How to Turn a Social Movement into Real Change
We are passionate; we are frustrated; we are enraged. We are Americans who want to see the power of our voice translate into change — real change — and we want to see it fast.
Why shouldn't we? After all, social movements can now spread from sea to shining sea with the speed of a simple click.
But what happens beyond hashtags, memes, polls, and petitions? How is it that we've never felt more connected, yet also feel more helpless than ever?
An engaging video came out from the Ford Foundation in 2014. It started as one program officer's desire to "articulate a clear, compelling and concise theory of social change" that could be shared and discussed.
It went viral among the nonprofit community, but didn’t really make it to the mainstream. In the video, the Ford Foundation explains that no social movement can grow and succeed without three key components: engaged individuals, political opportunity, and organizational infrastructure.
With the recent uptick in political activism, I think it is important to take another look at their theory:
A Theory of Social Change
As the video explains above, having a group of engaged individuals is only the first step toward change. A strong, passionate group of people focused on a cause is only just the seed.
Let's look at the significant social movements in recent history the video breaks down and look at why one succeeded, one faltered, and one is now just kindling, preparing to be set ablaze.
1. The Success: The Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa brought together a strong and mobilized citizenry, political opportunity shaped by international sanctions and other global opportunities, and powerful organizations like the African National Congress. It was a movement that took decades to build, evolve, and eventually triumph.
2. The Struggle: The recent Occupy Movement certainly had engaged citizens. Large groups across the nation openly expressed their outrage toward corporate favoritism and systemic inequality. This sparked political opportunity, resulting in some meaningful reforms. However, one major piece faltered: organizations were not able to transform this grassroots movement into anything substantial or concrete, and it eventually fizzled.
3. The Possibility: The 21st Century Women's Rights Movement has gained momentum in recent years. Their is widespread public support and political opportunity for women's issues like paid maternity leave, the gender pay gap, and increased protections from sexual harassment in the workplace. New organizations and coalitions around women’s rights issues are forming. As this movement progresses, the question remains whether all three components can continue to stay focused and energized to bring about substantial change.
These examples illustrate how all three components to successful social movements — engaged individuals, political opportunity, and organizational infrastructure — must be, and remain, strong and stable for real change to occur. Of course, movement building is not an exact science, but we do know that having a voice that is both professional and powerful is vital to having real impact. Passion, while a requirement, is not the only factor that determines a social movement’s success.
How to Make Your Movement Move
At Lobbyists 4 Good, we've created the first crowdfunded lobbying platform to help groups of engaged citizens acquire this theory's other two critical elements. You can do this by hiring a lobbyist. A good one will know exactly how to influence the organizations and lawmakers who can make monumental changes a reality.
Wealthy donors, large corporations, and special interest groups have long had this system figured out. We think it's finally time for everyone to have the same influence. This means that the best way for a group of engaged individuals to help build political opportunity and organizational infrastructure is to pool their money and hire a professional lobbyist.
Once hired, that lobbyist will work on building political opportunity by researching the best policy solutions, writing out legislation, and meeting with elected officials, key committees, government staff, and other influencers to fight for your issue.
The lobbyist will also work with applicable organizations, train them to be better advocates, and help them build strong coalitions.
So, even after your lobbyist's job is done, you'll already have all three components firmly in play. This is bigger than simply hiring one person to try to pass a single policy, after all.
How to Get Started
Through our website, you can either support an issue you care about that is already being hosted on our platform, or you can start your own lobbying campaign. Once your campaign is approved, it's time to start spreading the word. You'll have 100 days to raise $5,000. A significant, specific cause that has a clear goal will reach that baseline easily.
We'll then hire the best lobbyist for your cause and ensure that movement continues toward your goal, even after their contract is up. But that doesn't leave you in the clear.
While your lobbyist works directly with lawmakers and organizations, you and other like-minded citizens need to stay fully galvanized as well. With these three pieces, your movement may just result in real, inspiring change.
Throughout the process, know that frustration is inevitable; real change requires time and a whole lot of patience. Just remember that your part — your dedicated passion and constant engagement — remains essential every step of the way.
Billy DeLancey is the Co-founder and CEO of Lobbyists 4 Good.