Occupiers and Dreamers

Occupiers and Dreamers: Insiders and Outsiders in a New Political Generation

Tuesday February 2, 2016 | 3:00PM- 4:30PM | 519 Kaneff Tower


Ruth Milkman
Distinguished Professor of Sociology, CUNY Graduate Centre, and Research
Director, Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies

Young adults have long been overrepresented among political activists, and their
generationally specific experiences and worldviews often shape social movement
agendas. Although these phenomena have received limited scholarly attention in
recent years, they are highly salient features of the new cycle of protest that
has emerged in the 21st century United States. This talk analyzes two key
components of that cycle, the 2011 Occupy Wall Street uprising and the movement
of undocumented immigrant “Dreamers”. Both were led by U.S. “Millennials” (born
between 1980 and 2000). Milkman argues that Millennials comprise a new
political generation, with a worldview that sets it apart from previous
generations of U.S. activists. She compares the Occupiers’ and Dreamers’
political strategies and organizational forms and argues that, despite a shared
worldview, this new political generation is heterogeneous in regard to modes of
mobilization. The Occupiers were a relatively privileged group of young people
whose aspirations were frustrated, especially in the context of the Great
Recession, threatening them with exclusion from the economic stratum they had
long expected to enter. By contrast, the Dreamers were already marginalized
because of their undocumented status and sought inclusion within the economic
mainstream. Their different social locations, in turn, contributed to
Occupiers’ and Dreamers’ distinctly different political strategies and
organizational forms.

Ruth Milkman is a sociologist of labour and labour movements who has written on
a variety of topics involving work and organized labour in the United States,
past and present. Recently she has written extensively about low-wage immigrant
workers in the U.S., analyzing their employment conditions as well as the
dynamics of immigrant labour organizing. She helped lead a multi-city team that
produced a widely publicized 2009 study documenting the prevalence of wage theft
and violations of other workplace laws in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. She
also co-authored a study of California’s paid family leave program, focusing on
its impact on employers and workers. After 21 years as a sociology professor at
UCLA, where she directed the Institute for Research on Labour and Employment
from 2001 to 2008, she returned to New York City in 2010 for a position at the
CUNY Graduate Centre and Joseph S. Murphy Institute. In August 2015, she became
President of the American Sociological Association.

Audio | Milkman

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