietnam War movement, arguably the most important American foreign policy social movement of the 20th century, lagged behind in the political margins. Second, social movements are conventionally conceptualized around a particular form of identity politics such as women, LGBTQ, or African-Americans. These communities provide a clear organizing base to mobilize for political will-building. Third, social movements are typically rights-based - oppressed groups staking a claim to rights granted by governments.

The Power of Norm Diffusion

Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.  Millions of people across the United States celebrated a victory for equality and progressivism.  The decisions are historic and mark a new chapter in the fight to wrestle modernity from the hands of religious conservatives.  31 years ago it was legal to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals in all 50 states; 12 years ago the American Medical Association thought homosexuality was a disease; and nine years ago same-sex marriage was illegal no matter where people lived.   

Now, same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states (as well as the District of Columbia) and six states allow civil unions.  The momentum is unquestionably on the side of equality and the long arc of the moral universe does seem to be bending toward justice.  This, as regressive legislatures and governors overturn racial protections and restrict access to abortion centers.  National gay rights advocates largely weathered the storm of 2010 and 2012 when a series of Tea Party candidates swept to victory in the South and Midwest.  

Many people attribute the success to the popularization of the idea of being gay.  The popular 1990's television show "Will and Grace" is seen as launching the gay media revolution carried on by Glee, Modern Family, and others.  But there is a broader, more universal principle the gay rights movement can teach all of us - norms are powerful and norm diffusion is an essential part of social and political change.  

International Institutions: By the Rich, For the Rich

Source: World Atlas

France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada.  

These countries comprise, in whole or part, the Group of 8 (G8), over 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and the top position at the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Interpol, and European Central Bank.  In other words, a huge percentage of the world's money as well as almost all of the major international institutions are controlled by only eight of the 196 countries on earth, a mere 4%.  If examined more closely, the power in these organizations is even more centralized with only France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany controlling many of the leadership positions.  

This is a different kind of 1%.  The Occupy Wall Street movement popularized the phrase in reference to the super rich in the United States that control political and economic systems.  The global 1%, or 4% in this case, is made up of states rather than individuals and concentrated groups of decision-makers in those states.  Just like the United States's 1%, the global elite are failing the world's poor and pushing them to the margins through infantilization, uneven globalization, and disingenuous development.