In the December 27th edition of the Popular Resistance Newsletter, the late Bill Moyer‘s 8 stages of successful social-political movements was presented. The folks in the movement to amend the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision would benefit from comprehending these stages to understand the pitfalls and obstacles that various movements have faced previously in order to get past them. Below is a graphic showing the 8 stages and a brief review of each stage explained below that:
These stages are explained in a History is a Weapon website page. Stage 1 is called “normal times.” Movement activists would be well-served to read the referenced page. The author explains:
In this first stage—normal times—there are many conditions that grossly violate widely held, cherished human values such as freedom, democracy, security, and justice, and the best interests of society as a whole. Moreover, these conditions are maintained by the policies of public and private power holders, and a majority of public opinion. Yet, these violations of values, sensibilities, and self-interest of the general society are relatively unnoticed; they are neither in the public spotlight nor on society’s agenda of hotly contested issues. Normal times are politically quiet times. Some past normal times were the violations of Blacks’ civil rights before 1960; the Vietnam War before 1967; and U.S. intervention in Central America and support for Marcos, Duvalier, and apartheid before 1985.
The “normal times” for this amendment movement would have been from the Buckley decision (1976) until after the Citizens United decision (Jan. 2010) when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations should be free to spend as much of their money as they want on electioneering communications.
Stage 2 is called “prove the failure of institutions.” Again the author explains:
The intensity of public feeling, opinion, and upset required for social movements to occur can happen only when the public realizes that the governmental policies violate widely held beliefs and values. The public’s upset becomes especially intensified when official authorities violate the public trust by using the power of office to deceive the public and govern unfairly and unlawfully. Hannah Arendt wrote that “people are more likely driven to action by the unveiling of hypocrisy than the prevailing conditions.”
Polls show that most people, who are aware of the Citizen United decision, are upset enough to at least oppose that decision and understand that it violates their beliefs that corporations should not be directly involved in elections of public officials, that corruption should not be legal.
Stage 3 is called “ripening conditions.”
The “take-off” of a new social movement requires preconditions that build up over many years. These conditions include broad historic developments, a growing discontented population of victims and allies, and a budding autonomous grassroots opposition, all of which encourage discontent with the present conditions, raise expectations that they can change, and provide the means to do it. The historical forces are usually long-term, broad trends and events that worsen the problem, upset subpopulations, raise expectations, promote the means for new activism, and personify the problem. They are mostly outside the control of the opposition.
Post-Citizens United elections in 2010 and 2012 with the many deceitful and misleading ads from super PACs and 501 (c) 4 corporations has encouraged discontent with new status quo. Move to Amend, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People all built their grassroots opposition during this period.
Stage 4 is called “social movement take off.”
New social movements surprise and shock everyone when they burst into the public spotlight on the evening TV news and in newspaper headlines. Overnight, a previously unrecognized social problem becomes a social issue that everyone is talking about. It starts with a highly publicized, shocking incident, a “trigger event”, followed by a nonviolent action campaign that includes large rallies and dramatic civil disobedience. Soon these are repeated in local communities around the country.
By starkly revealing to the public that a social condition and power holder policies blatantly violate widely held cherished social values, citizen self-interest, and the public trust, the trigger event instills a profound sense of moral outrage in the general populace. Consequently, the general population responds with great passion, demanding an explanation from the power holders and ready to hear more information from the opposition. The trigger event is also a trumpet’s call to action for the new wave opposition groups around the country.
With 16 states having already indicated to Congress a desire for an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, this movement appears close to “take off.” So far, lacking a clearly defined “trigger event,” the news media has not reported on this effort to “surprise and shock everyone.” When that happens, the right-wing, pro-corporate media echo chamber is likely to attempt to divide and conquer this effort. Quiet successes are key to preventing that division at this stage. The forthcoming Supreme Court ruling in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC may lay the final groundwork for a trigger event in the next election cycle.
Stage 5 is called “identity crises of powerlessness.”
After a year or two, the high hopes of movement take-off seems inevitably to turn into despair. Most activists lose their faith that success is just around the corner and come to believe that it is never going to happen. They perceive that the power holders are too strong, their movement has failed, and their own efforts have been futile. Most surprising is the fact that this identity crisis of powerlessness and failure happens when the movement is outrageously successful—when the movement has just achieved all of the goals of the take-off stage within two years. This stage of feelings of self-identity crisis and powerlessness occurs simultaneously with Stage Six because the movement as a whole has progressed to the majority stage.
Most people in an amendment movement should understand that success takes a while, but this should serve as a reminder that as momentum waxes and wanes over time. This effort is going to require several election cycles to fully recognize the problem and displace congressional opponents to an amendment. During this election year, many in this movement would best serve its goals by getting directly involved in the boots-on-the-ground campaigns to unseat corporate conservatives and liberals.
Stage 6 is called “majority public support.”
The movement …needs to win over the neutrality, sympathies, opinions, and even support of an increasingly larger majority of the populace and involve many of them in the process of opposition and change. The central agency of opposition must slowly change from the new wave activists and groups to the great majority of nonpolitical populace…and the mainstream political forces as they are convinced to agree with the movement’s position. The majority stage is a long process of eroding the social, political, and economic supports that enable the power holders to continue their policies. It is a slow process of social transformation that create a new social and political consensus, reversing those of normal times.
Although the movement already has “majority public support” according to polls and ballot initiatives, it has yet to make this issue key in most voters’ minds come election day. That is likely to require at least one or two more elections cycles.
Stage 7 is called “success.”
Stage Seven begins when the long process of building opposition reaches a new plateau in which the new social consensus turns the tide of power against the power holders and begins an endgame process leading to the movement’s success. The Stage Seven process can take three forms: dramatic showdown, quiet showdown, or attrition.
In an amendment movement success will come in stages, first in Congress when an amendment reaches the 2/3rd requirement in both houses and then 38 more successes will be needed to ratify an amendment. The key successes will be the votes in Congress and the 38th state to ratify. That is probably at least a decade away.
Finally, stage 8 is called “continuing the struggle.”
The success achieved in Stage Seven is not the end of the struggle but a basis for continuing that struggle and creating new beginnings.
Once corporations no longer have rights, a generation of legislative battles will be fought to determine which of their former rights will become protected, regulated or revoked privileges. Once money is no longer deemed speech, a major legislative effort will be required to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform to make elections both free and fair and empower voters once and for all.
Situated as we are in stage 3 of this struggle, we can paraphrase John Paul Jones: We have only begun this fight.
Doing Democracy by Bill Moyer
History is a Weapon, The Movement Action Plan by Bill Moyer
Real Change is Closer than You Think by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
2014 is the Year for a People Powered Movement by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
The four habits of highly successful social movements by Rich Yeselson
The 4 Steps To Building A Successful Social Movement by Kaihan Krippendorff