Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.

One of many Social Movements Prevalent in Today’s Society FibonacciBlue, Creative commons

The Reiff Center recently had the pleasure of co-hosting the Second Annual Conference on Social Movements and Democracy. This broad topic allowed for a slew of interesting and diverse topics, presented throughout the day. Today’s modern media has allowed for a new and wide range of social movements, including Digital Media, social media, and the rise of a bottom up approach, meaning the average person rising against injustice. Some interesting themes mentioned include the idea of a common humanity, charity, education, and many others.

The conference provided to all those who attended a snap shot of different ideas of what constitutes a social movement. Students, faculty, and guests presented in order to facilitate discussion and vital concepts on social movements and their impact on society. So, here, I must apologize that the title is misleading. Herein, you will find a variety of social movements for you to agree or disagree with. But hopefully one of these movements will call your name, and you can get working to make this world a better place!


CNU Student Panel – Authoritarianism and Impacts of Social Media  

By Ryan McCann


SaleemHaseni, Creative Commons

During one of the Student Panels, international problems took center stage. There were a total of four different speakers who discussed several topics relevant to civic movements and democracy. The first presenter, Savannah Schutzmeister, presented on, “Egypt in Arab Spring: Mubarak’s Fall and Facebook’s Rise.” In her presentation she sought to compare social media and the effects of the Arab Spring. She first discussed the events surrounding the protest itself. She demonstrated that Mubarak’ regime before the Arab spring was extremely corrupt, including mass misuse of funds and subjugation of the Egyptians. Phony democratic elections and an emergency law both contributed towards Mubarak’s unlimited power. This history was necessary as a set up to the revolution itself that succeeded in ousting Mubarak in such a short time. The revolution started with a “Day of Rage” on the same day that is traditionally held to celebrate the police in Egypt. Social media played a huge role in helping protesters identify areas where police put up roadblocks and GPS assisted them in maximizing the impact of their marches. Although Mubarak tried to break the will of the people by instituting violence and disrupting Internet and phone capabilities, over 250,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square demanding the resignation of the dictator. On February 11th, 2011 Mubarak resigned and the power moved to the military. The media, according to Savannah, was able to spread the message of the Egyptian people and accelerated the collapse of the authoritarian leader.

Another presentation that was noteworthy to international civic movements and democracy was a presentation on the 2009 Green Movement in Iran. This presentation, by Hannah Wells, discussed the protests against the Iranian regime’s election. The election involved the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against the more progressive Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Although the voters seemed to support Mir-Hossein, the election resulted in a conspicuous 62% of the vote going to Ahmadinejad. Unsurprisingly, demands for transparency ensued and kept going for a total of nine months. One of the most famous symbols of the protest movement was a woman named Neda who bled out after police savagely beat her. A total of 110 people died during the protests but virtually no progress was made in the original demands of the protesters. Iran also seems to be trying to crack down on social media in order to prevent similar protests. This is evident due to Iran’s cooperation with China to create a state controlled Internet. Although the protests might have failed, they do show unrest with the Iranian government.

HarryStaab, Creative Commons


Lastly, I wanted to touch upon the “Q and A” session that occurred after the presentations. One of the questions was in regards to what people thought about social media. Savannah the first presenter stated that social media does bring awareness but in many ways this awareness does not lead to physical change. Hannah agreed with Savannah’s point but also mentioned that there is some inherent danger when posting on social media. Her example related to her presentation on the Green Movement in Iran and how a picture of the abused Neda could be punishable by the state. Michaela, who presented on human trafficking and modern business, stated that there are good and bad attributes for everything and social media is no exception. However, she did mention how easy it is to be concerned about an issue posted on Facebook and scroll past it seconds later, forgetting it in its entirety. The last presenter to remark on this was Dana who mentioned that media is generally more positive. Since her presentation was on contraceptive use, she connected the two stating that the show “Teen Mom” helped reduce adolescent pregnancy. Overall the presentations showed the audience the articulate nature of CNU students and their observations and concerns for the world around them. Moreover, the role of Social media is still highly contentious in today’s social movements. While good or bad, social medial will continue to exist at the forefront of the modern social movement.

CNU Faculty Panel – Environmentalism and Relationships

By Derek Kennedy


The faculty panel focused on applications of professor’s disciplines to solve environmental and societal problems.  Professor Givens began by presenting her research on the application of graph theory to environmental monitoring. When ecologists want to gather data about an ecosystem, they deploy an array of sensors which track humidity, pollutants, and temperature.

Doctor Givens has worked to reduce the cost of this monitoring using a mathematical model called graph theory, which visualizes the ecosystem as a grid delineated by equal grid squares. Using the model, researchers can strategically place sensors to maximize effectiveness while minimizing cost. Algorithmic applications simplify the process, and allow for applications to a range of other fields, like law enforcement, emergency service dispatch, and surveying.

The next presentation was given by Dr. Hettche, Dr.Spiller, and Dr. Kim. The three professors presented an impact analysis of CNU’s green grant program. The grant gave CNU $30,000 to fund and advise student projects which advance environmental awareness.  Dr. Hettche began by describing the review process for new projects, which looks at the feasibility and potential impact of new projects. Doctor Spiller then described accepted student projects. CNU’s own C-Fund created the Green Grant program, which invested funds into environmentally responsible companies, and E-Waste collection drive gathered 1.39 tons of waste, reaching over 31 thousand people. A student group also presented a current green grants proposal. The project would introduce “Rain gardens” across CNU’s campus, which seek to control runoff with native plants which are drought resistant. These gardens reduce erosion and ecosystem damage from overwatering. Dr.Kim then concluded the presentation with a short preview of his analysis of the Green Grants program. Using campus wide surveys, Dr.Kim compared attitudes on environmentalism across class sizes, genders, and majors. As professors of marketing, Dr.Kim and his colleagues want to use this analysis to determine how best to reach and inform students about environmental issues.


Work of the Environmental Groups on Campus

These professors demonstrate the unique role of relationships, research, and positive movement forward. While these may not seem like typical social movements, each present a unique facet that is critical to furthering our world in a positive manner. The environment continues to degrade around us, so in order to promote human rights and stability, positive environmental actions must be taken. This issue has been addressed in a number of International documents, such as UN treaties that call for rights to a clean environment.

Doctor Michelle Kundmueller closed to panel with a talk on the Marginalization of Private Contributions to the Common Good. She opened her piece with a discussion the role of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus in the Iliad. Dr. Kundmueller believes that Odysseus’s success was directly contingent on the synergy between him and his wife. They confided in one another, and ordered their home in a way which conformed to the values of both of them, without sacrificing their personal identities. As such, Penelope was able to resist the advances of her suitors, who believed Odysseus to be dead and tried to coerce her into marriage.  Dr. Kundmueller argued that this private intimacy is being lost in our evermore interconnected society, which emphasizes community engagement. As she notes, our public contributions are often contingent on the stability and value of our private lives. Our families and friends are the most important connections in our lives, but Dr. Kundmueller believes society pressures us into sidelining those connections. In order to truly work forward and fight for social justice, we must not lose our grounding as societal creatures. By maintaining our familial relationships, we can move forward and fight for justice better than if we were on our own.



Keynote Speaker Dr. Mehmet Saracoglu

By John D’Angelo

I had the distinct pleasure of listening to the unique social movements in Turkey from our Keynote speaker, Dr. Mehmet Saracoglu. Dr. Saracoglu presented on Turkey’s Hizmet movement. The Hizmet movement can be likened to the Civil Rights Movement of Turkey. Interestingly, the major element within this movement is not religious ideology or political ideology. While the movement does have ideas of the Muslim faith infused into it, the original goal was and still is education of the masses.

Dr. Saracoglu described the Hizmet as not faith based, but rather faith-inspired. Through this philosophy, Hizmet evolved into an inclusive movement, involving a variety of sects within the Turkish sphere to define and fight for a common humanity. Education goes a long way within a society, as demonstrated by early philosophers, who believed that it was impossible to maintain a true Democracy without education. Hizmet answers this call by providing education services to the public. Hizmet argues that education principles go to revive the positive values of humanity, such as altruism. The education also pushes for peacebuilding, social justice, human rights promotion, and democracy. The tenets of the Hizmet movement allow for those who follow it to live in and create a functioning Democracy.

Since the inception of the movement in the 20th century, it has involved into an altruistic movement itself, providing free housing, healthcare, hospitals, and educational facilities. Economic assistance is given to the needy and education is provided to those who seek it. The followers of Hizmet work under the notion of service without expectations.

As Turkey is a highly divided state, with a populous that represent many creeds, ethnicities, and political beliefs, the state has not been without its sectarian conflicts, including the current Kurdish conflict, and the rise of Islamic dominance within the state. In order to combat these trends and overall sectarian conflict, Hizmet followers also coordinate Interfaith discussions, including Muslims, Greek Orthodox, and Jews in order to work out differences and work towards a unified Turkish state.

While Hizmet has provided great services and ideals to the Turkish populous, the movement is not without its challenges. These include the critique that Hizmet is not truly inclusive, and largely focuses on followers of Islam. Even so, there have been positive trends in bringing in other creeds to the movement, but this is still in its testing phase, and only time will tell how wide the Hizmet movement can reach. Moreover, the Hizmet movement was originally designed to not be solely Turkish, but still it has not reached largely past the borders in the recent decades. Lastly, the current political climate is hostile to the Hizmet followers and leaders. The Turkish government is not known for its inclusivity, and does not foster the goals of Hizmet.

Even with its critics and challenges, our speaker denotes that Hizmet has made positive change in Turkish society, and will continue to do so. Civil rights movements like this are vital to the future stability of democracy. These movements, which work from the ground up will change the future of the nations they call home, and will ultimately allow for a brighter future.

Dr. Stephanie Bardwell, Dr. Mehmet Saracoglu, Dr. Tina Kempin-Reuter


This conference opened people’s eyes to the vast multitudes of ideas and movements that surround this globe, all with the common goals of human rights protections and the promotion of a common humanity. The landscape of democracy and social movements will continue to change over the next few decades, but with strong foundations and morals, based on the fight for freedom and human rights, the future is not as dark as many seem to think.

If you missed this year’s conference, please consider joining us next year, as a guest or as a speaker. The Reiff Center and its partners hope to see you all there, carrying the torch of hope for a more peaceful tomorrow.


Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”