Social movements date back to 1773 when Americans rallied together and formed the Boston Tea Party (Stanford University, 2012). Since this period, social movements have become more popularized and focus on different issues. However, the extent and longevity of time that the individualistic social movement lasted tends to vary. As a whole, some social movements have been more successful than others. The elements that make social movements successful will be explored in order to determine what individualist attributes make social movements successful. The causes of social movements will further be explored in order to determine what factors lead to the formation of a social movement.
Goodwin & Jasper (2013) argue that movements and causes are two separate issues affecting social movements. According to Goodwin & Jasper “causes are forms of collective actions whose participants seek change that they define as socially (rather than personally) beneficial” (p. 145). In contrast, movements are characterized by the actual formation of a group, focused on changing a specific issue. This specific issue is directly related to the cause. However, it should be noted that causes tend to be related to the social movement. In essence, causes directly influence the formation of social movements as they unite individuals to work towards change. Goodwin & Jasper further identify that campaigns can sometimes be confused with social movements. However, campaigns are often vehicles used for change. In some cases, campaigns can launch into social movements, such as the Women’s Liberation movement. Despite their potential, campaigns should be perceived differently than social movements, as their long-term potential tends to vary from social movements.
The level of commitment an individual or group has towards a social movement is another element that helps to determine whether or not the social movement will be successful. Goodwin & Jasper (2013) define activists as “people who act against institutionalized expectations, accept belief, conventional values and goals” (p. 146). The extent in which an activist or group of activists will go for changes tends to vary. Since social movements tend to involve the passion of an individual or group, some social movements and activists turn to unconventional methods to get their point across. In some cases, this may include violence, as a way of showing the world how committed they are to fixing what they believe to be wrong. However, what the group perceives as wrong is heavily contingent on their own beliefs. Since there have been countless social movements over the past century, there is no way to determine if all of these social movements involved discriminatory practices towards an individual, group or animals.
Although there are different causes to social movements, some social movements are more successful than others. Ortiz (2009) expands on this in noting successful social movements create a vision. In this sense, the social movement expands beyond the original stages to create change. For example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1909. During this period, the NAACP focused on reducing segregation, and creating opportunities for minorities (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2014). Although this organization still focuses on providing equal opportunities, their work as an organization has changed drastically since the organization’s formation. However, the organization’s ability to create value and to continue to help people helped it to stand the test to time. Yet, the transformation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is a common element of social movements that last for long periods. Johnston (2009) further concurs in noting that the movement tends to change. Even though a social movement may initially be focused on fixing one attribute of discriminatory or oppressive behavior, in time, these behaviors tend to change. Whether or not these changes are necessarily in the line with the social movement tend to vary based on the individualistic issue.
In some cases, changes can make the social movement stronger. This is best exemplified in exploring the assignation of Martin Luther King Jr. According to Brunswick School (2012) “As a result of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, many African Americans were outraged and began rioting in cities across the country” (para. 2). This example helps to demonstrate that even though the leader of a social movement may be killed, the social movement may live on. Furthermore, actions against the social movement (often meant to deter it) can further provide the support needed for change to occur. However, the commitment of the people, regardless of one specific social movement, has been shown to be an essential element in making social change occur through social movements. Citation further expands on this in stating, “Movement building is different from coalition building in that it does not seek to only shift policy on an issue, it involves a strategy to build power to effect broader change and focuses on building a strong membership” (p. 28). In this sense, the strength of the social movement may be heavily based on its initial focus. For example, if a social movement was focusing on one specific issue, once the issue had been addressed the social movement would theoretically evaporate. From this standpoint, successful social movements focus on a specific category of issues, instead of one individualistic issue. In this sense, successful social movements tend to have a wide array of issues that they address.
Social movements evolve to form change. However, their long-term potential and successes are heavily influenced by the support the movement receives and the issues the group is focusing on. In reviewing research, broad issues tend to aid in the creation of long-term social movement and organizations focusing on social change. In contrast, individualistic issues tend to lead groups to dissolution after that specific issue has been addressed. The successes of social movements are further influenced by the commitment of members. The need for activists to come together in order to create change is at the heart of any successful social movement.