Where would we be without social movements?

Social movement, the rights and abilities of a population to organize and effect change, is a part of life. Social change happens through a range of mediums but has the characteristic of swathes of the population standing for or against something in such numbers that change happens as a result.

In 2018, Irish women forced through a change in the countries abortion laws which by comparison with other first world countries were archaic.

South Africa was forced to repeal its apartheid laws in part from the pressure that international communities placed on their embassies and governments abroad.

Amnesty International is as successful as it is because it ties into grassroots social movements allowing it to use pressure group channels to express heartfelt feelings.

Social movements are an essential part of our democratic makeup and a challenge on the right to organize socially is a challenge on what we believe as freedoms. A social movement, if you like is a collective expression of the individual’s freedom of speech.

The lifecycle of a social movement

A social movement goes through phases. It emerges, gathers strength, erupts like the crest of a wave breaking and then finally ebbs away. At the wave breaking point, there are options which it could take; it could become mainstream, it could be defeated, it could succeed. But it no longer exists as the same social movement.

The culture to start in the first place

There needs to be an atmosphere which allows the movement to emerge in the first place. In the case of Solidarity in Poland, it was the firing of one of their workers. This is more like the last straw – when things are so awful that the majority of people will no longer tolerate the situation.

Poverty gaps, wealth gaps, and inequalities of rights and opportunity are always fertile grounds for the disposed or the unequal to begin to foment change.

The charismatic leader

Often there is one leader, a person of charisma with the eloquence to speak for a whole social group. Often these people are extraordinary within their group, and so aren’t quite the same as everyone else in some senses. This is a person who manages to rise about the rank and file and make their voice heard over the furor.

For Tarana Burke founder of #MeToo, this was not a meteoric shift. All of her adult life can be seen as a preparation for the movement, which came together at a point where enfranchised women had reached a point of no return.

Thankfully #MeToo went mainstream. There are changes in what may be said, in how it may be said. There are consequences of belittling half of the human race, at least for most people.

The value of social movements

The value of a social movement is that it brings issues into the spotlight. Initially, you might not care about the issue, or know much about it. It opens the door to debate.

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