Why No Labels will not become a social movement


If you watched the State of the Union last night, you probably noticed 1) the green ribbons in remembrance of the victims of the Newtown shooting and 2) the orange accessories for the No Labels Movement. I wrote about them in 2010 (see below). While the show of colors last night indicates the movement has some traction in both parties, I am not optimistic that this will translate into consensus or a more congenial political atmosphere.  

“We’re mad as heck and we are going to work together to find an agreeable solution!” joked an activist on NPR’s Morning Edition when asked to describe the new advocacy organization, No Labels.

No Labels, the brainchild of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, does have a catchy motto “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” According to the website (www.nolabels.org) the organization is not actually asking people to give up their labels, but to “merely put them aside to do what’s best for America.” In the wake of an ugly election cycle, the idea of a politically centrist organization may have a lot of general appeal. As the October Stewart/Colbert rally and virtually any political poll illustrate, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with government and rampant partisanship.

Beyond the slogan, however, it is clear that defining centricism and determining organizational goals is easier said than done. After its six hour meeting, most news reports assess that the only thing attendees agreed on was that the current political climate is toxic. The group did set some general goals.  It wants to sign up 1 million members across the country and mobilize in each of the congressional districts. No Labels will also form a PAC so that it can mobilize around issues and support candidates. In short, it wants to become as powerful as MoveOn and the Tea Party Movement, but for the center. No Labels, leaders argue, will provide a foundation for a centrist social movement.

While the organization may ultimately be effective at engaging individuals in the political process around specific issues, this does not a movement make. Social movements are identifiable by a shared goal and a sense of ‘we-ness.” A group that does not offer its members either — a sense of purpose or a shared identity (even at a general level) — cannot provide a movement base. The lack of labels, in short, will stymie its ability to provide a basis of a lasting social movement.

Of course, this does not mean the organization won’t be effective. Given the sizable bankroll of its backers and the general malaise, No Labels is likely to make a political splash. However, the campaigns sponsored the organization are likely to be narrowly focused at best. After all, it is Democrats and Republicans calling the plays and I suspect setting aside these labels will be difficult.


About Double take Sociology

I am a Professor of Sociology, a Research Associate in the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and an Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Community Engagement in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. To find links to my research, visit www.DeanaRohlinger.com.
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