Myths of Social Movements

excerpt from 'The Climate Resistance Handbook #study-circle

Myth: Movements are lit like a match.

Movements don't appear from nowhere. It often takes many tries by different groups before movements succeed. The myth that movements "suddenly appear" ignores the early stages. It ignores how we have to build up small networks . It makes big actions seem more important than the early, small ones. And it skips over skill-building and studying other movements.

Myth: Movements are built by heroic figurehead leaders.

When we think of famous movements, we may only think of Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, or Mandela (or Greta, or Manzoor Pashteen). But movements are more than heroic leaders. Some movements have them. Some movements don't But all movements are built by many organisations, groups, and loose-knit networks that organise and act together for change. No organisation, action,, or individual speaks for an entire movement.

Myth: Movements require complete internal unity.

People act as though past movements had a clear vision, a clear plan, and all agreed. But that was never the case. The young Mongolian activists argued and disagreed. They had internal splits about tactics and policies. Successful movements always have internal disagreements and division. Working for unity is great - and so is accepting the reality that we are not all going to see things the same way.

Myth: Petitions (or any single action) are a movement.

This myth goes like this: Want to stop the fossil fuel industry? Get a big petition! Or get everyone to do a big social media share! Or a big march!

But in reality, no single tactic is a movement. A movement requires many different types of tactics. Some tactics, anyone can do. Others will require higher personal risk than most people are willing to take. Some tactics, maybe only some people can do, like a lawyer filing a lawsuit or the mine workers going out on strike. Movements require ltos of different types of tactics - and relying on just one action will not result in change.

Myth: Movements succeed when they mobilise large, mass actions.

Countless times the refrain is heard: "We just need to have a giant march."

However, movements don't win because of singular actions, however big. That can lead us to always try to organise big actions. Then we dismiss small actions, like those done in rural areas, communities who just joined us or powerful but experimental tactics. And we can't just keep organising for one big action. Movements need ongoing resistance - otherwise, the people in power can just wait until the event is over and continue ignoring movement requests.

Myth: Movements only work in democratic countries, or where they don't have police repression.

Nonviolent social movements have overthrown powerful, oppressive regimes in the Philippines, Chile, Bolivia, Madagascar, Nepal, Czechoslovakia, Indonesia, Serbia, Mali and Ukraine, to name a few.

Powerful social movements occur frequently in repressive countries. In democratic regimes, people may rely on traditional channels for advocating social change (courts, elections, etc). But in places with harsh rulers, they have saved a step: People already know those institutions won't save us. We have to organise ourselves.

Myth: movements need media attention to win.

This myth is common. And it's true that media can help influence public opinion. But it's not healthy for a movement to associate the health of the movement with how much media coverage it's getting ... If we believe we are effective because the media are covering us, then what happens when the media get bored and decide to stop covering us?

Each of these myths makes us look outside of ourselves. We look for the heroic leader, the right circumstances, or what the newspapers say about us. That’s not power. Movements are most effective when we look inward and find strength in ourselves and our relationships.

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