Social movement

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Success and Failure

Published June 3, 2015 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Summer Break Edition

(Originally Posted Feb 2013)

success or failure

Success and Failure

There are many factors involved to discern the causes of success and failure in social movements and the efforts required for it to become a widely appealing endeavor that wields significant impact on social change.  Traditionally, movements, particularly the progressive type, have sought to redress social problems such as barriers to status, race and gender equality, as well as democratic practices, economic advancement and social justice.  According to research by Davis and McAdam (2005), theorists generally agree that social movements, if they are meant to have substantial effect and enjoy longevity, require (a) organization, (b) effective leadership, (c) administrative structure, (d) incentives for recruitment, and (e) a means to secure support and access to resources (Davis & McAdam, 2005).

The gathering of young academics in the mid-1960s began to produce more involved organizational and political debates to explain social unrest, transmuting earlier focus on collective behavior to that of collective action.  From this mindset, forward momentum and energy began to take shape in the form of social movements and social movement organizations, like that of Planned Parenthood and The Environment Protection Agency. Other movements, like the Disability Rights Movement, created organizations that have become stable enterprises that secure equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities that have minimum impact on social change.

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Another social movement in Europe began to organize in 1997, that called to support worker rights as the European Commission moved toward cuts in social spending. European activists continued their efforts and moved it to the realms of a continental scale. The formation of Jubilee 2000, a global network centered in Europe, campaigned for the eradication of Third World debt.  According to organizers, after only four years of campaigning, they produced successful campaigns of various influence, in 68 countries. The campaigns were autonomous, but shared common goals, information and symbols which gave them an abundant sense of solidarity.  Their ability to communicate, co-ordinate, and cooperate was achieved with the aid of the internet (Tilly, 2004).

Most experts agree that commonalities of social movements that succeed share some of the following group traits from participants:

  1. Worthiness – This also includes the demeanor and mindset of the group participants.
  2. Unity – The organizations ability to unify marketing strategies and materials such as badges, logos, banners, chants, and mission statement.
  3. Numbers – The headcounts, signatures of petitions, communication from constituents and incumbents, their ability to fill streets and large event gatherings.
  4. Commitment – Individuals that brave the bad times, visible participation, absence of social loafing among group members, a wide range of participants that includes elders and physically challenged individuals, subscriptions, varying degrees of sacrifice and last but not least, resistance to repression.

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The media also plays a magnanimous role in the success or failure of social movements. Media coverage of an event can shape public opinion in presidential campaigns, military actions and outbursts of mass protest, to name a few examples. Edward Morgan (2010) postulates that media-saturated bombardment for anniversaries of iconic events, such as presidential inaugurations (and assassinations), to riots at Kent State, offer little more than an endless stream of distracting imagery that has more to do with today’s politics and economics than the reality of yesterday’s social movements (Morgan, 2010). The media’s in-depth coverage provokes deep emotion and passions (both positive and negative) that continue to shape and effect consumer driven capitalism and neo-liberal politics, rather than the social movements themselves.

Morgan points to three fundamental issues with respect to media coverage influence on social movements that include (a) the distortion of historic events by the removal of significant evaluation in the conditions that generate democratic activism, which can reduce the potency of social movements that involve millions of individuals to a few iconic leaders or images; (b) media distortion that can undermine the abilities of a democratic system; and (c) the failure to address the elephant in the room – the systemic characteristics of the elite that contribute in a significant manner to the social ills in which the US and the rest of the globe struggle with (Morgan, 2010).

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Emblems and images for social movement organizations also play an important role in branding and establishing solidarity. This can be witnessed by the Disability Rights movement that initialized and established unified motifs to identify facilities that provide amenities like designated parking areas, wheel chair ramps and restrooms that accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities. Their symbols and emblems have become a modern staple in contemporary living that we have all come to accept and embrace. Another example of immediate recognition in their emblems and advertisements can be witnessed by the marketing and promotional material derived from organizations that stand up for animal rights like PETA.

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The examples sited here, merely offer a few explanations that can lead to the success or failure of social movement organizations and the strategies employed that continue to aid in their efforts to maintain a strong presence.  These components include the implementation of devices like logos and other symbols identified with their brand. In conclusion, the continued efforts and marketing campaigns organized in social movements serve as reminders of these institutions success, longevity, and the enormous efforts implemented that continue to bring awareness to their causes in an effort to effect positive social change.

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“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway from the human spirit.” – Helen Keller

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References:

Davis, G., & McAdam, D. (2005). Social Movements and Organization Theory. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Morgan, E. (2010). What really happened to the 1960s: How mass media culture failed American democracy. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Tilly, C. (2004). Social Movements: 1768-2004. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, LLC.

Getting Involved with Social Movements

Published February 6, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Introduction

There are many different kinds of movements to motivate individuals that become involved in them.  According to statistics the rise of the new middle class for instance, is one of the primary driving forces of social movements that seek reform to help tackle the challenges they face in a new global economy.  The intrinsic distrust in politics provides the impetus to advocate their democratic rights.  The key factors that rally enthusiasm in individuals for enlistment are: (a) the formal and informal methods of organization available to protestors for initial mobilization; (b) political opportunities and restrictions that confront the insurgents; and (c) the ability of interpreting the collective processes, ascription, and social composition that arbitrate between opportunities and action (McAdam, 1982).  This research takes a look at the political and social arenas that lure individuals to become involved in social movements and how conflicts are addressed by applying the resource mobilization and the political process theories.

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A Call to Arms

Even though change poses a threat to the status quo, it takes passion, determination and commitment for people to become involved with social movements that effect social change.  The resource mobilization theory posits that success for a social movement is contingent on the timing of its genesis and the atmosphere of the culture.  It is a movement whose motives are relevant to the current events in which the masses can emphasize and relate to.  In other words, the manner in which a movement affects the hearts and souls from the supporters recruited, plays an integral role.  In addition, it must have a unique quality that is unlike any other.  This element can be the incentive that others respond to from the emotions that are invoked.  Effective organizers use this aspect to their advantage and even look to trends of a specific social class to help with their cause.

The inclusion of the political process theory in social movements outlines emphasis and focus on the group’s ongoing process and evolution, rather than the discontent of the majority.  The political process broadens the efforts of the resource mobilization process by enlisting the aid of the elite and the political system.  Organizations work to disband the upper echelon in key positions of the political and corporate arenas by enlisting the aid of likeminded elite to support their cause and provide further resources in the process.

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A single mother for example, as a result of the many infractions and frustrations she endures from numerous failed attempts to collect support from an absentee father, may resort to becoming an active contributor to a social movement to help make new laws that will change a failing system.  The individual’s sense of abandonment and defeat; coupled by the failure to act from the proper authorities and government channels, out of desperation and as a last resort, instead turns to seek comfort and advice in forums and support groups.  In an attempt to acquire more knowledge and information, friendships emerge and discussions begin among these women with a common cause.  As more individuals gather, the realization of a collective emerges and they begin to organize, motivate each other and gather momentum.  This is the juncture where the group begins to unify their efforts.  Their level of success is contingent upon the organizational efforts, leadership, and their ability to create a cohesive group.

Mobilization and Action

Next focus is put on their functional requisites and as the resource mobilization theory posits, to marshal further support for their activities by formulating a concept that states the importance of their role.  Consequently, they look for solutions that address any power struggles they may face from their efforts to rally forces for collective action and taking into consideration the atmosphere of the current social conditions.  In this case, namely that gender development has grown exponentially, particularly in the last thirty years.  This awareness can help them address the challenges they may face in their attempt to create gender-sensitive policies in public and private organizations that continue to occur regardless of the diversity of an organization and notwithstanding the influence of the group’s elders and other non-related sympathizers.  Efforts to address women’s issues and the ostracism they confront from bureaucratic resistance can intensify and sometimes in extreme cases are demonstrated in a culture of violence (Jaquette & Summerfield, 2006).

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The next level of the movement’s development is to define their parameters and the components required to organize a coherent structure.  They can focus their intent to open an avenue that will attract political opportunity.  Their subsequent agenda is to propose new legislation that will eventually lead to the reforms they seek.  It is at this stage, their organization follows the path outlined by the political process theory, and in companionship to the mobilization theory, that their pursuit begins to mobilize the resources of the major social systems.  This includes the recruitment and support of influential individuals on a state level, to local leaders, and the media, in addition to corporate sponsors and politicians.  The movement closely scrutinizes both the support and opposition they will face, emphasizing their labor on the political aspects and opportunities available to break the unity of the elite in key positions, in accordance to the political process theory.

Individuals that are discontent yearn for improvement and reforms.  Incorporating the methodologies presented here as outlined by both the resource mobilization and political process theories is one example of how an individual or a social group can become motivated and assist in the development of a social movement.  They can also elicit the support of a popular personality as other established organizations of social movements have with celebrities like Robert Redford or Jane Fonda.  Other tactics include the implementation of methods similar to organizations like The Wildlife Foundation and the Humane Society whose recruiting efforts to solicit new membership entail the use of mailers and incentives that include complimentary return address stickers and desk note cards with their logo which we continue to receive in the post.

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Conclusion

It takes great passion and determination for people to become involved with social movements, especially from individuals that face issues of injustice and equality.  Social movements that reach the “petitioning” stage will discern whether their movement can continue to move forward by the momentum and size of the forces that have gathered or whether they disband due to the lack of support, reflected by the number of signatures acquired.  One can determine the amount of populace dissatisfaction by visiting the official government website, “We the People”, where petitions are submitted.  Some of the recent petitions logged there include noteworthy causes from worthwhile movements like: the taxation of religious organizations and churches; a requirement that all genetically modified foods should be labeled as such; and the re-evaluation of the federal minimum wage for tipped employees.

Other petitions submitted are of an inane nature, like the deportation of British Citizen and CNN TV host, Piers Morgan, for his recent rants on gun control.  The most humorous petition we encountered, requested the US Government to build a Death Star.  In fact, they received so many signatures that White House Chief of Science and Space, Paul Shawcross, had to respond.  One of the reasons cited for its rejection: “The Administration does not support blowing up planets” (Dothan, 2013).

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In conclusion, social change is brought about by recurring economic crises that have not been sufficiently addressed.  Changing institutions, the control of resources and the mobilization of power are key components that motivate individuals to become involved in social movements as contributors, elders and sympathizers.  It is passion and a profound desire to make a difference that is deeply embedded into the human agency.  As long as those passions exist, people will continue to get involved making social change inevitable.

References:

Dothan, A. (2013, January 14). White House ups the ante for peition website: 100,000 signatures. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-white-house-raises-signature-limit-for-petition-responses-20130116,0,973194.story

Jaquette, J., & Summerfield, G. (2006). Women and gender equity in development theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

McAdam, D. (1982). Political process and development of black insurgency. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.