It's no surprise to anyone that Donald Trump's recent election to the United States Presidency has spawned revolutionary and reactionary movements across the United States and abroad. No matter where one falls on the political spectrum or where one teaches, the tremendous upheaval Trump's victory has caused is evident. It's common for elections of various sorts to appear in law school classes from First Amendment Law to Election Law to Property Law, and beyond. There's even enough material to perhaps construct a course on political sign law. Yet, social movements often don't receive as much attention, save discussions about the political context of the Women's Rights Movement or the Civil Rights Movement. That's a shame because these on-the-ground organizing efforts, some of which may also appear in passing in courses on lobbying and government affairs, are often quite instrumental to legal change.
In Communication and Rhetorical Studies, we have firmly embraced if not hotly debated social movements for some time. Beginning in about 1952 with the publication of Leland Griffin's "The Rhetoric of Historical Movements," through a forum in the Central States Speech Journal in 1980, to the present day where communication and rhetorical studies scholars analyze everything from GLBTQ+ movements to animal rights, scholars in the discipline has completed much provocative work. None of this is to indicate that legal scholars aren't doing this work as folks like Dean Spade, Donald Tibbs, and others are eagerly and passionately working with and through social movements. Rather, I suggest that much of this work doesn't make it into the classroom.
As protests erupt on our campuses, now may be an important time to take a day away from the syllabus and start discussion social movements. We've got some interesting essays here, an Encyclopedia of Social & Political Movements article, Harold A. McDougall's article from the Cornell Law Review, and Cary Coglianese's article from the University of Pennsylvania Law Review to serve as starting points. As our students and colleagues thrust themselves into the front lines of social movements, it just might be time to change the syllabus. Recently, I informally advised some students about the benefits (political efficacy, moral rightness, changing of minds, etc.) and dangers (walking out of class might mean you fail the day's assignments, verbal and physical violence, the potential of arrest, etc.) of protesting, the importance of media attention, and ways to best frame discussions given political differences about not only the election, but also race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religious, and other identities. The student protests at Illinois College are covered here. Such diversions from the syllabus may also provide critical fodder for law students that want to do social justice work, whether as attorneys or not.
So, the election upheaval provides a unique set of circumstances to discuss social movements in the classroom and although such discussions may be a departure from the syllabus, they're likely to be important as we move forward into the Trump presidency.