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Workshop on strategising

The Road To Success:
Stages social and political movements go through

[A short version of Bill Moyer's 'Movement Action Plan']

Click here to view print version

Stage 1: Normal conditions
No problem perceived even through there is one; 10% public support; feeling that "we'll never win"; people's moral values violated by powerholders but not a public issue, indeed public believes the 'official' line. Opposition comes from professional lobbyists and principled dissenters.

Stage 2: Failure of normal conditions
Public support rising slowly, now 20%; question is asked "What's wrong with these protesters?"; opposition movement uses mainstream channels and proves they don't work, show powerholders violating values; opposition become experts, build their organisation.

Stage 3: Conditions ripen
Public now realising 'something is up'; 30% support. Public getting higher expectations. There is isolated local, grass roots opposition which brings in new people; the opposition use available networks of churches, unions etc. Some prototype demonstrations are held.

Stage 4: Movement takes off
People now realising there's a problem, issue getting 40 - 50% support. There is loads of excitement, high hopes. It has become a big public issue and it feels like a crisis (with associated panic, excitement and energy). A trigger event may set this stage off (e.g. European decision on Cruise missile deployment set off 1980s wave of anti-nuclear action). Informal, non-hierarchical organisation grows.

Stage 5: Identity crisis of powerlessness
Discouragement that success hasn't arrived. 50% agreeing, 50% 'maybes' and 'no's'. Numbers at demonstrations fall; government pays no attention; no real victories yet; strains of informal administration/organisation. Dangers of drop out/burn out, more militant and/or violent action, and internal movement divisions.

Stage 6: Majority public opinion
The movement may feel despondent but the public are moving; 60 - 80% support. Hard work needed at grassroots and national levels to move from protest to win mass public support; needing public education, nonviolent actions, involving citizens, using official channels, grassroots organising, national publicity etc.

Stage 7: End game process/Success
Now 60 - 85% public support and a crisis atmosphere with massive public discontent; the movement has become the 'good guys' and many powerholders are won over. The public is less fearful of alternatives and are involved in a big way through demonstrations or boycotts etc. Powerholders realise they need to change policy or lose office. Ending can come through dramatic or quiet showdown or attrition.

Stage 8: Continuing success
Public sees issue as won, many people move one to other issues. But may need to pick up aspects of the issue which haven't been satisfactorily dealt with (and which are at earlier stages) or spin offs (in Ireland many from the anti-nuclear power movement of the end of the 'seventies moved on to the nuclear disarmament movement).

Some Questions
[ for personal reflection or discussion]

  • Think of some campaigns on different issues; which stage would they be at?
  • Do you think this 'road to success' applies or exists in our context? If not, what stages would you see existing, or how should the above model be modified to fit?
  • What stage do you like best?
  • In what stages would nonviolent direct action be most appropriate?
  • Where can your personal qualities and skills fit in?

Possible Workshop

Facilitator's Notes:
Time needed: Preferably 2 - 21/2 hours, you could do a certain amount in 1 - 11/4 hours.

Give people the handout of stages as they arrive (as in 1-8 above)

1. Personal introductions, if needed, and introduction to agenda.
Point out that this is not 'programmatic' in that movements may go backwards, be in a couple of places at one time, or not fit the model adequately. In this case, a new model that fits better could be developed by people.

2. Work through the stages, taking brief comments and questions.

3. One-to-one (getting people to pair off with someone they know less well or not at all) speaking-listening exercise; one person speaks for 3-4 minutes, then reverse (listener can ask 'drawing-out' questions).

a) Where are you/have you been in campaigns and issues you have been involved in?
b) Where can you realistically plan to be in 2 - 5 years time?

4. Spectrum:
Standing up, get people to divide in a line from stages 1 - 8:

a) Where do people see themselves in a particular campaign? Ask why people have placed themselves in a particular location
b) Where do people most enjoy being? Again ask why.

5. Caucus (small group focused on one issue) or plenary to discuss the particular campaign you are focused on.

If it is a sizeable enough group with different interests, seek bids for different smaller groups to discuss a particular campaign, and see what groups are viable. Or if it is a sizeable enough group focused on the one issue you can still divide into smaller groups of 6, 8, or 10.

Questions include:

a) Is the model useful to us?
b) Do we need to build our own model, and if so how can we build it?
c) What tactics and strategies can be utilised if a campaign gets to stage 6, say, but the government refuses to change its policy (e.g. Irish government granting use of Shannon airport to USA troops going to Iraq)?

6. Conclusions/Comments to close. Can be done a round, asking people to share just a sentence each.

Movement tasks or goals at each stage
Here is a shortened version of what Moyer lists as the tasks for the change movement at each stage -

1) Document that a serious problem exists; maintain active opposition no matter how small.

2) Document problem including involvement of powerholders; document citizens' attempts to use normal channels and prove they don't work; become experts; build small opposition organisations.

3) Recognise historical conditions that help make a new movement possible; create, inspire and prepare new wave groups; prepare pre-existing groups; personalise the problem; begin small prototype nonviolent action projects.

4) Create a new grassroots based social movement; put powerholders' policies into public consciousness as contentious; create public platform for the movement to educate people; create public dissonance on the issue.

5) Become strategists; form political and personal support groups; adopt nonviolence; adopt empowerment models of organisation and leadership.

6) Keep the issue and powerholders' values and violations on the agenda; switch from crisis protest to waging protracted social struggle to achieve positive social change; keep trying to get bigger majority opinion; involve large numbers in grassroots programmes.

7) Wage a successful 'endgame' strategy to win one or more demands; recognise/celebrate success; raise larger issues and propose alternative paradigms; create new decentralised centres of power; continue the movement.

8) Work to assure that demands achieved are maintained and circle back to focus the movement on other demands.

Further resources: Bill Moyer, who died in 2002, was a US peace activist who developed more comprehensive materials in relation to the above. Do a web search for 'Bill Moyer Movement Action Plan' or contact INNATE for details.

[This item first appeared with Nonviolent News 124: November 2004]

Copyright INNATE 2016