Symbolic Sit-Ins: Protest Occupations at the California Capitol

Symbolic Sit-Ins: Protest Occupations at the California Capitol

Symbolic Sit-Ins: Protest Occupations at the California Capitol

Symbolic Sit-Ins: Protest Occupations at the California Capitol

Excerpt

We seek here to analyze an emerging form of social movement protest action, one we observed for several years at the California State Capitol, and one which may acquire considerable significance in the social struggles of the eighties.

We label it the "symbolic sit-in" referring, roughly, to protest occupations or "seizures" of places or spaces that draw on the ideology, rhetoric and posture of historic sit-ins but which lack the classic, additional earmarks of those actions; namely, true disruption of the settings in which they occur, an atmosphere of crises, the threat of (and actual) violence, and extensive involvement by bystanders and other third parties.

The symbolic sit-in is but one new and special form of protest and in our opening chapter we strive to set it in larger and comparative perspective. This is followed by an explanation of the symbolic sit-in itself, a depiction of the setting in which we observed many episodes of it, and an overview of the five major variations it, in turn, displays. The core chapters provide detailed descriptions of each of these five "types," the pack-in, lone-in, one night stand, spirited siege, and long term vigil. We conclude with observations on the dynamics of the symbolic sit-in, its possible effectiveness, future, and related matters.

We hope this report might be of use to several audiences, an ambition that often ends in satisfying no audience but an outcome we endeavor to avoid in this instance. As the theorizing in Chapter I makes clear, our paramount aim is to advance the general analysis of protest by contributing to the rapidly evolving bodies of materials grouped under the rubric "collective behavior and social movements" by sociologists and the heading "interest group politics" by political scientists. But even though scholars of these topics are our main, intended audience, we think . . .

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