Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't

This is the question that drives the recent book by Leslie Crutchfield, "How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't" (2018). This book is about social movements in the US, or that are primarily US-led. It offers some interesting case studies, quite descriptive throughout. The author summarizes the objective as seeking to understand why "some changes occur, but others don't? What are the factors that drive successful social and environmental change campaigns, while others falter? This book examines the leadership approaches, campaign strategies, and ground-level tactics employed by a range of modern social change efforts peaking since the 1980s" (p. 3). The key lessons can be summarized in six points:

  • "Winning movements are fueled by energy that materializes from the bottom up." (p. 12)
  • Do "the yeoman's work of pushing for improvements at the state and local level, advocating town by town, racking up small wins and building momentum incrementally, rather than going for national change at the start." (p. 12)
  • "change public attitudes so people believe the changes they seek are fair and right" (p. 13)
  • Put your "egos and organizational identities to the side (if only temporarily) so disparate factions can come together around a common agenda" (p. 13)
  • "Businesses can affect major change by altering their employee policies; raising their influential voices in public debates; and leveraging their innovation capabilities, as well as their brands and customer loyalty, for causes" (p. 13)
  • "Instead of small handfuls of elites dictating to troops from the top down or an amorphous mob of activists genuflecting for change from the bottom up, the most effective movements find the balance between the "leaderless" and the "leader-led" extremes" (p. 14).

I found the book somewhat repetitive. Given two years had passed since "How Change Happens" (Duncan Green's version) was published, and all the hullabaloo around it, it is odd that the author does not even cite Green's book (same title, same topic). Many of the key concepts this book tried to introduce (e.g. complexity, systems) where already introduced in Green's book. Maybe more disappointing is that Crutchfield does not employ complexity or systems approaches consistently, but rather uses them narrowly and in a specific way. Other findings in this book are reflected in a range of existing books (which are also not cited), such as those on leadership, which includes books that are also specific to the US context. Two relevant omissions were McChrystal (2015) and Bond and Exley (2016). The lack of engagement with all this relevant literature is unfortunate, particularly given the research produced was done by a large team. If you are looking for a book on this topic, I would suggest Green's 'How Change Happens' before this one (unless you are seeking out the specific US case studies).

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Why Don’t the Poor Rise Up?

An article in the New York Times in 2015 provoked Michael Truscello and Ajamu Nangwaya to bring together the volume: "Why Don't the Poor Rise Up? Organizing the Twenty-First Century Resistance" (2017). This book is divided into two sections, one on the Global North and another on the Global South, and is an "anthology of radical perspectives on contemporary struggles" (p. 2). The book is a counter narrative to the idea suggested in the New York Times that the poor are not rising up. "The title is both challenging and provocative, in the sense that it is at once a question and an assumption. But is it true that the poor do not rise up? Or do we simply not recognize their resistance and rebellion?" (p. 1). In documenting stories of resistance, the authors seek to address an apparent gap: "We do not have enough knowledge and information on the diverse struggles waged around the world, the wealth of experiences gained, and the lessons learnt from them and numerous victories achieved. Consequently, we do not celebrate them nor gain inspiration from them to wage new struggles. The first-hand experiences and contributions shared in this collection serve as a radical attempt to reverse this trend" (p. 3).

There are eighteen examples, well beyond summary in a brief post. In general, I had hoped the book would have delved deeper. Many of the chapters are brief descriptive summaries of challenges faced and responses. Readers familiar with this literature might be left wanting. However, for those who do wonder 'why the poor do not rise up', this is a collection worth reading. Two thought provoking quotes:

From Praba Pilar and Alex Wilson: "An early example of these confining constructs was the "Inter Caetera," a papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that laid out the justification for the Doctrine of Discovery. It established that Christian nations had a divine right (based on the bible) to grant themselves legal ownerships of any "unoccupied" lands (where unoccupied was defined as the absence of Christian people) and dominion over any people on those lands. A current example of these confining constructs is the salvation narrative unconsciously reproduced by many in the white Left when approach Indigenous and other non-European communities as allies but present solutions that have been developed in isolation, are paternalistic, and/or are inappropriate to the context. Salvation narratives are often seen as benign, but they are not. hey reflect and perpetuate the early justification for colonization, i.e., that "God had directed [Europeans] to bring civilized ways and education and religion to Indigenous Peoples and to exercise paternalism and guardianship powers over them'" (p. 35)

From Gussai Sheikheldin: "States and markets normalize the exploitation and oppression of many in society through the pretext of order and justice… becoming aware of a phenomenon does not automatically imply that one will care to transform it, so understanding structural sources of oppression in society does not necessarily mean that one will seek to combat them. That is objectively true, but we should also be mindful that any genuine care is unlikely to happen without understanding. Then there's the difference between understanding on the one hand, and 'consciousness' (understanding and caring) on the other." (p. 233-235).

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