Social Movements and American Democracy in the 21st Century

Presented in partnership with the Library of Congress Kluge Center

Grassroots organizing and collective action have always been fundamental to American democracy. Some recent struggles by Americans to make their voices heard have not resulted in the kinds of changes that participants hoped for. But some movements, both recently and further back in American history, have succeeded in changing our society and the way that we understand it.

What’s the difference between a movement that wins victories for its constituents, and one that fails? What are the factors that make collective action powerful?

In this event, scholars of American politics, social movements, and civic participation will discuss the state of social movements in the US today and how they interact with other trends related to the health of democracy in a troubled time.


Hahrie Han is the Inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute, a professor of political science, and Faculty Director of the P3 Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University. She studies American Politics and specializes in the study of civic and political participation, social movements, collective action, and organizing, particularly as it pertains to democratic revitalization. She is the author of Prisms of the People and How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century.

Dana Fisher is a professor of sociology and the director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on questions related to democracy, activism, and environmentalism. She is the author of National Governance and the Global Climate Change Regime, Activism, Inc., Urban Environmental Stewardship and Civic Engagement, and American Resistance.

Leah Wright Rigueur is an associate research professor at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Her research expertise includes 20th Century American political and social history, modern African American history, race, politics, civil rights, contemporary social movements, political ideologies and institutions, and the American presidency. She is the author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power and Mourning in America: Black Men and Women in a White House.

Theda Skocpol, moderator, is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University, where she has served as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and as Director of the Center for American Political Studies. She holds elective membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. Skocpol serves on the Kluge Center’s Scholars Council.