Which works better: pre-figurative movement or electoral politics (or both)? Who is more important: rebels or citizens (or both)? What should we do when a new social movement begins to wane?
Since his death in 2002, the lessons that Bill Moyer learned from a lifetime of nonviolent activism have not received much attention. But now, with the apparent rise of a new, broad social change movement (Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Together), I thought it might be useful to resurrect his ideas. Note that I'm referring here to Bill Moyer (the Philadelphia and San Francisco activist and former staffer for Martin Luther King, not Bill Moyers the famous PBS journalist who is still quite lively).
Bill Moyer's book Doing Democracy looked at all aspects of social change movements:
Doing Democracy presents the Movement Action Plan (MAP), Bill Moyer's practical strategic model that describes how social movements work.From Bill's 40 years of activism, he noticed that activists often feel that their movement is dying just as it is really taking off. So he developed a model of a typical nonviolent social movement, showing the eight stages that they often go through, so activists would better understand the ebbs and flows of movements and not get discouraged when the tide appeared to be going out.
The book presents a general theory of how social movements work, including sections on democracy, power, powerholder strategy and movement strategy; describes the four roles that activists need to play effectively (compared to ineffectively) and explains in detail the eight stages of the road to success along which activists need to guide their social movement. It also compares MAP to nine popular models of social movements that are taught at universities, applies MAP to five social movements (civil rights, anti nuclear energy, gay and lesbian, breast cancer and anti-corporate globalization movements) and concludes with a chapter on the future strategy of activism.
The eight stages (description, 2, chart) he identified were: 1. Normal times; 2. Prove the failure of official institutions; 3. Ripening conditions; 4. Take-Off; 5. Perception of failure; 6. Majority public opinion; 7. Success; 8. Continuing the struggle. These are not precise stages of development that all movements go through, but rather a framework for understanding how societal dynamics often play out.
The past 12 years can be seen to trace through these stages roughly one and a half times: Normal times during the Bush administration when most people thought (or pretended) things were going ok. Then clearly things were not going ok (wars, recession). Take-off of a progressive movement that manifested itself primarily in the Obama campaign, achievement of majority opinion across the country, then success when Obama was elected president. But then a new normal times when everyone thought things might be going ok. Then progressives challenged the Obama administration and it failed to actually set much of anything right. This led to ripening conditions, and then led to the take-off of the Occupy Wall Street movement now sweeping the country.
Unfortunately, the next stage for us may very well be Stage 5: Perception of failure. However, by knowing this might be coming, we can be prepared and understand that it is only a perception of failure, not really failure. During this stage, a social movement often transforms from a very lively and visible street protest movement to a less obvious, but still very potent movement that is more behind the scenes: people who are uncomfortable marching in the streets and risking arrest begin to quietly educate their friends and lobby Congress. These many people also join more mainstream organizations (including the Democratic Party) and press for change in more conventional ways. Since we still have some (small) semblance of a democratic system in the United States, these conventional ways are often by changing laws in Congress and by electing more progressive politicians. Even as the visibility of the movement goes down, the ideals of the movement are shared much more widely until they attain a super-majority. And then we achieve success - or at least some success. Usually, our success is watered-down and not nearly as satisfying as we had hoped. So then another round of the 8 stages begins.
Bill's book explains these 8 stages in much greater detail and details both how the power elite often behaves during each stage and how we should respond/initiate action. Implicitly, it encourages us to accept what transpires during each of the eight stages, even (especially) when what is happening is not what we would like.
Bill also focuses attention on four roles (description, chart, 2) that progressive activists typically play: 1. respectable Citizen; 2. challenging Rebel; 3. facilitating Change Agent; and 4. mainstream Reformer. These four roles are often seen as conflicting, but Bill describes the importance of all four roles. He also describes how each role can be played in a way that helps progressive movements advance, but also in another way that is much less helpful (and sometimes quite destructive). I find this analysis very useful in encouraging people to keep their eye on the prize and to not attack other progressives in hurtful ways.
There is an important role in successful progressive movements for both street activists who loudly and dramatically protest and also for progressive organizations that research and lobby for progressive change as well as for progressive politicians. We need to appreciate the work that others do and challenge them to do their work in a positive way, rather than in a negative way - it is ok to challenge people who should be pushed to be more progressive, but trashing other progressives is usually counterproductive.