Syllabus & Learning Goals

Grassroots Democracy: Social Movements Since the 1960s
(POLI 16 - ICS 36)
Nicky González Yuen, Instructor


This course is a study in how regular people in the US have tried to improve their lives and strengthen their communities in the face of racism, class heirarchy, sexism, political inequality and environmental exploitation. Sometimes they are able to work within the existing political system to get things done. But most often, they have also had to build community power through populist organizing, protests, and demonstrations. These are extraordinary acts, but most often they are carried out by regular people who in the process then become extraordinary themselves.

How did they do this? And what can we learn from how they succeeded and how, also, they fell short of their goals.

By the end of the term I would like for you to be able to identify the major internal and external factors contributing to the rise and fall of social and political movements.

The common point of reference for each case study is the interplay between the social, economic, and environmental forces present during the development and mobilization of each movement, the strategies and tactics adopted within each movement, the reaction of elites and government officials, and the relative successes and failures of each movement.

What we'll learn:

There are ten things you're going to get to understand really well in 12 weeks. (You can see below a calendar summary of what topics we'll be covering in what weeks and when assignments are due.) We can formally call these 10 items our "Learning Goals":

  1. What moves people to action??? Why do some people suffer while others organize??? Which category would YOU fall into?
  2. Why do some efforts at social change succeed while others fail?
  3. How were some groups able to develop "strategic capacity" while others fell short?
  4. What were the different social, family and institutional resources available to different movements and which resources were tapped into while others were left idle?
  5. How did race, class and gender influence what happened?
  6. What is the role of "narrative" or "story-telling" in the way people think about their identities, their situation, their power and their response to their situations?
  7. How well did different social movements analyze and develop effective strategies and tactics that appropriately fit the power dynamics of their specific situations? How did they do this? What did they do?
  8. What were the consequences of movement organizing for each group’s ethnic (or other) identity and how do they compare across movements?
  9. What specifically was the role of women in each of these social movements?
  10. Finally, how well can YOU apply the information and concrete organizing skills of effective social movement organizing to think about and improve your own communities?

How we'll learn:

What if you could get academic credit for doing something really fun and really meaningful?  What if you could learn about some of the most important things going on in the world today? What if you could take a really fun college class where you forgot about the grade because the content was so interesting and learning was made easy in part *because* it was really challenging? Well it's your lucky day because this class does all of these things!

But let's be real too. This is a 4-unit college level class in which you'll be expected to learn and at the end of the day you'll get a grade. It's not at all hard to earn a good grade in the class if you take yourself seriously, study hard and try to enjoy learning the course material. 

Okay. So, why is this class so much fun? Well, part of it is HOW we learn in this class. We'll do a lot of hands-on learning. We'll collaborate. It will be a lot like playing was when you were younger except that it will be for adults. We'll take the time to get to know each other and we'll use the amazing power of our collective minds to create a really exciting class. This class also calls for regular reading, weekly writing, and hands-on participation both in and out of class.


Calendar Summary

calendar summary for POLI 16- topics and assignments