Social movements, protests and strikes have become the new normal today. We hear about them in the news, or find a new trending hashtag about it on social media at least once a week. This passiveness has reduced social and political movements to just 2 concerned stakeholders – the victims or those who are suffering and the State or those who have the power to stop the suffering. While the 3rd group, the rest of us, remain apathetic. However, the tides of social movements completely change when people other than the stakeholders join in, the movement is propelled to success. We’ve seen this when men join feminist movements, when straight people join LGBTQ protests and when all races stand for black lives.
In India, we recently saw this during the Kisan Long March, which was carried out by 40,000 farmers in Maharashtra. By creating an inclusive atmosphere, they were able to garner support from the urban middle class and political parties across India’s political spectrum, propelling the movement to success.
It seems like inclusive movements always win. Here’s how to make your cause more inclusive.
Tip #1: Have A Clear And Easy-To-Replicate Message
In the early 2000s, a people’s movement was brewing in Serbia against the government of the time. Eventually, this led to an all-out revolution called ‘Otpor!’ Aimed at fighting institution control and corruption, think of this movement as a combination of the India Against Corruption movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement. However, there is one big difference between movement like India Against Corruption movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and Serbia’s Otpor! While the other 2 were started off with random, sporadic voices, turning into mass rudderless protests full of white noise, Otpor! was well-planned and perfectly executed. They had a singular aim – to overthrow President Slobodan Milošević – and this aim never wavered. The also had a focussed agenda, using each pillar of power – media, bureaucracy, police, and military – to achieve their goals. They even drafted a manifesto with clear principles focussing on students, unity, tolerance, and nonviolent discipline. They published a manual, developed training course and brought in activists from all over Serbia. Apart from being clear, it was also cheap, easy-to-replicate and low-risk tactics.
Thousands of people joined the movement because they knew exactly what they were getting into and they were given a clear roadmap for execution. It was easy for them to simply follow this map and reap the benefits of a free Serbia than be unknown faces in a crowd, endlessly rallying for a distant aim. After it’s success, Otpor! inspired Kmara in Georgia, Pora in Ukraine and the April 6th protests in Egypt as well as Iran, Burma and Zimbabwe.
Tip #2: Be Relatable
The key to being an inclusive movement is to make people identify with you even if they aren’t directly being affected by the problem at hand. Being passionate is important but extremist behavior is just that, extreme. It’s not the norm, which doesn’t make it relatable. According to one study, people were more sympathetic to the #BlackLivesMatter movement when they heard a simple, “Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter” chant from one of the protests, rather than when they something more extreme like this – “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” (here, pigs is a reference to white supremacists).
Throwback to the beginning of India’s Independence movement under Mahatma Gandhi. He knew that for India to truly get independence, all Indians would have to present a united front. However, not everyone was willing to take up the daunting and never-ending task of fighting the British. So, Mahatma Gandhi decided to start with a small battle – the salt tax. He saw that this single issue, even though a small one, could unify the nation to break the British because it was so relatable and anyone could get behind the cause cheaper salt.
Tip #3: Don’t Be Disruptive
When you think of a protest, you immediately think violence and disruption. You think roadblocks, curfews and maybe even a riot. All things you would not tolerate unless you had a personal stake in the protest. This is why peaceful protests and marches have the most participation. Non-stakeholders don’t feel like participation is a threat to them and in the end, the large turnout works in the favor of the movement as a whole. The Kisan Long March is the best example of this. They made sure the march did not occupy any main roads. By assembling in open spaces, they avoided the eruption of any violence or stampedes. And most important, to not disrupt the routines of the urban populace, they marched only at night, thanks to all of this, they attracted more sympathy than any other farmers’ protest in the country.
Apart from not being physically disruptive, it’s also important to not be economically disruptive. Most successful protests have been ones that are social and not socio-economical. While taking one big businesses and finance giants that exploit the poor is important, historically it has never worked. Most recently, the #OccupyWallStreet movement failed for the very same reason, all though it garnered a lot of support, it also alienated a lot of lower and middle-class people that depend on economic systems to survive. This is also one of the reasons that the global movement for environmental conservation and to fight climate change, have yet to result in any big institutional policy changes.
Tip #4: Have A Post-Victory Plan
The point of including as many people in a movement as possible is so that a unified and impenetrable front can be presented to the powers that be. This front must sustain not only during a revolution but also after. A revolution is only successful if it creates a sustainable change. The Arab Spring is universally accepted as a powerful and largely successful revolution. However, many of the countries that were part of the spring could not sustain themselves after they overthrew their government. Yemen is one such country. Even Egypt, whose 2011 victory in the Arab Spring was thanks to secular protestors, now has a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Even in Ukraine, while the 2004 Orange Revolution, the new government could hold it together long enough the sustain the Revolution’s success.
And to sustain this unified impenetrable front, you can’t only get permanent supporters but you’ve got to make them feel like they have a stake in the change. They should have a clear alternate system to the system they are currently fighting. They should know to go out and vote for it, not just after the revolution, but for years and years to come.
It also helps to have a viral hashtag going around and a lot of celebrities on your side to really bring in the support. But you already knew that.