Peoples' movements and protests




Smart management of defeat





Jan Wiklund



Popular movements are by definition made up of underdog people. It is therefore likely that they are beaten at least as many times as they win - if not more. Yet they survive. In fact, popular movements can survive a lot of beatings - just think of black South Africans from the 50s to the 90s, and Palestinians today.

How come they don't give in?

"Whether you surrender or not depends on how you describe your own defeat," says Karen Beckwith in her paper Narratives of defeat. She compares a lot of narratives from movements that have been defeated, and finds some interesting connections.

If you take the attitude that 'we were fooled', you are likely to never try again. Because it is shameful to be fooled.

If you instead portray the defeat as "we gave them so much trouble that it will be a while before they try again", you are much more likely to come back. Likewise, if you say "we learnt a lot and next time we won't do the same".

The paper sheds new light on one of the biggest defeats in the history of Swedish popular movements - the defeat in the nuclear power referendum in 1980. Here the defeat was portrayed as a consequence of our being deceived - by the Social Democrats, by the Centre Party, by all sorts of people. This gave rise to a sense of shame so great that today there is almost no anti-nuclear movement at all.

If the story instead had been "next time we won't do this, but that", we might have had a movement that could have forced our opponents to fulfil their promises.

At least according to Karen Beckwith



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