All posts by Marianne Cowherd

Presentation Response

Jessica’s presentation on the model minority myth made me interested in learning about how different stereotypes beyond black and asian stereotypes interact with each other in the US. I’m also interested in learning if there are types of model minority stereotypes that exist in other countries. In other countries with white majorities, like some countries in Europe, are there similar types of interactions with other minority groups or do different histories of immigration make this different? What about countries with nonwhite majorities?

In Liz’s presentation, I learned a lot about nonviolent activist handbooks and specific anti-regime activist movements in eastern Europe that I wasn’t familiar with. I think that looking specifically at Gene Sharp’s activist handbook, which she described as being found after the dust settles in handbooks all around the world, pointed to connections between activist movements that I wasn’t previously aware of.

Sol’s presentation on the place of extremism in the animal rights movement surprised me the most because I haven’t given much thought to the different groups within that movement in the past. I had heard of groups such as ALF but hadn’t really looked at the distinctions between mainstream vegan/vegetarian activism and groups less violent than ALF but who still significantly break social norms in their activism. Sol’s point that extreme activism needs to significantly distance itself from mainstream activism in order to not impede on the effectiveness of that activism but that in distancing itself can actually further the overall animal rights movement wasn’t something I had thought about before and I think might be more widely applicable to other types of movements.

David’s presentation on the connections between money and politics inspired me to be more aware of the different influences that special interest groups have on government actions and policies. It also made me think more critically about campaign propaganda that I saw during the 2016 election as well as factors that go into the difficulties in communicating between people with different pre-existing conceptions. His presentation was also relevant to a process in which I, as a US voter, directly participate.

Thesis on self-presentation of racial context

Question: How do the Malheur (the CCF) and Standing Rock occupations fit into the historical context of land rights in the US and how do their interactions with that history determine modern outcomes?

My thesis in the RBA is that the groups took opposite approaches to presenting race in their rhetoric. CCF actively avoided mentioning race and took extra steps to evade extremely relevant racial histories and dynamics. In Standing Rock, race, particularly history and identity, are central to the movements rhetoric, justification, and demands.

To present this, I begin with a history of land in the US with a focus on the two parcels of land in question in these movements. In Oregon, this land was originally inhabited by the Wadatika (Paiute), who were cordoned onto smaller reservations during homesteading. Land unclaimed by whites became federal land. In North Dakota, I present the history of the US military defeat of the  Sioux and partitioning of the Great Sioux Reservation. That reservation was subsequently chipped away at, leaving five separate modern reservations with a fraction of the original land under tribal ownership.

To look at each group’s interactions with racial narratives, I present their primary source rhetoric and examine how that translated into mainstream media representation. The CCF begins their history with federal seizure after homesteading, not with the displacement of the Wadatika, and use this incomplete history to claim that the federal government illegitimately took the land from “the people” as represented by state and local governments. I argue that the people they illegitimately took it from were the Wadatika and that the “people’s ownership” is more direct under federal management than under local control. I also examine their interaction with white supremacist groups and rhetoric and with Latter-Day Saints religious tradition.

In Standing Rock, I present primary rhetoric and reported narratives and discuss how activists portray the past, spirituality, and their hopes for the future. I look at the representation of what is a strong presence of a non-Christian religion in news reporting and at courtroom precedent and legal standing of sovereign Native nations. There are a lot of primary source interviews with activists and statements from the tribe that make great sources, especially when presented in parallel with legal-ese filings and proceedings.

In the end, I discuss on-the-ground consequences of the groups’ actions and rhetoric, and place the interactions between law enforcement and the activists groups within the history of their movements and the history of public land-focused activism. I hope that my paper will leave readers with questions on the intersection between racial dynamics and law enforcement as well as an appreciation for public land policy and the significance of history in modern activist movements.


Infographic feedback on directing attention toward a thesis


Peer feedback on my written proposal helped me cut down on the unnecessary background information in my introduction. I was spending so much time on details that I didn’t leave room to develop and present a thesis. I also didn’t explicitly state that my thesis would deal with race, rather I left it heavily implied. After getting feedback, I took out significant sections of my introduction, re-organized the presentation of my argument, and re-wrote my conclusion to frame how I will be addressing race in my RBA.

In my in-class presentation, I received feedback on how to more explicitly present the racial aspects of my research topic. In the center portion of the bottom section, I previously had a long paragraph about specific rhetorical choices and the national-level sovereign citizen movement. I was told that this seemed unrelated to the earlier sections of my infographic and was also quite wordy, making it unlikely that a viewer would read and engage with that specific section. In viewing the infographic, people felt that side-by-side comparisons of images and facts made the most powerful points when it came to directing attention toward an argument.

My research focuses on understanding the history of the land on which the Malheur and Standing Rock movements took/are taking place. I will examine how each group specifically engaged with race in their rhetoric and how that affected their message. I will also present the reactions taken by law enforcement, local citizens, and the media, with a focus on the intersection of land use and ownership history and race. I believe that current race relations in these situations are inextricably connected to the history of the land and that activist groups use intentional presentations of history to further their messages.

Topics in environmental activism

  1. Environmental activist group Earth First! was formed in 1979 in response to the RARE-II re-evaluation of public lands in the US and from there became one of the leading radical environmentalist groups in America. Focusing on topics related to wilderness and wildlife preservation, the group later gained notoriety for its practice of more radical, hands-on tactics, including tree-spiking, tree-sitting, and using banners and paint to decorate dams with cracks. As Earth First! and splinter group Earth Liberation Front (ELF) became more confrontational and controversial, accusations of FBI planting of ideas, especially acts of violence that lead to arrests of members, abounded.
  2. Journalism has a significant role in both communicating and participating in activism. Cases such as the the one depicted in Spotlight, reporting on the Snowden leaks, and Amy Goodman’s arrest while covering the Dakota Access Pipeline are all examples of journalism engaging with activism. Interesting research in this  area could examine specific cases of the First Amendment protecting freedom of the press concerning activist movements. Current trends in widespread access to online, non-professional information sharing is also relevant to this topic.
  3. In early 2016, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was occupied by 40 armed militants, lead by Ammon Bundy, whose father, Clive, was involved in a 2014 standoff also concerning rights to publicly-owned lands. In this area, I am interesting in looking at the history of public reactions to public land as well as more recent events, specifically comparing law enforcement reactions to the Bundy standoffs and Dakota Access Pipeline encampments.
  4. In recent years, activist voices concerned about the abundance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products have gained prominence. Calls for boycotts of GMOs and legally-mandated labelling of GMO products have prompted national discussion, despite the lack of conclusive scientific evidence. While no legislation exists yet, many individual stores and brands have started advertising as GMO-free. A possible research topic in this area is investigating the dilution of other environmental narratives by buzzword-heavy, factually-suspect claims.
  5. Throughout the Southwest, water rights are a complicated issue that touch on areas ranging from agricultural productivity to Native sovereignty and religion. Two recent lawsuits, one against the EPA in the 2015 Gold King mine spill and another against Snowbowl Ski Resort in response to artificial snowmaking on sacred mountains, highlight issues in Native water rights. Research in this area could look at Native appeals through the US legal system concerning rights and usage of water in the Southwest.

Of these, I’m most interested in exploring different instances of occupation-based engagement with public lands. Government responses to activist movements have varied significantly, as has the success of different examples. Comparing the Bundy and DAPL engagements is particularly interesting because of the intersection of these issues with Native sovereignty, racial biases, and gun regulations. There is also a lot of room to look at what happened to individuals from each movement that entered the legal system as a result. In the Bundy standoffs, there was no significant direct physical engagement. Many arrests were made and of those, some individuals pleaded guilty to specific charges, others were tried and found not guilty. In Standing Rock, there was much more direct physical engagement from both the government and private security hired by pipeline companies. Individual responses to being arrested varied significantly, including some who may end up incarcerated in order to avoid giving names of other activists. I think looking at America’s public land is of importance now, as questions concerning our climate future become increasingly critical. There is also a strong connection to American history and federalism especially concerning rights to land and federal and state oversight on different types of land.

Corporate Coopting of Culture Jamming

In chapter 5 of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, author Tim Jordan describes the practice of culture jamming is described as “…an attempt to reverse and transgress the meaning of cultural codes whose primary aim is to persuade us to buy something or to be someone” (Jordan 102). Examples given in the text include subversive billboard alterations and magazine publications dedicated to satirical recreations of actual advertisements. In the context of the discussion of the definition of activism discussed in chapter 1, in which the distinction is drawn between movements that seek to fundamentally dismantle power structures and those which work for change within existing social infrastructures, culture jamming fits an interesting vein. When groups such as the Billboard Liberation Front alter paid advertising from companies with whose messages they disagree, they are working within the idea that advertising is normal. There is a power in this type of messaging; it is more meaningful to display the flaws of an ad than to simply remove the ad. It does, however further validate the practice of branding and manipulating desire as fundamental to normal life.

This is exemplified in the multilayered Nike Australia incident, in which the corporation plastered its own billboards with overtly company-originated commentary in the style of traditional jammers, which had targeted the manufacturer in the past, only to be subjected to seemingly independent jams and widely criticized in the press. It was later suggested that Nike had been behind not only the first wave of plastering but had funded and initiated the backlash, successfully creating a media storm that garnered immense publicity. Even the first round in this case is an example of culture jammers providing inspiration and impetus behind an advertising campaign, something ostensibly contrary to the unstated mission of the unincorporated provocateur. The following turns go even deeper into corporate coopting of culture jamming, facilitated by the movement itself both by providing the context for Nike’s actions and possibly having members working on the company’s side. All the while, willingly or not, both culture jammer and advertiser contribute to the dialogue surrounding the thought that the difference between vandalism and improvement is a matter of perspective. That, in contrast to direct commentary of specific messaging, challenges an accepted societal norm.