Building lasting movements

I do not endorse these snippets. I grabbed them from all over the web during 2009. I haven’t read it all, it’s really just stored here for future reference. I haven’t read all the links either. Maybe some day I will come back to this and re-read it and find it useful.

Prayer – The Foundation of a Movement


Social Movements: A summary of what works

The authors identify three factors critical to social movements:

  1. political opportunity, – They look at social movements as politics by other means, often the only means
  2. organizational capacity, and
  3. framing ability.

Individual inducements

Prosperity – Prosperity affords the resources necessary for social movements.

Physical concentration – Bringing people into close proximity in cities, factories, and university campuses increases the potential for social movement activity.

Level of prior grassroots organization – Already existing church groups, clubs, special interest organizations, teams and recreational groups, community groups, PTAs, veterans and educational organizations support the development of social movements. The early stages of mobilization are difficult if most people lead purely private lives, and grassroots groups have few members.

The absence of cross-cutting solidarities – It is easier for a movement to grow in a population that is isolated or has weak ties to other groups in society. The feminist movement initially encountered a good deal of resistance from married women in the US,

Prior contact with a movement member – Research shows the strongest inducement to activism is prior contact with a movement member. For instance, new recruits to peace movements are typically people who are already associated with members of peace groups.

Membership in many organizations – Another correlate of individual activism is the number of organizations a person belongs to. Because of the difficulty of recruiting isolated individuals most organizers do focus their attention on organizations.

Prior activism – People who have been previously involved in some form of collective action in their past are more likely to be involved collective action in the future. Having learned the role of activist, its easier to adopt the role again. The longer one spends in the role of activist, the more integral it becomes to one’s identity.

Emotional tension – People are more likely to act collectively when responding to strong emotions. Community organizers typically try to identify an emotional issue that will motivate people to participate.

Availability – Life circumstances permit or constrain participation by affecting availability. People with full time jobs, marriage and family responsibilities are less likely to participate in social movement activity. Autonomous individuals with few personal responsibilities such as college students and single professionals are much more likely participants.

The Ingredients of Micro-mobilization

Kindling in small groups (3 people) – The basic building block of social movements is the small informal group connected to a loose network. Sometimes this “micro-mobilization context” is a group of friends, sometimes a group of coworkers, sometimes a subgroup within a larger group like a church or a union.

Familiar members – Micro-mobilization contexts act as the staging ground for movements. Three resources affect the emergence of a movement: members, leaders, and an existing communications network. Research shows that new members appear along established lines of interaction. New members tend to know people who are already members.

A co-optable communications network – The pattern, speed and spread of a movement depends on an existing co-optable communications network. The women’s liberation movement was able to make rapid progress in the 1960’s (when it had previously failed to do so) because of the prior arrival of just such a network. Overall, the greater the number and diversity of people actively participating in an network the more likely it will support a mobilization effort.

Capable leaders – Smart, honest, committed leaders are invaluable to a social movement. The literature on activism emphasizes the importance of leaders in generating a movement, and the importance of creating new leaders to keep it rolling. Particularly important is the articulate and charismatic leader who can elegantly articulate everyone’s concerns, and inspire an emotional response.

A Mobilizing frame – Erving Goffman originated the term “frame” to refer to an interpretive scheme that people use to simplify and make sense of some aspect of the world. When a mobilizing frame becomes widely shared, the chances of collective action increase markedly.

Frame alignment – Frame alignment describes what happens in small informal groups that promote social change. Movement supporters attempt to recruit bystanders by providing examples and rationales that support a mobilizing frame and legitimize the movement. If the examples and rationale are convincing, bystanders will adjust their view of issues and events to fit the new mobilizing frame.

Optimistic expectations – Any given individual is more likely to participate in a project if he or she: Expects a large number of people to participate Expects his/her participation will contribute to success Expects success if many people participate. The relentless enthusiasm of a good organizer will inspire enthusiasm and optimism in others, even in the worst circumstances.

Movement maintenance

The need for social movement organizations – Micro-mobilization spurs collective action, but informal groups of friends, ad-hoc committees, or loose associations of activists are not sufficient to develop or maintain a movement. This requires what are called social movement organizations or SMOs. Typically these “command posts of the movement” have an office, staff, volunteers and a board of directors

Role of the SMO – A social movement organization needs to carve out a niche for itself in the larger environment of other organizations pursuing similar objectives. As well, it must develop productive relationships with media, funders, the media and government. Most important, each SMO must figure out a way to routinize a flow of people and money to support the ”cause”. SMOs that demand the least from members will be the most successful in obtaining members and money.

Consciousness maintaining – To succeed a movement must generate support from authorities, sympathy from bystanders and, most important, continue to be seen as legitimate and effective by movement members. This inevitably means an ongoing struggle with movement opponents to frame events and issues in a way that supports…

Most SMOs use the media advocacy to maintain a movement momentum (see section 10 Media Advocacy). Ideally a SMO will be able to create an ongoing theatrical performance with the public as a mass audience. This is much easier to achieve if the drama focuses on changes to the way people lead their lives rather than changes to institutions. In their struggle for favorable public opinion, SMOs use various communications technologies to get their message out.

On-going Frame alignment – Sociologists take pains to point out that frame alignment only works as an ongoing process. When confronted with a challenge, an SMO must diagnose the problem in a way that resonates with members and potential members, propose a plausible solution that could be accomplished by movement participation, and issue a call to arms that motivates action.

Frames from the news – Most people acquire their information and orientation to the world from the impersonal mass media. With it they acquire stock frames and frame-making ideologies. What they come to see as their own opinions for or against a social movement are actually news constructed.

Resource Maintenance – SMOs often face a dilemma when it comes to raising funds. If their membership is impoverished and they depend on their membership for funds, they will wind up spending an inordinate amount of time and energy on fundraising for very little return. If, on the other hand, they look to external elites, they will face funding uncertainties or strings attached.

Membership Maintenance – Besides attracting resources and new recruits, a movement must strive to maintain the energies and loyalties of existing members. It will also work for concrete action and visible victories, since people are drawn to a movement when they see it as a forum for action, and soon drop out if nothing happens.

Victory tracker

Citizens Handbook

Training for Change

Our approach challenges activists to step fully into their power.

Workshop as laboratory – Experiential education is a four-step model: experience, reflect, generalize, apply. Without application in the workshop, the information is often not internalized, and there is little difference back home. One way to design for this challenge is to create the workshop as a lab in which participants try new behaviors.

Traditional education stresses reading, writing, and lectures as the major modes of learning. Experiential education is a four-step model: experience, reflect, generalize, apply.

Learning as risk taking – TFC trainers operate on the principle that deep learning is change, and change requires risk, and the facilitator’s job is to invite risk and make it safe to risk. This not only has design and facilitation implications (such as intentional container-building), but also implies that the facilitators themselves need to take risks, including the risk of transparency to the participants.

Block-by-Block Organizing

Visioning Exercises – In a typical visioning exercise a facilitator asks participants to close their eyes and imagine they are walking through their neighbourhood as it should be fifteen years into the future. What do they see? What do the buildings look like? Where do people gather? How do they make decisions? What are they eating? Where are they working? How are they travelling? What is happening on the street? Where is the centre of the neighbourhood? How does greenspace and water fit into the picture? What do you see when you walk around after dark? People record their visions in written or pictorial form; in diagrams, sketches, models, photographic montages, and in written briefs.



Get noticed – media – be careful

Study Circles –

Getting people –

Grassroots Wilt – How citizens’ groups destroy themselves

In summary: limit group size, make sure members enjoy one another’s company, have fun, and avoid stretching resources.

One largely overlooked cause of low levels of citizen involvement is the internal dynamics of all-volunteer groups. Lack of attention to what can go wrong inside a group means countless grassroots initiatives wither and die without achieving anything. The poblem is quite simply that many citizens groups drive away their most able members. In a typical arc, a new member will step forth to work with others on some public issue, last for a relatively short time, then disappear back into private life, never to be heard from again. A glimmer of green then nothing. What causes grassroots rot?

Too little fun – Long-term activists have fun when they get together. Getting together should feel more like recreation than work, no matter how serious the issue.

Too much emphasis on organization and too little on mission – Hoping to become more organized, many small groups create little bureaucracies that drain everyone’s energy.

Too many meetings and too little action. – Most people would prefer to act on something concrete rather than sit at a meeting wrangling or trying to “reach consensus”. participants need to switch off their Voice of Judgment and brainstorm.

Too many people – Because of the emphasis on getting more people involved, many people feel that large groups are better than small groups. This is a mistake. A working group should not exceed nine people. This is the upper limit of what sociologists call a primary group.

The wrong people – Because building democracy and community involves working with others, most people assume they should welcome anyone interested in joining. But this wholesome impulse can lead to rapid decline. Few are willing to admit what is obvious in any grassroots group: some people are assets and others are liabilities. While every group can handle a small portion of people who are very angry, or very combative, or very controlling, or very lonely, or very long-winded, or really out-to-lunch, as the ratio of these people increases, level-headed, friendly, competent people begin to leave. As the imbalance increases, even more leave until the group is reduced to a grim residue.

Too little contact – It is hard for people to maintain a working relationship when they see one another once a month. Once a week is best, not only because it is more frequent but because it fits into the way people schedule other activities.

Too little time – The greatest barrier to participating in public life is the shortage of discretionary free time. In surging market economies people spend most of their time working and consuming, leaving little time for friends and family, and no time for civic involvement.

Too short term – If a group has coalesced around accomplishing a particular end, participants need to realize that keeping up the pressure over an extended time is essential. Expectations of quick victory need to be tempered with the understanding that opponents to change are most often successful just because they hold out longer. They know if they don’t budge, most activists will become discouraged and retreat back into private life. Citizen’s groups need to maintain their enthusiasm and recognize that if their cause is just, they will indeed prevail.

Objectives outmatch resources – Groups of nine or less can often manage on personal resources. But as group size increases, a shortage of money and time usually leads to spiraling decline. Without paid staff there is no one to look after organizational housekeeping, and no one to train, manage and reward volunteers. As people disappear, many potential grassroots leaders burn out trying to do more and more themselves. A lack of resources does not mean giving up. It does mean inventing clever ways to use time, connections and skills.

A short list of what works for community development

  • Short-term, one-shot projects often don’t lead to much because people often haven’t learned enough about one another to want to reconnect. Getting to know one another needs to be a part of every community building effort. Television watching, video game playing and web surfing all undermine civic engagement.
  • It’s easier doing things with people who live nearby. The neighbourhood is a good focus for all sorts of civic activities.
  • One or two people can make all the difference by serving as catalysts to bring together many other people who would otherwise remain apart.

Ten commandments for changing the world

Angela Bischoff and Tooker Gomberg

Changing the world is a blast. It’s all the more achievable if you have some basic skills, and lots of chutzpah. With apologies to Moses, and God, here are our top Ten Commandments For Changing the World. Try them out on your issue. Have fun!

But first, some inspiration from Noam Chomsky: “If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organizations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.”

1 You Gotta Believe

Have hope, passion and confidence that valuable change can and does happen because individuals take bold initiative.

2 Challenge Authority

Don’t be afraid to question authority. Authority should be earned, not appointed. The “experts” are often proven wrong — they used to believe that the earth was flat!. You don’t have to be an expert to have a valuable opinion or to speak out on an issue.

3 Know the System

The system perpetuates itself. Use the tools you have — the telephone is the most underrated. The internet can be of great value for research as well. Learn how decisions are made. How is the bureaucracy structured? Who are the key players? What do they look like? Where do they eat lunch? Go there and talk with them. Get to know their executive assistants. Attend public meetings.

4 Take Action

Do something — anything is better than nothing. Bounce your idea around with friends, and then act. Start small, but think big. Organize public events. Distribute handbills. Involve youth. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than to ask for permission. Just do it! Be flexible. Roll with the punches and allow yourself to change tactics mid-stream. Think laterally. Don’t get hung-up on money matters; some of the best actions have no budget.

5 Use the media

Letters to the Editor of your local newspaper are read by thousands. Stage a dramatic event and invite the media — they love an event that gives them an interesting angle or good photo. Bypass the mainstream media with email and the world wide web to get the word out about your issue and to network.

6 Build Alliances

Seek out your common allies such as other community associations, seniors, youth groups, labor, businesses, etc. and work with them to establish support. The system wins through Divide and Conquer, so do the opposite! Network ideas, expertise and issues through email lists. Celebrate your successes with others.

7 Apply Constant Pressure

Persevere — it drives those in power crazy. Be as creative as possible in getting your perspective heard. Use the media, phone your politicians, send letters and faxes with graphics and images. Be concise. Bend the Administration’s ear when you attend public meetings. Take notes. Ask specific questions, and give a deadline for when you expect a response. Stay in their faces.

8 Teach Alternatives

Propose and articulate intelligent alternatives to the status quo. Inspire people with well thought out, attractive visions of how things can be better. Use actual examples, what’s been tried, where and how it works. Do your homework, get the word out, create visual representations. Be positive and hopeful.

9 Learn From your Mistrakes

You’re gonna make mistakes; we all do. Critique – in a positive way – yourself, the movement, and the opposition. What works, and why? What isn’t working? What do people really enjoy doing, and do more of that.

10 Take Care of Yourself and Each Other

Maintain balance. Eat well and get regular exercise. Avoid burn-out by delegating tasks, sharing responsibility, and maintaining an open process. Be sensitive to your comrades. Have fun. As much as possible, surround yourself with others (both at work and at play) who share your vision so you can build camaraderie, solidarity and support. Enjoy yourself, and nourish your sense of humour. Remember: you’re not alone!

So there you have it. Tools for the Evolution. You can easily join the millions of people around the world working towards ecological health and sustainability just by doing something. With a bit of effort, and some extraordinary luck, a sustainable future may be assured for us and the planet. Go forth and agitate.

Barriers to participation

Efficacy – the feeling that one can make a difference solving problems – is strongly related to involvement in community activities and issues.

Information about groups and their activities is the second biggest barrier to involvement. Getting enough information to know whether or not a project is worthy of involvement is a barrier for just under half (47%), as is worrying about whether groups can be trusted (39%). Fewer (36%) say knowing how to get involved in something they care about is a barrier to involvement.

A lesser barrier may be people’s self-perception and self-esteem – they do not see themselves as leaders or activists. While this perceptual issue is a barrier for just over a third of all adults (36%), not being a leader or activist is a barrier for four in ten (42%) of those who are not currently involved but want to be. In the focus groups, disengaged participants in several groups said they would want a “fearless leader” with organizational skills, plans, knowledge, enthusiasm, honesty and a good attitude.