Making your voice heard (Unit 3)


In its simplest form, a movement is a group of people working together for a common social, political or cultural goal. Movements can focus on an injustice, an opportunity for change or the promotion of a theory or concept. Whatever the focus, all movements require one key element- that is to be transformed from an idea of a few to an idea of many people.

Starting your own movement or initiative is not an easy task and hence, it requires commitment, focus and consistency in the face of challenges. While there are indeed different approaches to follow when starting out your own initiative/movement, we have highlighted 4 easy steps to help you make a difference and light that spark!

  1. Identify your cause-

What are you for? What are you against? What are you passionate about?

First, find your passion or your cause. Think about what’s important to you and how best to express it.

  1. Learn-

Learn about the current social, political or economic situation with respect to your chosen cause. See what’s already out there and who is already working on this ideas. Learn from their experiences and even try to reach out for possible collaboration.

  1. Get out there!

Go for visibility! If no one knows about your effort, it might not be appreciated. Today, there are different ways to make your voice heard besides traditional media. Create a social buzz, get people to volunteer even if it means just re-tweeting your campaign tweets. Word of mouth is also not a bad idea when you are just starting out. Tell as much people as possible about your movement/initiative and gain that traction!

  1. Be creative!

Explore interesting and creative ways to pass on your message. You can even create a product or better still collaborate with other creative to trend your logo, watchword or slogan on their products. This would help you get more attention.

Alternatively, we have provided a summary below of Bill Moyer’s movement action plan (MAP), by George Lackey. This summary gives a holistic insight into Moyer’s approach on starting, gaining traction and making tremendous progress in your own movement or initiative.

Stage One: Business as Usual

In this stage, relatively few people care about the issue. Small groups are formed to support each other. The objective is to get people to start thinking about the issue and start spreading the word. Small action projects may be taken on in this stage.

Stage Two: Failure of Established Channels

The general public is unaware of the injustice and largely uninterested in learning about the issue. The public is thinking (or hoping) that established structures are taking care of the problem. “Surely the government is watching out for the safety of our ground water.” “Surely, corporations know which chemicals are safe and unsafe and are already ensuring that workers and the public are not being exposed to the unsafe ones.” In this stage, small groups research the issue and the victims of the injustice. They may sue government agencies or corporations and will usually lose. Nevertheless, these actions are a necessary exercise in building public awareness.  Stage Two polls will show 15% to 20% of public opinion leaning towards the change.

Stage Three: Ripening Conditions/Education and Organizing

People who were not listening (and did not want to listen) in earlier stages are becoming interested. The pace is picking up. New groups are sprouting up to work on the issue largely through providing education. Groups will send speakers out to talk about the issue, organize marches, and hold house meetings and news conferences. Polls are showing 20% to 30% support.

Stage Four: Take-off

This stage is initiated by a trigger event or a dramatic happening that puts a spotlight on the problem, sparking wide public attention and concern. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for instance, focused on Birmingham, Alabama, in a direct action campaign that filled the jails and highlighted the evils of segregation.  Gandhi used boycotts and personal hunger strikes to focus attention on injustices and discrimination against Indians. Cleve Jones used the AIDS quilt to focus attention on people needlessly dying of AIDS for lack of concern and research into treatment options. Part of the success of this stage depends on relating the demands of the movement to widely held values (like freedom, fairness, and democracy)

Stage Five: Perception of Failure

The adage: “Two steps forward, one step back” applies to this stage. Numbers are down in the demonstrations, media is paying less attention, and policy changes have not yet been won. Those opposing the movement will declare “The movement has failed!”  To recapture the excitement, subgroups may even embark on “Rambo-style” actions of anger and violence. The media focuses on splits and dissent within the movement and will focus particularly on factions of the movement and those activities of subgroups which the public will find particularly offensive. It is the very success and excitement of Stage Four that feeds disillusionment in Stage Five. Fortunately, a great many activists do not become discouraged or at least accept this stage as part of the process. Creating strategic, achievable, and measurable objectives for the movement is important at this stage.

Stage Six: Winning over the majority

Crisis-based protest is transformed into a long-term struggle with the power holders. The goal is to win majority opinion and many new groups are formed particularly among a broader public not previously involved. In this stage, 60% to 75% of the public agrees on the need for change and the issue is showing up in electoral campaigns and candidate platforms. Self-interested power holders will try to discredit and disrupt the movement, and will insist that there is no positive alternative, promote bogus reforms, and create crisis events designed to scare the public. The power holders become more split at this stage. The movement needs to beware of: national organizations and staff dominating the movement and reducing grassroots energy; reformers over-compromising on policy changes; delivering the movement into the hands of politicians; a belief that the movement has failed just because it has not yet succeeded.

Stage Seven: Achieving Alternatives

The goal of this stage is to recognize a movement’s success, empower activists and their organizations to act effectively, and to achieve objectives and demands within a new model or way of thinking about the issue. A successful social movement can gain objectives that, although grudgingly yielded by the power holders, introduce a new and better way of operating and being that benefits all. Each movement needs to develop an endgame which makes sense in terms of its own goals and situation.

Stage Eight: Consolidation and Moving On

Movement leaders need to protect and extend the successes achieved. The successful movement becomes a midwife to other social movements. Not only can the movement celebrate the specific changes it gained but also celebrate the ripple effect it has on other aspects of society and future movements.

Please download and read through the content of the attached PDF(s)

(8 stages of successful social movements from Bill Moyer’s movement action plan, source- Quaker peace and social witness).


Final task-

Did the course meet your expectations?

Have you started a movement initiative or change project? Or are you just about to start one?

If yes, please tell us about it in the classroom/course-forum and exchange ideas with other learners. Endeavour to look out for potential collaborators and let’s learn from ourselves while we have a good time!

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