As Bronagh Gallagher and I have been musing about our offering on complexity, facilitation and social justice, we have been discussing the shift in activism from ideology to evolutionary. Ideological movements try to coalesce activities and people along a line towards a fixed end state. Evolutionary movements start with intentions, principles and move outward in multiple directions along vectors. They adjust and learn as they go, and they both respond to and change their context.
This nice post from Network Centered Advocacy capgtues what I’m talking about by first looking at how a lacrosse player’s artistry evolves in changing contexts and then concludes with these important paragraphs:
Being labeled a “movement” is a reflection of evolutionary status. One person or organization does not qualify as a movement, yet there is no set size of a movement. Movements are messy, complex and organic. The movement label is shorthand, an inclusive term of many independent leaders and supporters, their support structures, all that they can tap into, as well as their capacity to disagree as often as they align on work.
Movements are a reflection of self-directed, adaptive, resilient, self-sacrificing, supported and persistent initiatives to work on complex problems. There are no movement structures, but instead a movement is a mass migration of people, organizations, businesses and communities unified in common story, driving to shift culture, policy, behavior and norms. Successful movements build and transform the landscape as they progress providing a base for further progress. A quick scan of the first few pages of google news for” movements” produces a snapshot of the current movements that come to mind, including the movement against fracking, the climate change movement, the tea party movement, Occupy, #blacklivesmatter, the anti-austerity movement, the dump-Trump movement, the maker-movement, the LGBTQ movement–the list goes on.
A key evolution point in a movement’s trajectory is the transition away from any single point of failure, to be loosely structured and resilient enough to absorb setbacks. The agility and adaptive characteristics of movements are fueled not only by personal stakes, individualism, driven leadership, passion and local control, but also by unpredictable solidarity and a distributed organizing approach that resists centralization. The difference between an organization, coalition, centralized campaign and a genuine movement is the way each fuels smart local initiatives and the ways leaders align power.
Building a movement is actually more aptly perceived as unleashing a movement, creating new spaces that help the movement surge in wider, expansive and still supportive directions. As a movement gains organizing momentum, strategies shift to broadly unfold and push a wide set of actions that draw opposition thin rather than clustering and making defense easy. This distributed layout requires a shift in thinking and strategy.
The key thing to notice here is that culture is changed by evolving movements, not linear programs. Movements are not led TOWARDS a goal, but rather emanate from a set of connected and coherent stories, actions and intentions, and self-correct, fail and adapt as they go. This is true whether the venue of action is organizational or societal. Cultures are complex and require complexity to change them. Diving more into the examples given in the quote will give you more insight into how these movements have become a part of, and transformative agents within, the cultures they are aiming to change.