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Timing is key in successful social movements

Timing is key in successful social movements

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Prof. Sarah Soule explores the trajectory of women’s activism in from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Prof. Sarah Soule explores the trajectory of women’s activism in from the 1960s to the 1990s.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: The Clayman Institute on Jun 27, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 After decades of marches, boycotts, lobbying and rallies, did the protests of the past 40 years really make a difference? Do protestsstill work? Can women still advocate change through social activism? 
The answer may lie in the timing, according to Sarah Soule, PhD,the Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior in theGraduate School of Business and a Clayman Institute facultyresearch fellow, who studies the tactics and consequences of socialmovements and how activism influences public policy andperception.Soule tracked thousands of U.S. newspaper articles from the 1960s
through the ’90s, a period when Americans took on a wide range of social concerns. She and her team analyzed
these records to pinpoint when social movements prompted the strongest response and had the greatest impact.In studying the Equal Rights Amendment, Soule found that timing was crucial to the success of this socialmovement. She noted that organized lobbying appeared to have had a more direct effect on public opinion earlyon, when the issue was first being considered by legislators and state ratification bills were being introduced.When activists became more demanding or radical, she said, legislators appeared to become less receptive toassociating with activist agendas, most likely because they did not want to alienate voters.Soule also found that groups with insider allies, such as legislators sympathetic to the cause, make more progress.Today, she added, though there are more women in positions of 
political power, women’s issues may not
necessarily be on the agenda.Another component of her research points to the fact that women have historically mobilized around many issues,not all of which are considered feminist. For example, women took on many aspects of social reform, such asboycotting grocery chains to lower food prices and toy companies to recall violent items. Educational issues werealso high on the agenda of women activists.After the Equal Rights Amendment protests, which peaked from 1972-82, women took on other, nonfeministaspects of social reform,
“Women became political about other issues and moved their efforts into the private sphere,” said Soule. “They
were still socially active but learned to use different tactics that focused more on community building, improving
social services for women and building solidarity.”
Timing is Key in Successful Social Movements
byRuth Schechteron 03/07/10 at 9:54 pm

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