Making a Social Change Moment into a Game-Changing Movement

Making a Social Change Moment into a Game-Changing Movement

Steps to take your personal cause or organizational mission to the next level

At its most basic level, a movement is simply the act of being in motion. But when it comes to social change, movements have a different, deeper meaning.

In this vein, according to Merriam-Webster, a movement is “a series of organized activities working toward an objective.” A series of such activities, together and over a sustained period of time, have formed movements that forever changed our society – the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, the Abolition Movement, the LGBT Movement, to name a few.

These days, when an issue hits the headlines or starts to frame the national conversation, rumblings arise about whether the cause represents a moment or a movement. Moments are fleeting and brief. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines them as “a minute portion or point in time” and happening in the present, as if they will not last long or have a sustained course. But moments are also defined as “stage[s] in historical or logical development[s].”

Change agents and game changers have a vested interest in their moments becoming movements. But what helps these issues of the day have lasting power? What can help them change not only the lead story of the day, but also imprint the course of history?

Put a face on it. Real people make important issues and calls to action all the more relatable. From naysayers on the fringes to lukewarm potential supporters, seeing and hearing the story of a family being affected by an issue, or that of an individual suffering through and overcoming it, changes hearts and softens perspective. Humanizing social change concerns, too, can make them easier to understand. Audiences will remember a name, a storyline, a moral to a story or the bigger picture better than they will recall the specific jargon, legalistic processes, or percentages and statistics associated with a social issue.

Unravel the six degrees of separation. It’s long been said that most people are only six contacts removed from just about any person they need or want to know. In the age of social media, the net may less vast as various platforms and opportunities for virtual connections make people within reach like never before. Within your six degrees of separation may be influencers who can take your issue or social change cause to the next level. These needle-movers could include published thought leaders, TED Talk speakers, elected officials, governmental decision-makers, corporate heads and others who, if engaged, could become outspoken or behind-the-scenes champions who move the conversation forward to untapped audiences and in greater spheres.

Disrupt the status quo. “Every movement challenges the culture or social norms,” says Vanessa Wakeman, CEO of The Wakeman Agency. Making some noise by going against conventions – from the platforms you select to transmit your message to the articulation of your points – shakes up predictable patterns or expected ways of being. This disruption draws attention to social-change causes because it opens up new modes of thinking and engaging with the world.

Know them by name. Sometimes estimations and educated guesstimates about public support of a social change cause can only go so far. This may especially be so when the declarations of widespread backing or growing advocacy are alleged to be unsubstantiated or speculative. Having supporters, advocates and champions of a cause associate their name with it is one way to affirm and quantify the scale of a cause or issue. This may be done via online and traditional petitions, wherein people proactively attach their name, location and, at times, contact information to a cause in a recorded showing of support.

Have a defined goal. Sometimes moments that had the potential to become movements lose their steam for lack of a plan. In other words, people are excited and riled up – oftentimes for very good reasons – but the foundation is not being dug to retain and productively direct their energy. The architecture of a movement-making plan should include specific components that undergird it at a deeper level than just raw emotion. Perhaps “spreading awareness” sounds like a noble goal, but is it really enough? Think deeper: How will that increase in awareness be measured? How will you ensure that the tone of that awareness is positive? What policies or processes can advance that awareness into action?

These are just a few of many ways to channel a moment into a movement. What are some tactics or practices that you’ve seen effect change at a sustained, movement-focused level? Can you name some moments that could have – or should have – grown into movements?

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