By Mary Frances Berry | Protest movements began to shift tactics in the late 1980s. Unlike earlier movements, which had identifiable leaders who demanded specific policy changes, political protests increasingly relied on creative expression to influence the public and public policy. Using storytelling, graffiti, alternative music, street theater, puppetry, and new media technologies, protests sought to change popular culture and mobilize support for progressive change. The medium became the message, as Marshall McLuhan had recommended decades earlier. Now there was rap music, zap actions by the Guerrilla Girls, and Critical Mass, which brings hundreds of people together for bicycle riding in the streets, and which San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was finally forced to accept. Disruption remained the aim of these gatherings; however, it would be misleading to draw sharp distinctions between protest styles of the 1960s and 1990s.
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A Q&A with Mary Frances Berry and Jeanne Theoharis: I wrote this book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times, because my editor, reinforced by friends and colleagues after Trump’s election, argued that the public needed reminding of how and why resistance has succeeded and or failed in the past. And I felt I could provide that based on my experience in several movements and through my historical research. Though history does not repeat itself exactly, perhaps we can learn something from history or at least be encouraged.
By Gayatri Patnaik: I had the very good fortune to meet Dr. Mary Frances Berry (MFB) when I was twenty-one years old and working at the University of Pennsylvania. Having recently graduated from college with one major and an excessive number of minors (three!), I was undecided about what to pursue in graduate school. I ended up in Philly, working in Penn’s history department, where, in addition to supporting the professors administratively, I was allowed to sit in on classes and lectures.