Civil Resistance in the Shadow of the Revolution: Historical Framing in Nicaragua’s Sudden Uprising

Year: 2020 HiCN Working Paper No. 334

Abstract: Are grievances a necessary condition for civil resistance campaigns? Accumulating political or economic grievances play a key causal role in nearly every extant account of sudden mass protest. In this article, we present evidence that historical framing can enable sudden mass uprisings even where long-standing anti-regime grievances are absent. Protest cascades can emerge to challenge relatively stable and popular governments through four interdependent historical framing mechanisms. First, bystanders may make analogies to historical contentious episodes, leading them to compare their present government to an earlier hated regime. Second, individuals or groups may imagine themselves as occupying paradigmaticroles from past popular struggles, allowing them to develop prescriptions for collective action. Third, protesters can adopt tailor-made symbolic and tactical repertoires from previous contentious episodes. Finally, protesters may concentrate protests within symbolic space, reinforcing the other three mechanisms. We develop our theory with evidence from Nicaragua’s 2018 mass uprising. This protest wave nearly toppled Daniel Ortega, previously Latin America’s most popular president, after violence between pro-government forces and protestors activated powerful frames resonating with Nicaragua’s history of dictatorship and revolution.