For Educators and Organizers

Divided We Fall provides a springboard for discussions on a multitude of topics of interest in the contemporary political environment and labor movement.  Here are just a few examples and some suggested readings:

Sociology: In their classic text, Poor People’s Movements, Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward demonstrate that, historically, when large masses of people are finally motivated to rise up and resist, organizational leaders generally act to blunt the edge of the uprising and seek to direct the energy of the people into “normal political channels.” The case study of the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising depicted in Divided We Fall appears to be almost a textbook example of what Piven and Cloward describe.

Discussion topic: What constitutes effective leadership of activist groups or social movements?  How can activists guard against the tendency of leaders of formal movement organizations to curb or redirect spontaneous direct actions when they arise?

Political Science:  The norms of the Capitol occupation were clearly influenced by what is now often called “horizontalism;” that is, political organizing based on direct democracy, mutual aid, and eschewing a leader who negotiates or acts on behalf of the group.  It’s a model that the Occupy movement later that year also employed.  But it was baffling to the State union leaders.

Discussion topic:  Is it possible to organize across differing political orientations, models for leadership, and decision-making processes?   What are the challenges and how might they be overcome?

 Labor Studies/Labor Organizing:  In the film, Frank Emspak, Executive Producer of Workers Independent News, points out that the focus of the state unions on electing and lobbying legislators left very little role for rank-and-file members to play.  And so, Emspak notes, when a crisis occurred, nobody knew what to do.  This seems to point up the weakness of “service” unions as opposed to “organizing” unions.

Discussion topic:  How might the contemporary union movement better prepare rank-and-file members and all organizational levels for successful direct action? 


Suggested Readings

Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed and How They Fail, Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.

How to Jump Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers, Labor Notes

Strike Back: Using the Militant Tactics of Labor’s Past to Reignite Public Sector Unionism Today, Joe Burns


Professor David Nack, of the University of Wisconsin School for Workers says:

This important documentary film gives viewers an inside look at what really happened in Wisconsin in 2011 and provides some of the best history available about these events.  How and why did so many rise up in protest for so long? The answers are here, along with important explanations as to why their movement ultimately did not succeed.  Katherine M Acosta, a sociologist turned filmmaker, has created a powerful cinematic narrative of those days, filled with drama and finally, unfulfilled hope. Don’t miss this film!