Skip to main content

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.

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.

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 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.

Some Other Helpful Resources:
Vernal Education Project papers
Turning the Tide
Organizing for Power
Training for Change

Originally posted to RandomNonviolence on Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 04:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  This Dovetails Neatly With an Obsrvation I've Made (16+ / 0-)

    here a few times that progressives would do better to look not so much at our own party history (especially its mid century heydays) but more at 3rd world movements that have succeeded.

    My reasoning is that the people in today's America are in more of a 3rd world political power situation than we've been in living memory. We're under informed, we have no voice in the mainstream public square, there's very little institutional power and no major economic institutional power that are not our opponents. Our own party has been conservative for 2-3 decades.

    A leading civil rights activist while obviously American had to work from a comparatively 3rd world power position.

    Our surviving civil rights leadership is the only movement leadership with successful experience taking on the overall political and economic power structure of the country on the broad spectrum of economic issues, starting from a position of almost complete ostracization.

    We may not suspect just how much they have to teach us.

    Thanks for this very timely diary.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 05:38:25 PM PDT

    •  You may be right (7+ / 0-)

      The FDR and JFK-LBJ eras are long gone and we have to deal with the situation we are in now which is much less benign in many ways (though at least we don't have to deal with the Dixiecrats like they did).

      I also compare our present time to the populist movement of the 1870s. That mostly agrarian movement was trying (and failed) to prevent exploitation by the railroad barons, get off the gold standard, enact an income tax, etc. Later they tried electoral politics and failed at that too. But later still, the more urban Progressive movement and Teddy Roosevelt implemented many of the things they wanted. But by then, the rural cooperative populist movement had withered.

      I wonder how things will proceed for us.

      •  The winter of our discontent... (4+ / 0-)

        The snows will come and the sunshine soldiers will fade away (as most of congress is praying for it to come early this year)... but there is much that we can do.

        1. Sign the petition calling for a constitutional amendment to eliminate personal, lobbyist, or corporate funding of any kind to political campaigns.

        Michael Moor has praised Dylan Ratigan's efforts to get this started and the actual wording of the proposed amendment and discussion of how election campaigns should be funded are being debated on a website set up for this purpose.

        It's Time to GET MONEY OUT of politics

        Bailouts. War. Unemployment. Our government is bought, and we’re angry. Now, we’re turning our anger into positive action. By signing this petition, you are joining our campaign to get money out of politics. Our politicians won’t do this. But we will. We will become an unrelenting, massive organized wave advocating a Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics.

        We are using our ability to influence media outlets as a platform to force this issue to the center of the 2012 elections.  We are using The Dylan Ratigan Show to build this digital wave, so join us.  As the petition grows, the wave grows. Email, Facebook, Tweet — GET MONEY OUT.


        There is also a protest against the "Too big to fail banks" by withdrawing your funds from them and opening a credit union account...

            November 5th 2011

            Together we can ensure that these banking institutions will ALWAYS remember the 5th of November!! If the 99% removes our funds from the major banking institutions to non-profit credit unions on or by this date, we will send a clear message to the 1% that conscious consumers won't support companies with unethical business practices.

            • Research your local credit union options
            • Open an account with the one that best suits your needs
            • Cancel all automatic withdrawals & deposits
            • Transfer your funds to the new account
            • Follow your bank's procedures to close your account on or before 11/05

        This web page has a wealth of information and links to aid in this effort.

        Get involved... use your social media to get organized... take action and keep moving forward!

        •  Democracy is not a spectator sport (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Into The Woods
          8. Continuing the struggle

          The struggle never ends and the dream never dies!

          The retrograde forces of the plutocracy never go away. Even after you beat them in the arena of public opinion and win legislative battles... they sulk silently and begin to look for ways to subvert any victories over them.

          They look for the back doors... the behind the scenes avenues of attack and "rebranding" to sell it to a complacent and uniformed public... whether it is through the tea baggers and their "Freedom works" funding or stacking the supreme court with "Federalist Society" corporatist fascist judges.

          The Koch brothers network funds all of those as well as think tanks to continue to work out their strategies like the Heritage Foundation and CATO institute.

          They coordinate the actions of the governors and state legislatures and even hand pick presidential candidates and run their campaigns!

          Maddow: Herman Cain’s campaign basically is the Koch brothers

          On her show Monday night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow noted that Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is an avid numerologist who is obsessed with the number 45. She also pointed out numerous links between Cain and the conservative billionaire Koch brothers. For instance, before running for president, he worked for the Koch-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

          Video at the link...

          Complacency is the enemy of real freedom and democratic ideals.

  •  Good stuff! (8+ / 0-)

    (Once I got over the shock of Bill Moyers being pre-maturely interred)

    Looking at the first link on the 8 stages it appears to me we are at the Take Off.   Powerholders shocked at opposition and publicity, public becoming highly aware and larger percentages opposing current policy. Pitfalls: Expectations of quick victory, ideology of no structure/everyone decides, burn out from round the clock effort, etc.   His model has it lasting less than 2 years - and that didn't include the speed of news, information, blogging/tweets etc. that we now have. So maybe Stage 5 is coming sooner than later; but I think for now it's a solid Stage 4.

    Now, I'm going to go read more of the links.

    from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

    by Catte Nappe on Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 06:10:56 PM PDT

    •  Stage 4: Take-Off (3+ / 0-)

      Yes, that seems to be where we are right now. And Stage 5: Perception of Failure may be coming. But note that these stages are not always distinct. One part of the movement may have aspects of one stage, while another may be moving through another. So this is best seen as a useful model that may help our understanding rather than a clear and rigid process.

      I mostly think it helps to view both electoral politics and pre-figurative culture change as parts of one movement rather than conflicting strategies that must battle each other.

      •  Slipping back and forth, too (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Into The Woods, JFeathersmith

        All such models tend to be continuums. As you note, some aspects may be moving from one stage to another,while others are static.  Also there may be  movements toward a next stage, then for a period of time a falling back to the earlier stage.

        As you say, it's all part of a movement and not conflicting stages in battle with one another. Think of our life-spans. What happens when one is a toddler includes necessary developmental activity; what happens when one is a teen includes different, but equally necessary and appropriate developments; then young adulthood, etc. etc.

        from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

        by Catte Nappe on Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 07:09:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thank you! (2+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this excellent summary and very useful analysis.  No time to write more now, but just want thank you for providing this - I hope many people will read and that this perspective will inform our movement.

  •  Very good (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RandomNonviolence, Russgirl

    As I have been arguing, this is a lengthy process.  You will see a rise and fall repeated many times.  I see no end to the process until satisfactory change occurs.  That is the nature of democracy (with a small "d").  This cycle can only be disrupted by dictatorship.  Then, we have a different problem on our hands ...

    "The real wealth of a nation consists of the contributions of its people and nature." -- Rianne Eisler

    by noofsh on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 06:00:43 AM PDT

  •  Strategic Nonviolent Action would seem to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    be included within, compliment and support the ideas discussed by Moyers.

    The more we approach this challenge using a wide variety of methods through a wide variety of sources, the more effective it will become and the more difficult it will be for the 1% to chop it down.

    One of the better sources for ideas about Strategic Nonviolent Action (including many free downloadable documents) are available at the Albert Einstein Institution.

    In addition to Case Studies the resources include specific suggestions for action such as  198 Methods of Nonviolent Action -  pdf

    Practitioners of nonviolent struggle have an entire arsenal of "nonviolent weapons" at their disposal. Listed are 198 of them, classified into three broad categories: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation (social, economic, and political), and nonviolent intervention.

    (These should be updated to reflect technology advances, social media, etc. - but many examples are still either useful or easily adapted to use through new methods.)

    The site also includes more general discussions, including the following (all pdfs):  
    Correcting Common Misconceptions About Nonviolent Struggle -  pdf

    A handout sheet addressing common misconceptions about nonviolent action and answering some frequently asked questions.

    On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals
    by Robert Helvey - pdf

    On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict delves into the question of how to build a strategy for nonviolent struggle. Covering a variety of topics--such as ways to identify a movement's objectives, preparing a strategic estimate for a nonviolent struggle, and operational planning considerations--this publication contains insights on the similarities between military and nonviolent strategy. It represents a major new contribution to this field of study. Additional topics covered in the book include psychological operations and propaganda, contaminants that may affect the efficiency of a nonviolent movement, and providing consultations and training for members of movements and organizations. For more information click here. 178 pp. 2004

    And for those who view this challenge as a struggle to prevent what amounts to a slow-mo coup by the 1%:

    The Anti-Coup
    by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins - pdf

    Someone in a very expensive suit is at the front door and says he wants to foreclose on our democracy. Where should I tell him he can put his robosigning pen?

    by Into The Woods on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 12:58:43 PM PDT

  •  Two pitfalls: (3+ / 0-)

    (1) Getting distracted. People are often distracted by semi-subconscious goals that distract from the main objective. Common distractions are the desire to express anger, the desire to impose some sort of ideology on others, and the desire to be seen as Important.

    Any and all of these distractions can and will be exploited by the Powers-that-Be to create disunion among the oppressed.

    (2) Settling for less. People are often glad to stop the disruption of their lives when a minor goal has been reached. The desire to get back to peace and quiet is also often exploited by Powers that Be, who hope that the restive masses, thrown a cookie, will stop trying to deprive them of ultimate power.

  •  thanks for sharing this (0+ / 0-)

    The charts are awesome, and the process as a whole is useful for understanding things on the big picture scale.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site