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.