Questions worth looking at?

Five of my ideas for our research projects are as follows:

1. Current-day water rights activism in California’s Central Valley – I’m curious about the people and movements behind all of the protesting signs I see driving along the I-5 corridor in the south San Jaoquin Valley. I’m interested to compare with California’s past Owens Valley conflicts.

2.  Non-oppressed speakers within self-directed social movements – a recent reading referenced a scholarly opening for work on the members of an activist group largely comprised of an oppressed group who are not part of said group themselves. Specifically, it calls for an analysis of such persons’ rhetoric (see the Charles Steward reading, last page)

3. Dakota Access Pipeline – I wonder why, of the many tramplings-on of indigenous rights in America, why was this the one which drew protesters from thousands of miles away across America? Was there a more pressing need there than elsewhere, or was there some ‘ego-function’, aesthetic factor, or other confounding cause that singled out this event as the one to join?

4. Tim Jordan spinoff – in his book Activism!, Tim Jordan argues that roughly between World War 1 and the 1960’s, all issues of activism had to relate themselves to class struggles somehow. Is there an analogous struggle today? Is income inequality, within and between countries, today’s issue? Is it environmentalism? Identity politics? The paper would be less a survey of different candidates than an argument for whichever one is found in research to be most compelling.

5. 2016 Election – I suspect that in many cases, voting for Trump this past November could be fit into the mold of a form of radical activism for people who felt that all ‘conventional’ options have failed. Perhaps it’s a stronger form of Brexit as a “protest vote”. This would maybe be more trodden ground and more concerned with satisfying existing scholarly criteria for activism, and so a less exciting paper to write.


Of these, I’ve done some preliminary reading on the first topic. The story of the Owens Valley in far eastern California is well-known in environmental circles, mostly as a tragic loss of small farming interests to Los Angeles’ power and money. In the 1920’s, LA crushed one of the California’s most prosperous farming regions into oblivion just to secure the land’s water rights. We see similar patterns today, in rhetoric castigating California’s farmers in the central valley for using 80% or more of the state’s water. The implication is that to better serve the greater number of people, the farmers must lose out, which was exactly the argument deployed a century before. Environmentally-driven laws on water conservation are pushing in the direction of this rhetoric.

In the earlier conflict, there were demonstrations, lawsuits, and ultimately the dynamiting of several aqueduct sections. Research would tell what parallels do or do not exist in today’s Central Valley- the situation is similar, but the demographics and economics are different. Ultimately, the question to answer is whether we’re heading towards another episode of ‘urban imperialism’, and whether those such as us in the Bay Area bubble are hearing what activist voices there are.

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