Social movements, also known as interest articulation groups, are communities of people, usually based on a specific social cleavage, that seek to influence government and policy.
It has frequently been argued that social movements carry little weight in the policy-making process and are therefore incapable of promoting change. However, this pessimistic attitude is, more often than not, held by those who fear change. And those who fear change are oftentimes the people with considerable power and privilege, and perceive social movements to be a threat to their current state of security, status and stability.
Yet, if everyone adopted such an attitude, society would not change and progress would not be possible.
But this has not been, and is not, the case. People from all backgrounds have stood up for what they believed in and made a positive impact and contribution to the society we live in today.
In 1918, after many years of painful and emotionally tormenting protests and rallies, the Suffragette Movement attained its goal. Women over the age of 30 were enfranchised and had earned the right to vote in national elections. In 1928, the vote was given to all women over the age of 21, the same age as men.
Sixty years ago, the Civil Rights Movement made its mark. In ’55 and ’63, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. each stood up and fought for what they knew was right. Had these people not made a defence for the humanity of people of colour and the need for recognition of rights, legal statutes would not be in place against institutional and social racism.
The LGBTQ movement has fought for sexual equality to be recognised before the law, as well as their right to civil partnerships. Now they are fighting for the right to marriage. Rallies such as Gay Pride have allowed the issues of equality and prejudice experienced by people from the LGBTQ community to be expressed in the public domain, which leads to an awareness and greater social support.
These are three of the biggest movements to have emerged in the last century. Admittedly, sexism, racism and homophobia still, unfortunately, exist in society, but these groups triggered a domino effect of incremental changes. At the time, they would have felt small, part of a minority, and fearful that no change would come, but they spoke up anyway, and inspired others in the process. The same goes for Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Jane Goodall and Malala Yousafzai. These people have made a difference to how we live our lives, and the respect we are due, regardless of race, gender or sexuality, in a society that is so fragmented.
The most recent social movement to have packed a punch in the UK is the No More Page 3 campaign. If it is not clear, this movement seeks the abolition of page 3 from national, family-oriented newspapers: it is not about censorship of the female body, but instead context. The Times (the sister paper of The Sun) reported this week that topless women would no longer feature on this notorious page. Instead, they shall be pictured in full lingerie. Now, whilst this is not complete abolition, it is a step in the right direction.
Social movements have power. But more importantly, we have power. We have strong, independent voices that can collectively lead to positive social change.
All it takes is one person.
One spark to ignite the flame.
Be that person.