Study Guide

The following are some questions to facilitate group discussion of This Is an Uprising:

  1. In the United States, we are often told that the way to create change is through voting and through lobbying elected officials. This Is an Uprising presents a vision of social movement activity that goes beyond electoral politics. It suggests that groups of people without political connections or resources to pay elite lobbyists can nevertheless promote profound change. What do you think of this idea? Based on your experience, how do you think past social movements have influenced the society you live in today? Can this kind of organizing be effective in your community?
  2. In Chapter One of This Is an Uprising, Mark and Paul Engler discuss the distinction between “moral nonviolence” and “strategic nonviolence.” In particular, they describe how scholar Gene Sharp shifted from a stance of individual pacifism to advocacy for “civil resistance.” What do you think of this distinction? How does talking about nonviolent action as a method of political engagement differ from discussing nonviolence as a moral philosophy or personal code of conduct?
  3. Much of the study of civil resistance has focused on countries other than the United States. Academics and activists alike have explored how people living under undemocratic governments can challenge—and even overthrow—unjust regimes. Part of the project of This Is an Uprising is to examine how some of the concepts from the field of civil resistance might apply in the United States and in other countries which have formal democratic institutions in place. Do you think that theories of civil resistance can be relevant in a democratic nation? How might the application of these ideas play out differently in this context?
  4. In Chapter Four, Mark and Paul Engler highlight the difference between transactional politics and transformational perspectives on generating change. Do you believe this is a useful distinction? How might having an orientation toward one or the other affect a social movement campaign?
  5. Chapter Seven of This Is an Uprising describes the “moment of the whirlwind.” This moment involves “a dramatic public event or series of events that set off a flurry of activity.” This activity “quickly spreads beyond the institutional control of any one organization… drawing in people previously unconnected to established movement groups.” Have you ever witnessed a “moment of the whirlwind” or participated in one? What was the experience like? What was the “trigger event” that precipitated the period of intensified public engagement? Can you foresee possible triggers around issues that you care about which might spark future whirlwinds?
  6. Toward the end of This Is an Uprising, Mark and Paul Engler propose that social movement efforts with different methods for organizing can work together in an “ecology of change.” They write, “When mass mobilizations, established organizations, and alternative communities see themselves as complementary, they can create a movement ecosystem that allows diverse approaches to promoting change to flourish.” What do you think of this idea? Have you seen examples of healthy social movement ecosystems? How did distinct groups handle their differences with one another?