Megan E. Brooker (PhD, University of California Irvine) specializes in social movements, political sociology, culture, and qualitative methods. To investigate the political influence of social movements, she has examined movements of both the political left and right including Black Lives Matter, white nationalism, LGBTQ rights, the Christian Right, Indivisible, Occupy, the Tea Party, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Recent publications include “Indivisible: Invigorating and Redirecting the Grassroots” (in The Resistance: The Dawn of the Anti-Trump Opposition Movement, 2018) and “Coalitions and the Organization of Collective Action” (in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, 2018).
When and how are social movements incorporated by political parties and presidential candidates? What are the consequences of their inclusion or exclusion?
My research emphases the relationship between social movements and institutional politics. To explore this intersection, I examine movement-party relationships during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. I focus on two major electoral cleavages – race and LGBTQ rights – and compare the success of movements of the political left and right in shaping party agendas. I show how factors including the political environment, field of primary candidates, and movement actions all shape movements’ differential levels of electoral incorporation. In doing so, I challenge traditional theoretical understandings of the political process by showing how social movements encourage candidates to amplify radical ideas, rather than moderate their political appeals.
The 2016 presidential election offers a window into a shifting electoral process in which competitive primary contests and the pressure of organized interests can steer political parties toward the political extremes. Black Lives Matter’s active engagement along the campaign trail compelled the Democratic candidates to pay attention to movement concerns. White nationalists recognized a political goldmine as Donald Trump’s contentious rhetoric on immigration became a cornerstone of his campaign and marked an opening for their movement to reassert its political presence on the national stage. Following the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, both the Christian Right and LGBTQ Rights movements renegotiated their relationships within the political parties. While the Christian Right used its leverage within the Republican Party coalition to reframe political debate around religious liberty, the LGBTQ Rights movement faced electoral capture as they struggled to exert similar control over the Democratic Party agenda.
Elections can also stimulate new waves of mobilization. I use the post-electoral emergence of the Indivisible movement to highlight the process through which activists alternate their participation between institutional and extra-institutional channels. Indivisible’s founders, who had previously worked as Democratic Congressional staffers, sought to maximize their political influence by mobilizing a grassroots base to resist the agenda of the new Trump administration. After this new wave of mobilization subsided, however, Indivisible redirected its energy back to electoral politics during the 2018 midterm elections.