Tag Archives: Social movement

Dissertation on Niger Delta women and the oil movement published

My dissertation is available online. If you are unable to access it because you are outside the academic network, please feel free to contact me for a copy. I am an avid supporter of open, author-permitted access to publications.

ABSTRACT:

Since the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in 1958, there has been an ongoing low-level conflict among foreign oil companies, the federal government, and rural community members in southern Nigeria. Armed insurgents and small cadres of male protesters have resisted oil activities, demanding environmental cleanup, employment, and local compensation for extractive operations. In 2002, however, large groups of women began engaging in peaceful protests against oil companies and the state, making the same demands as men. Current work describes these women as coming together autonomously to assert their rights in the face of corporation exploitation.  This project challenges such accounts and investigates how common perceptions of law and politics inform women’s role in the oil reform movement.

Employing constructivist grounded theory, this dissertation argues that women’s protests were largely a product of local elite male politicking among oil companies and federal and state governments. The first finding is that local chiefs, acting as brokers engaging in “positional arbitrage,” urge women to protest because it reinforces their own traditional rule.  In this sense, women have not implemented new tactics in the movement but instead are the new tactics. Secondly, Niger Delta women see law as innately good but identify individuals as the corrupting force that thwarts law’s potential for positive change. Women also perceive a binary between local and state law, thus allowing chiefs to act as gatekeepers between women and the state. As a qualitative case study, the project uses in-depth interviews, direct observations, and archival documentation to analyze a series of all-female demonstrations that occurred around oil extraction sites in Rivers State from 2002-2012. Ultimately, these findings welcome a more critical look at social movements by identifying ways in which apparent episodes of resistance may actually be reconfigurations of existing power arrangements.

Methodology:

 

 

grounded theory

For a link to my final dissertation, please see:

http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/1666393541.html?FMT=ABS

The Kioble case is dismissed in the Supreme Court

In a unanimous ruling this past Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the Kiobel case against Shell in Nigeria. The Kiobel case was filed by Esther Kiobel, the wife of a former activist, and alleges that Shell collaborated with the Abacha regime to violently suppress oil reform activities in the 1990’s.  The case brings claims for extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, and prolonged arbitrary arrest and detention.

CorpsWatch argues that the ruling effectively blocks other lawsuits against foreign multinationals for human rights abuse that have occurred overseas from being brought in U.S. courts. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (Shell) was brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a U.S. law dating back to 1789, originally designed to combat piracy on the high seas – that has been used during the last 30 years as a vehicle to bring international law violations cases to U.S. federal courts.

Lawyers began using ATS as a tool in human rights litigation in 1979, when the family of 17-year-old Joel Filartiga, who was tortured and killed in Paraguay, sued the Paraguayan police chief responsible. Filartiga v. Peña-Irala set a precedent for U.S. federal courts to punish non-U.S. citizens for acts committed outside the U.S. that violate international law or treaties to which the U.S. is a party. Almost 100 cases of international (often state-sanctioned) torture, rape and murder have been brought to U.S. federal courts to date under the ATS. The new ruling limits the law to U.S citizens and entities.

“Corporations are often present in many countries and it would reach too far to say mere corporate presence suffices,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, in the majority opinion. “There is no indication that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms.” Stephen Breyer, another of the nine judges, agreed with Roberts in the decision but left the door open for some lawsuits. “I would find jurisdiction under this statute where (1) the alleged tort occurs on American soil, (2) the defendant is an American national, or (3) the defendant’s conduct substantially  and adversely affects an important American national interest,” wrote Breyer in a separate legal opinion. “(T)hat includes a distinct interest in preventing the United States from becoming a safe harbor (free of civil as well as criminal liability) for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind.” Shell – in Breyer’s opinion – did not qualify as a U.S. entity. “The defendants are two foreign corporations. Their shares, like those of many foreign corporations, are traded on the New York Stock Exchange,” Breyer wrote. “Their only presence in the United States consists of an office in New York City (actually owned by a separate but affiliated company) that helps to explain their business to potential investors.”

Other such cases have been filed against Chiquita and Halliburton. Chiquita was sued by surviving victims of brutal massacres waged by right-wing paramilitary squads in Colombia. The paramilitary, who killed thousands of civilians during Colombia’s dirty war of the 1980s and 1990s, were on Chiquita’s payroll in the 1990s. Now-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended Chiquita in the case and won a plea bargain for them of $25 million and five years of probation. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, has also been sued under the ATS for allegedly trafficking 13 men from Nepal to Iraq against their will to work on U.S. military bases. The men, 12 of whom were killed, believed they were going to work at hotels in Jordan and elsewhere.

The Obama administration backed Shell last June after abruptly changing sides. In its submission the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit against Shell. The brief’s authors stated that the ATS was not appropriate for Kiobel or other lawsuits involving foreign corporations accused of collaborating in human rights abuses with a foreign government outside U.S. territory. U.S. courts “should not create a cause of action that challenges the actions of a foreign sovereign in its own territory, where the [sued party] is a foreign corporation of a third country that allegedly aided and abetted the foreign sovereign’s conduct,” the Justice Department wrote.

Many activists say that the decision will set back human rights causes. “This decision so severely limited a law that has for decades been a beacon of hope for victims of gross human rights violations,” says Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, a New York based NGO. “Abusers may be rejoicing today, but this is a major setback for their victims, who often look to the United States for justice when all else fails.  Now what will they do?” However, other lawyers drew a measure of hope from the fact that the Supreme Court decision did not exclude all lawsuits against multinationals overseas in U.S. courts.

 

Military Recruitment, Casualties, and Public Opinion

Mobilizing Ideas

International Studies Quarterly just published Yagil Levy‘s most recent work on the reshaping of military conflict due to democracy, technology, and now protest.  I have posted elsewhere about his work on casualty aversion due to the intersection of democracy and technology (and also on related work by Jonathan Caverley).  This piece, titled “How Military Recruitment Affects Collective Action and its Outcomes” [gated] explores the impact of military recruitment on a public’s willingness to “absorb” casualties among its soldiers during military conflict.  In other words, Levy wants to know the extent to which recruitment impacts the collective action opportunities of those who would (de)mobilize public opinion in democracies regarding casualties, and thereby support for the war.

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Dutch court rules mostly in favor of Shell

Four Nigerian farmers of the Goi and Oruma villages, supported by the Dutch NGO Friends of the Earth and the local Environmental Rights Action, sued Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch District Court of The Hague for four oil spills between 2004 and 2009. This past Wednesday, the court ruled that the oil spills were caused by sabotage, and that Royal Dutch Shell is not liable towards 3 of the 4 farmers. It dismissed the claims of the Friends of the Earth. The court’s decision would support the idea that much of the Niger Delta pollution is caused by criminal activity carried out by locals, which has been the argument of  oil companies defending their role in the environmental damage there.

The court did find that the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a Nigerian subsidiary, could have prevented the sabotage in one case by plugging up the well but then acknowledged that the SPDC subsequently contained the leak. Nevertheless, Shell has been ordered to pay compensation to one farmer and has agreed to do so.

The verdict is not necessarily a total defeat for Niger Deltans.  Although the farmers did not prevail, the case does establish that cases against Dutch companies for misdeed abroad can be heard in Dutch courts. Friends of the Earth announced that the case was intended as a test and that the organization is satisfied by the precedent. The case been followed closely by those who have been interested in the Saro-Wiwa and Kiobel rulings.

Read details of the ruling here.

Related articles:

 

Dispatches from Women’s Rights Events in Nigeria

March 8th was International Women’s Day and I attended several women’s events across Rivers State throughout the month.  There was the women’s march of the Roman Catholic Church in Ogoniland, the worker rights training for the women members of PENGASSAN (the national labor union for oil workers), an awards dinner for a gender-focused Nigerian NGO, and the NLC Women’s Committee International Women’s Day Celebration.  The first event represents rural mobilization, the second workplace, the third non-profit, and the last state-sponsored, since the NLC has close ties with the government and there were many state representatives there. All in all, I was able to make observations about the public rhetoric surrounding women’s rights in quite varied environments.

I had intended to compare and contrast my observations to see how they differed, but instead I couldn’t help identifying commonalities among all the events. Like all meetings in southern Nigeria, they were opened with an enthusiastic prayer asking Jesus to bless the day, which was led by a male speaker who reminiscent of a Pentecostal preacher.  Nigerians are avid church attendees and everyone identifies with a denomination, so the opening prayers seemed second-nature to most of those present.  I don’t know if there were Muslims or other non-Christians there.

I have some mixed opinions on invoking Christianity at secular women’s rights events.  There is of course the concern how this affects the non-Christian attendees, perhaps marginalizing them from the discussions. Additionally, believers in gender equality have a right to mobilize at such events outside of religious parameters, and when nearly every speaker references God then one’s religion becomes the gateway through which one must mobilize.  This makes one’s belief in a certain type of Christianity a sort of precondition for her involvement in the gender movement.

Conversely however, church services are a familiar platform for most Nigerians, and presenting the day events as such has immense power to communicate a message to attendees. Nigerians embrace the singing and dancing of lively church services here, as they did at the women’s events too. Framing the improvement of women’s status in religious terms may also make mobilization acceptable for women who would otherwise see it as “looking for trouble,” as my interviewees call it.

Along with Uganda, Nigeria is arguably one of the most overtly anti-gay countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with parliament passing a very strict bill last fall that allows for ten year in prison for anyone who even aids same-sex unions. There is a common belief that homosexuality is a Western import, with Europeans and Americans “spreading it” to Nigeria. My observations last month made me wonder if the LGBT cause wouldn’t be strengthened if some of its messages were presented in a way more compatible with the strong religious sentiment in the country, since respect for the LGBT community and religion need not be totally incompatible (as they are here). The nascent Nigerian LGBT movement could perhaps take a cue from successful women’s rights campaigns in this regard.

The second observation I made is there were no men in the audience, yet the emcee and over half of all speakers were male at each event.  In a room of over 100 women in support of the improvement of their own status, it is paradoxical that men were the interlocutors the majority of time. What message does this send? It may convey that men’s voices matter more than women’s, or that women should mobilize with men leading the way. It makes men the gatekeepers of the gender discussion. It furthers entrenches the idea that it is men with the confidence and education to speak to large groups of people, and women are best as the listeners. Disturbingly, all but a few of the male speakers made jokes about women’s role in the kitchen or bedroom, one even remarking that empowered women make better lovers. It is probably logical to assume that more female speakers would have meant less objectification of women’s bodies as a form of humor. When I asked an organizer of one of the events why there were so many men speaking, she essentially said that men’s presence validates the legitimacy of the event. Since she wanted powerful people as the speakers and most powerful people are male, naturally there is male dominance on stage.

Lastly and most importantly, the gender movement in Nigeria has a long way to go in respecting women’s rights simply because they are people and not because of their role as wives, mothers, or caregivers. The single most dominant message that was conveyed by speakers, well received by the audience, and then reiterated during discussion sections was that we should help women access improved political participation, education, health care because of their role in the family.  Women should go to the polls more so they can vote for policies that benefit their husband’s industry or their children’s well-being. Women should have health care so that they live long enough to raise their children and care for their husbands in the home.  Women should be educated so that they can help their children with their homework and be more responsible with the household budget.  One of the most charismatic male speakers at the NLC event conveyed the principal message that women should complete secondary school so they don’t embarrass their husbands with their ignorance, “When your wife no speak English-o when your friends are in the house, then the shame is for the husband like the wife.” I think he was trying to convey that educating women is everyone’s responsibility, but he did so in a paternal way.

Two elements of this last point are important I think.  First, women’s rights must be based on the fact that they are human beings, on their humanity, and not on their relationship to men and society at large (See MacKinnon’s Are Women Human?). Often times in a effort to protect women, and I use the word “protect” purposefully, they are granted special or distinct rights that I think further remove them from the realm of basic human rights.  Thus, human and civil rights end up being “male” while separate women’s rights are “female.” This spreads the idea that women matter only in terms of their relation to the family, and limits their importance in the outside community. Where does this rhetoric leave widowed, barren, or unmarried women? To be meaningful and enduring, women’s rights cannot depend on their relation to men in order to legitimate their status.  Such rights must be rooted simply in their status as human beings.

 Second, by further reinforcing women’s role in the home, the private sphere, they are moved even farther away from the roles of men in the public sphere.  All of the gender events I went to last month buttressed the perception of men and women’s inherent differences. One of the longstanding debates in gender studies is about the sameness-difference versus equality model (See Frug’s Postmodern Feminism).  Supporters of the sameness-difference model argue that there are clear distinctions between men and women, e.g. physical strength and childbirth, and that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging those distinctions. The problem with society is that we privilege the male condition over the female one, male qualities over female ones. They find that if we could just enhance respect for what women bring to the table, then there will be gender equality that benefits all.  However, the equality folks, one of which is me, find that by validating such differences between men and women we provide the context in which prejudice takes root; for it is only by acknowledging inherent differences that we can justify unequal treatment. Differences provide an excuse for discrimination. “Separate is inherently unequal” whether one is referencing racial segregation in American schools fifty years ago or African women’s access to public office today.  And although I realize that the equality model will probably never been culturally accepted in most places in the world, it is still a noble ideal towards which societies should strive.

 

 The head speaker at the NLC Women’s Day Event.

Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case coming from Ogoniland in the Niger Delta. Ogoniland is the birth place of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the epicenter of the anti-oil movement in the 1990s, and the most polluted area in Nigeria.  Nineteen plaintiffs have brought Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum under the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act/Alien Tort Statute (ATS). It was originally intended to show the international community that the U.S. government would enforce and provide remedies for violations of international customary laws. Although ignored for almost 200 years, it was revived in that Filartiga v. Pena-Irala (1980) case that found a Paraguayan former Police Chief guilty of torturing a Paraguayan political dissident four years earlier in Asunción.  A non-American petitioner challenging a non-American respondent for a crime committed outside of the U.S., on the grounds that the crime was a violation of international law, won in an American court—quite a precedent.  Since then, more than 120 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts against 59 corporations for alleged wrongful acts in 60 foreign countries, almost all for “aiding and abetting” foreign governments. ATS has been utilized against multinational oil companies operating in Burma and Sudan. In a Nigerian case, jurors in Boweto v. Chevron (2008) found Chevron not guilty of knowingly assisting soldiers in human rights abuses committed in January of 1999. In Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Shell, Shell settled out of court for $15 million. Aside from some settlements, the ATS has not been particularly successful at bringing convictions against MNCs operating in the global south, but many human rights activists in the legal field still hold hope that it can.

For the Kiobel case, the question is less about whether Nigerians can bring a case against non-Americans for the torture and extrajudicial killings that occurred in their community, but whether or not they can bring the case against a corporation. Does international law recognize corporate responsibility? The 2nd Circuit of Appeals found that it does not, with the majority writing, “Corporate liability is not discernible” because “no corporation has ever been subject to any form of liability (whether civil or criminal) under the customary international law of human rights.” In other words, the behemoth rise of the multi-national corporation has outpaced international law’s ability to regulate it.

Dutch Shell’s counsel will rely heavily on the argument that there is no precedence for corporate criminal liability under ATS. However, those who believe corporations can be held criminally liable under international customary law point to post-WWII jurisprudence. The Allies, under the authority of international law, dissolved several German corporations that had produced goods and invested money in support of Hitler’s war efforts.  The most famous was I.G. Farben, the manufacturer of poison gases, drugs, and oil used in the Holocaust. The Ogonis’ case will largely depend on whether their lawyers can successfully equate Nazi-supporting German corporations with contemporary oil companies operating in Nigeria.

Even if Dutch Shell is successful in this argument, it may not necessarily be the end of the road for the Ogonis. Law is an inherently discursive space that changes form little-by-little as its parameters and content are constantly renegotiated.  Although he wrote it in last year’s decision dismissing a case against Firestone for children’s rights violation in Liberia, Judge Posner wrote, “Suppose no corporation had ever been punished for violating customary international law. There is always a first time for litigation to enforce a norm; there has to be. There were no multinational prosecutions for aggression and crimes against humanity before the Nuremberg Tribunal was created.” Although law is inherently conservative, and gathers much of its power from being so, it is not immutable.

The Ogonis counsel could cite the 2010 Citizens United ruling that corporations’ personhood give them free speech protections. The Supreme Court found that the framers of the Constitution intended the First Amendment to apply to corporate persons. It requires impressive creativity to argue that corporations are “people” deserving of constitutional protections but not “people” liable for crimes against humanity prohibited by a statute passed in the decade following ratification of the Constitution, unless one emphasizes that Citizens United was unrelated to international law.

John Bellinger, former legal advisor to the State Department, supports curbing the ATS.  He finds that its original intent to allow foreign nationals to sue in federal courts for violations of international law was only to reduce diplomatic frictions for the nascent United States. However, since international law does not allow courts of one country to exercise jurisdiction in civil cases over offenses in other countries, foreign governments have filed more than 20 protests with the State Department and federal courts in Alien Tort Statute suits over the past decade. Paradoxically, its modern application is creating the very diplomatic tensions that it was meant to prevent. For Bellinger, the major concern over ATS is reciprocity. The U.S. government would certainly be opposed to foreign courts hearing cases against American corporations for violations of international law. Reuters points out that such litigation is time-consuming, expensive, and complicated.

My prediction: The United States, well-known for its exceptionalism, is often behind other developed countries in marrying itself to international human rights law. It waited almost thirty years to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  It is the only developed nation left that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child not the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and it will probably never ratify the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Even under intense international pressure, the U.S. privileges its sovereignty over international human rights law, which means there is very little chance that an American court would indulge an international law-based ATS claim against a corporation without even an international tribunal doing so first.

The Spillover Effect of Occupy Nigeria

The powerful emergence of Occupy Nigeria could have profound implications for the human rights mobilizations that previously existed here. There is an extensive women’s health movement that focuses on lowering maternal mortality rates through building women-only hospitals and conducting public health education campaigns (a darling cause of several First Ladies here). Child rights campaigners have aligned with government agencies to try to stop the use of child labor, namely families sending young children to work as vendors and beggars. Several civil society groups focus on improving accountability and transparency among state officials, a challenging feat in a country where corruption pervades the highest levels of the federal government. To a lesser extent, there is also a nascent LGBTQ rights campaign by groups such as The Initiative for Equal Rights that have received virulent criticism, creating an anti-gay rights legislative backlash over the last year. How will Occupy Nigeria, far more poignant and widespread than any of these other movements, impact previous human rights causes?

The strength of the anti-oil campaign in the Niger Delta has fluctuated since it emerged twenty years ago. It was at its strongest in the mid-1990s under the direction of Ken Saro-Wiwa, but it then faded after his execution and with the increased repression of the Abacha regime. After the implementation of the new democratic constitution in 1999, it revived itself when women in Rivers and Delta state became increasingly involved in largely peaceful protests against oil companies. The most well-known is the occupation of Chevron’s Escravos site by 600 Itsekiri and Ijaw women who halted production there for 10 days in the summer of 2002. The following January dozens of Ijaw women in Warri blocked a river leading to a proposed Naval base in protest against government neglect and as recently as 2010 Shell closed two flow stations for several days due to a women’s sit-in. In January 2012, women from the Kolu-Ama community protested by setting up a roadblock to a Chevron office, demanding the company put out an offshore platform fire.

Although these women’s anti-oil movement has been overshadowed by Occupy Nigeria in the last month, I think that ultimately the Niger Delta mobilization benefits from collective action for other causes because of a “spill over” effect.

The Spillover Effect of Occupy Nigeria II

No social movement exists in isolation. Social movements constitute and are constituted by sympathetic and oppositional mobilizations. One movement can alter subsequent movements externally by affecting cultural and political conditions, and internally by changing the individuals, groups and norms within the later movement.  Organizations with hybrid identities – those whose organizational identities span the boundaries of two or more social movements – are especially vital to creating this spillover.  Thus, Occupy Nigeria is in part a product of the anti-oil movement and a comprising force of it as well.

Social movements cannot be labeled as “successes” or “failures” aside from their impact on policy.  Even when a movement is inactive like Occupy Nigeria, it may still function as a training ground for activists and as well as an engine for shaping ideologies. First, all collective action allows participants to “practice” resistance. Organizing for various related social changes over several decades is the rule rather than the exception for activists, as studies of the American civil rights and African independence movements illustrate. Not only do movement veterans continue to mobilize at higher rates than nonveterans for other causes throughout their lives, they carry their political lessons and perspectives that shaped their collective identity with them. An early social mobilization may act as a training ground for participants and leaders who bring their experiences and expertise to a later mobilization that may enjoy success as a result of their know-how. Additionally, an early mobilization not only teaches participants, it can also refine new leaders who become key players later on.  A low-level participant in an early movement may become a leader in a subsequent one, e.g. Malcolm X was a member of the anti-Korean War mobilization before leading the radical wing of the civil rights struggle. Such spillover in expertise furthers tactical innovation as well, as activists learn which methods of activism are most useful. The 2002 peaceful takeover in Escravos led to oil labor strikes by men in various sites of Delta State, as activists had learned that impeding production was the most powerful tool in gaining the attention of the state and oil companies.

When several different campaigns necessarily interact, even those that eventually end or become dormant, a stronger social movement community emerges. In Nigeria, the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center has programs for environmental protection, local conflict resolution, and human rights awareness campaigns, with the idea that all three causes help to improve the status of women in southern Nigeria.  Hybrid organizations such as Kebetkache are well-positioned to use inter-organizational networks in order to allow activists from one movement, e.g. environmentalism, to participate in another, e.g. peacebuilding.  This transfer of individuals reifies a collective identity and serves the organizational maintenance needs of the movement. This social movement community also gives activists a more structured way of staying involved in future campaigns.

Second, nearly all collective action shapes both internal and external ideologies to some extent. An early social mobilization may make intangible but important strides in altering participants’ consciousness about the salience of its cause and the causes of other movements. Even a mobilization that does not stimulate policy change can still heighten prospects about what sort of change is possible; the act of shared rights-claiming can raise expectations of future success.  This rights-claiming is also a process through which activists ossify their shared identity and relationship with one another, relationships that are pivotal in other mobilizations.

Aside from affecting the consciousness of movement members, even short-lived movements alter popular consciousness about reform on a larger scale. They have an ability to alter public discourse regarding their cause and frame the way outsiders view their issue. A series of challenges to the status quo, even challenges that have no direct effect on policy, may make some outside of the movement more open to change. Additionally, collective memory is such that contemporary ideology provides us with the lens through which we view the past. A later success for the same or similar cause may lead us to believe that a past “failed” movement was more “successful” than it really was. This can be seen in the way that history may heroize movement leaders, Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni rights mobilizations for example.

Lastly, for two social movements that co-exist simultaneously, the emerging salience of one may leave the struggling other with more time to devote to re-assessing strategy and resources. In other words, it can take the heat off a movement that has received backlash. LGBT activists in Nigeria have said that Occupy Nigeria has beneficial to them because it has shifted attention away from their cause as they still try to recover from the passage of a federal anti-gay marriage bill last year, one that enjoyed widespread support across the country. The Executive Director of the Improve Male Health Initiative has called Occupy Nigeria a “blessing” because it has bought the organization more time to shore up resources while attention is focused on the fuel crisis.

So, simply because Occupy Nigeria is not on the streets does not mean that it is not functioning.  Those who have “practiced” resistance will carry with them those experiences in future political activism. They constitute a larger community of activists with a collective identity. Ebbing overt activity and influence is sometimes helpful in giving movements the opportunity for re-assessing strategy, tactics, and collective identity. Moments of inactivity provide special impetus for movement-to-movement linkages as beleaguered activists and organizations pool their strength against powerful opponents. Even during periods of low activity, movements both endure and impact other movements through organizational forms that maintain culture and ideology.