Rhetorical dimensions of movement empathy : a case study of the 2006 immigration marches




Barberena, Laura Ann

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The immigration marches in the spring of 2006 immediately drew scores of headlines across the United States. More than 160 cities witnessed protest marches with a reported estimate of 3.5 to 5.1 million participants. Yet despite the massive and highly visible demonstrations at that time, protesters fell short of their goal of bringing about national comprehensive immigration reform. How did the actions of so many produce so little? What contributes to turning a manifestly visible protest into one that is marginalized and of little or no consequence, essentially rendering it an invisible incident? I contend that rhetorical work is a force of mediation that can have significant impact on Movement Empathy. Movement Empathy occurs when a movement group becomes relevant to the mass media, opinion leaders, policy makers, and the public so that real policy implications become possible, even necessary. To investigate this claim, this study examines the rhetorical presence of the 2006 Immigration Marches and how rhetoric can contribute to Movement Empathy. I performed a careful textual analysis of eight newspapers (four English language and four Spanish language) in four major U.S cities (Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami) to examine four textual dimensions conceptually related to Movement Empathy: tone, narrative, agency and values. Each of these dimensions was studied along a binary axis in an attempt to discover language patterns conducive to low vs. high Movement Empathy. I found that two cities saw low Movement Empathy and one had a mixture of high and low. Only Miami’s coverage displayed significant levels of Movement Empathy. I also discovered that each newspaper had unique rhetorical characteristics that produced a distinct flavoring for the city involved. In essence, the cities themselves, their histories and cultures, were refracted in the rhetorical characteristics of the reporting. I conclude from these observations that there exists a geocentric aspect to the news, one that mixes fact and interpretation with the history and values of the place in which the reporting is done. Simply put, where the news is reported can affect what news is reported and how.


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