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Negative and Positive Radical Flank Effects on Social Movements: The Influence of Protest Cycles on Moderate and Conservative Organizations
Unformatted Document Text:  1 Introduction This paper argues that radical flanks, defined as radical organizations within a social movement sector, have both negative and positive effects on social movements depending upon the stage of activism in the life cycle of a protest movement. Specifically, the radical flank may help moderate organizations that employ both direct action and state sanctioned mechanisms of change and conservative social movement organizations (that focus on state sanctioned tactics) during the peak of activism. Conversely, as concessions are won, and the movement’s momentum wanes, the radical flank may begin to adversely affect the image of the more moderate organizations while buttressing state support for the conservative wing. We combine data from two high profile social movements that won major concessions within the last forty years, the Civil Rights Movement and the AIDS Social Movement. Both movements had organizations that served as a radical flank, yet both movements also had moderate and conservative organizations that served the movements in different capacities while working together to achieve overarching goals. While radical organizations employed direct action and radical tactics in battles with the state by engaging in public protests and demonstrations, moderate organizations served the movement as negotiators and intermediaries between the state and constituents including the radical flank. More conservative organizations worked within state sanctioned and judiciary institutions to bring about change. To be certain, the Civil Rights Movement and the AIDS Social Movement differed in their specific goals, but there are similarities in how their organizations interrelated with one another and how they were affected by state concessions. For the most part, moderate and conservative organizations supported the radical flank before concessions were gained. While members of radical organizations protested, were arrested, and given “jail, no bail”, moderate and conservative organizations relied on their radical counterparts to bring public attention to their cause. Also, in both cases after major state concessions were won, the ideology and goals of the radical flank became more extreme, and the moderate and conservative wings disassociated themselves from this contingent, with the latter having far more success than the former. In effect, the moderate organizations began to experience negative effects in the form of less state support, while the conservative organizations experienced substantial gains.

Authors: Robnett, Belinda. and Trammell, Rebecca.
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1
Introduction

This paper argues that radical flanks, defined as radical organizations within a social movement sector,
have both negative and positive effects on social movements depending upon the stage of activism in the life
cycle of a protest movement. Specifically, the radical flank may help moderate organizations that employ both
direct action and state sanctioned mechanisms of change and conservative social movement organizations (that
focus on state sanctioned tactics) during the peak of activism. Conversely, as concessions are won, and the
movement’s momentum wanes, the radical flank may begin to adversely affect the image of the more moderate
organizations while buttressing state support for the conservative wing. We combine data from two high profile
social movements that won major concessions within the last forty years, the Civil Rights Movement and the
AIDS Social Movement. Both movements had organizations that served as a radical flank, yet both movements
also had moderate and conservative organizations that served the movements in different capacities while
working together to achieve overarching goals. While radical organizations employed direct action and radical
tactics in battles with the state by engaging in public protests and demonstrations, moderate organizations served
the movement as negotiators and intermediaries between the state and constituents including the radical flank.
More conservative organizations worked within state sanctioned and judiciary institutions to bring about change.
To be certain, the Civil Rights Movement and the AIDS Social Movement differed in their specific
goals, but there are similarities in how their organizations interrelated with one another and how they were
affected by state concessions. For the most part, moderate and conservative organizations supported the radical
flank before concessions were gained. While members of radical organizations protested, were arrested, and
given “jail, no bail”, moderate and conservative organizations relied on their radical counterparts to bring public
attention to their cause. Also, in both cases after major state concessions were won, the ideology and goals of
the radical flank became more extreme, and the moderate and conservative wings disassociated themselves from
this contingent, with the latter having far more success than the former. In effect, the moderate organizations
began to experience negative effects in the form of less state support, while the conservative organizations
experienced substantial gains.


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