social movements | MIT Center for Civic Media

Lessons from Fighting Swiss Right-Wing Populism: Flavia Kleiner and Operation Libero

Flavia Kleiner and Operation Libero logo

In early 2016, Operation Libero, an anti-populist movement cofounded by history student Flavia Kleiner, 26, successfully defeated an anti-immigrant Swiss ballot initiative. The "enforcement" initiative, sponsored by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), would have ordered the deportation of immigrants in Switzerland for any criminal offense, no matter how minor. Often, initiative sponsors like the SVP frame such issues in terms of Swiss values and innocuous outcomes for citizens to control the narrative and reduce the potential for negative response. In this case, the SVP initiative followed a long and bruising federal election, and their usual political opponents were exhausted and out of funds to fight the initiative. So Kleiner and friends built a grassroots movement and coalition for "No" on the enforcement initiative to re-frame the issue, reclaim Swiss values, and drive attention to the anti-immigrant initiative. The successful effort has since blossomed into a suite of campaigns under Operation Libero to oppose populist and illiberal rhetoric more broadly.

Social Movement Media Strategies - Immigrants' Rights Movements

One of the central projects that I have been involved with during the fall semester examines the role of media and technology in immigrants' rights movements. I have been able to conduct several interviews with student organizers and community members, which have been very insightful into media strategies. The three most significant findings thus-far are: 1) The need for low cost and sustainable media and technology in order to facilitate organizing efforts 2) The centrality of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter to reach communities at large and 3) The important role that national alliances and networks play in organizing efforts, especially in conversation with state level and federal level legislative measures. The goal for this project is to provide a comparative study of media strategies amongst immigrants' rights movements on a national level, in order to understand effective uses and also challenges posed. More interviews are yet to come, mostly from Eastern states, as much work on the subject has already been gathered on the South West.