Are Social Movements Successful?

Are Social Movements Successful?

Author: Josh Valdez


History likes the idea of successful social movements. Especially in the United States we are advocates for change. In order to demand social change, a group has to be ready to act to bring about this change. These groups are known as Social Movement groups. These groups are highly trained and highly talented. They are not groups to be loose or spontaneous however, many times appear to be. They require years of planning, petition, and reform. The nation’s posterchild of Social Movements is Rosa Parks who is widely known for her brave stand toward the end of segregation between whites and blacks around the 1950s. She silently protested as she refused to move to the back of the bus due to being an African American. She was looked at by news reporters and politicians as a sweet old lately who made a spontaneous stand, where enough was enough. Although this makes for a good story, Rosa Parks was in fact a 12 year veteran in the NAACP and was widely respected in her community as a seamstress. What many didn’t account for in this seemingly spontaneous stand was the amount of planning behind it. There was many ladies like Rosa Parks who had attempted to make a stand but didn’t get the impact that Rosa Parks did that day due to multiple variables. The respect that Rosa Parks carried in her community carried also the social power that would make a lasting impression on society thus making it successful. 

Social movements always have to be followed by specific demands.  An action with a plan. Many other groups who demand social reform have not taken the time to propose something better instead. Social movement groups require a large following and a planned outcome for every possible scenario. Social movements move and require adaptation during all the stages of the movement. They emerge, grow and unite, and eventually reach bureaucratic state. During this state of bureaucracy the outcome of the social movement could be successful, lead to cooptation, or result in failure. No matter the outcome social movements will eventually dissolve or have a social decline. (Jenson, 2016)

Many groups need to be formed around passion and drive. Charles Tilly defined social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people made collective claims on others (Lopes, 2014). Some of the most important aspects of having a modern day social movement would require the use of technology or social media to blanket large areas with information disclosing the intent of the social movement.  These events are not always violent or destructive but do carry a societal power with them. In fact successful social movements don’t resort to violent tactics to make their point known. Instead they resort to political or government control, persuading and swaying congressional votes or by sponsoring one of their own as a political candidate. Once they are successful in gaining political power or by obtaining the attention of the media or public they must be ready to act. They must be ready to propose and more importantly be ready to compromise. Success will not be achieved if a social movement group is not willing to find common ground and find a solution.

Once they are successful in capturing attention, motivation to correct or to change, and perhaps obtaining a new policy or law that furthers their advancement on social change they must continue to work to insure that the policy or change is enforced and understood. These steps of implementation are the breath of life as to if the change begins to come about or if it loses impact and motivation. A group must have an implementation plan in order to not be perceived as unorganized or spontaneous. They must continue forward toward the primary goal. Many will join the cause once a little ground is won on an issue but a group must work to retain those that join later so that they don’t leave the cause in the event of a setback or failure. This is widely done by having a charismatic leader continuously motivate and inspire. Much like Martin Luther King Jr. did during his push for civil rights. (Jenson, 2016)




Jenson, Tiffany. 2016. “Social Movements.” Presented at BYU-Idaho, Fall Semester, Rexburg, Idaho. Retrieved Oct. 27, 2016 (

Lopes, Amandha Rohr. 2014. The Impact of Social Media of Social Movements: The new Opportunity and Mobilizing Structure. Omaha, NE: Creighton University.



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published