The current social movement that exploded onto the national scene with the 2011 Occupy Movement is following the path of successful movements so far. The social movement in 2014 is poised to begin an exciting era of broadening and deepening the growing consensus for social and economic justice.
This week, our article for the end of 2013 focuses on where we are, i.e. at what stage of the progression of social movements do we find ourselves; and broadly outlines the next steps. Next week, our article for the new year will look more specifically at the tasks ahead for the movement in 2014 and beyond.
Successful people-powered movements follow a similar arc of development. The best description comes from Bill Moyer’s The Movement Action Plan: A Strategic Framework Describing The Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements. We believe this is essential reading for activists and include a link to it on the strategy page on Popular Resistance. Moyer expanded this 1987 article into, Doing Democracy, a book published in 2001, a year before he died. You can see a video of Bill Moyer’s last public presentation where he summarized the insights of his lifetime about how social movements grow and succeed, and about his vision of a new culture emerging through the cracks of a declining empire.
This Historic Moment
Moyer’s work is heartening for social justice activists because it shows how movements grow, recede and change their functions at different stages. By understanding the current stage of development we can better define the work that must be done to achieve success and predict how the power structure and public will react to our actions. Moyer worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on poverty campaigns. He also worked on a variety of causes over his nearly 50 year career in social movements.
In a recent conversation, Ken Butigan, a peace and justice activist who worked with Moyer, told us that Moyer wrote the first draft of the Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements when he was jailed with more than 1,400 people protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in 1977. Butigan explained that one reason Moyer wrote the Eight Stages was so people involved in movements would not despair when the movement did not immediately succeed and seemed to disappear without success. These are expected stages of development. Just as we would not expect a 4th grader to be doing calculus, we cannot expect a social movement to jump from Stage 2 to the success of Stage 7. Each step in the process serves an important role.
Using the Movement Action Plan as a guide, we see that we are closer to success than one might think. The Occupy Movement was Stage Four of Eight. Moyer describes it:
“New social movements surprise and shock everyone when they burst into the public spotlight on the evening TV news and in newspaper headlines. Overnight, a previously unrecognized social problem becomes a social issue that everyone is talking about. It starts with a highly publicized, shocking incident, a ‘trigger event’, followed by a nonviolent action campaign that includes large rallies and dramatic civil disobedience. Soon these are repeated in local communities around the country.”
Stage 4 is the “Social Movement Take-Off.” During Occupy, it seemed that suddenly the unfair wealth divide, the corruption of Wall Street and the dysfunction of government came into people’s consciousness. These issues were discussed in the media and politicians started using language to show they understood there was a problem. Prior to this, these issues were largely ignored taboo topics that were not on the political radar.