activism

Earth Day

Earth Day

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, it now includes events coordinated globally in more than 193 countries.

The event emerged against the backdrop of an anti-war student activist movement. While it’s tempting to assume that Earth Day was the result of a youthful grassroots campaign, it was actually spearheaded through a rare bipartisan partnership between Democratic and Republican lawmakers:

Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, horrified by a series of environmental catastrophes that seemingly escaped public outrage and action, was inspired by the success of the youth anti-war movement to replicate a similar movement for environmental protection. The idea was a national “teach-in on the environment” to raise public awareness about air and water pollution. To achieve this goal, Nelson reached across the aisle to Republican Congressman, Pete McCloskey.

The first Earth Day celebrations took place across two thousand colleges and universities and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform.”

Today, Earth Day celebrations have grown to be a major global event and is celebrated in many different ways.

agitprop

Agitprop is political propaganda, especially in the form of art or literature, which is used to advance a political stance.

The term originated in Soviet Russia and is an abbreviation of agitatsiya propaganda (agitation propaganda.) Propaganda was a key aspect of Soviet governing strategy.

In a 1902 pamphlet, What Is to be Done, Vladimir Lenin set out his beliefs about the roles of propaganda and agitation. In Lenin’s view, each had an important role to play. The propagandist worked mainly in print and produced logical analysis of social problems like poverty. The agitator, for his part, operated on an emotional level, rousing people to take an interest in social ills.

By the 1920s, the Agitation and Propaganda section was a well-established part of the Soviet government. The section operated at the most local level, and agitators were the Party’s chief means of communication with most people. Posters, sculptures, and paintings – usually done in a stylized, hyper-realist style – also were a major part of Russian agitprop.

Agitprop is also deeply rooted in North Korea. The posters and statues produced by North Korea’s government look like something straight out of a 1950s-era Soviet propaganda department. The leaders depicted are different, of course, but the stylized, heavy-handed imagery is the same. And today, decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, North Korea continues to churn out posters of beaming factory workers.

In the west, the term “agitprop” is usually associated with artist and left-wing causes. The work of street artists like Banksy is often described as agitprop. Certain conservative pundits argue that the entire output of Hollywood amount to “pro-communist” agitprop. But the term isn’t restricted to the left. It’s also thrown around – usually in a derogatory sense – to describe anyone who tries to push a strong ideology.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the freshman congressmember from New York, has often been described as a master of agitprop. Ocasio Cortez is widely acclaimed for her use of social media and her ability to stir people with slogans and imagery. Her critics, though, complain that Ocasio Cortez veers to close to Soviet-style propaganda.

Conservatives said that a series of posters that Ocasio Cortez produced in 2019 looked “like something the Soviet Union would post throughout the Red Square.” (The posters were produced to highlight Ocasio Cortez’s proposals for a “Green New Deal.” Ocasio Cortez’s staff has said that their retro style was inspired by New Deal-era artwork.)

President Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, is also seen as a master of agitprop. Bannon was at the helm of the conservative Breitbart Media, but he also spent many years working in Hollywood, as a producer and a director. Bannon directed a series of documentaries, including one about the Tea Party movement (“Battle for America”) and another about the Occupy movement (“Occupy Unmasked).

Bannon himself once said that his goal was to “overwhelm” his audience. Bannon’s critics wrote that watching the documentaries was like being in an “agitprop fever-dream.”

teabaggers

A term “teabaggers” is a derogatory nickname used to refer to supporters of the conservative “Tea Party” movement.

CBS News: “It’s the sort of word you might expect to hear from a smirking 14-year-old boy: Critics of the Tea Party movement like to refer to its members as ‘teabaggers,’ a reference to a sexual act known as ‘teabagging,’ which we’re going to refrain from explaining here. To give you an idea of both the meaning of the word and the juvenile way it gets used, consider this comment from MSNBC’s David Shuster: ‘…the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals. They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending.'”

According to the Huffington Post, CNN’s Anderson Cooper also had fun with the term, noting “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging.”

Interestingly, President Barack Obama is quoted using the word in Jonathan Alter’s book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, noting that the unanimous House Republican vote against his economic stimulus bill “helped to create the teabaggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party to where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.”

netroots

“Netroots” is grassroots political activism organized through blogs and other online social media.

The term was coined by Jerome Armstrong and is used in his 2006 book co-authored with Markos Moulitsas, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, in which they note “the netroots activist, much like the new generation of grassroots activist, is fiercely partisan, fiercely multi-issue, and focused on building a broader movement. It’s not an ideological movement — there is actually very little, issue-wise, that unites most modern party activists except, perhaps opposition to the Iraq war.”