Stages in the development of Social Change
Stage One-Momentum Building:
Momentum building occurs when many small groups and individuals are discontent with the current state of affairs. These multiple groups and individuals are spread out and have little or no contact with each other although they may be aware of the existence of each other.
Before the beginning of the American Revolution, momentum building began when many persons and groups published pamphlets and articles complaining about the treatment of the colonies by Great Britain. Ministers, small business owners, teachers, and citizens wrote these pamphlets. As discontent grew, these small groups and individuals formed larger groups. There was a sense of community building as colonies formed the First Continental Congress in 1775 to formally address their grievances to Great Britain. The Congress even sent delegations to Great Britain to plead the cause of the colonies.
The same pattern occurred during the early stages of the Civil Rights movement in the United Sates in the 40’s and 50’s. Black communities attempted voter registration movements, court fights, and sit-ins. When all these efforts failed, the Black Communities started all over again.
Precipitating events leading to Stage 2, Passive Resistance
Before the outbreak of the American Revolution, some of the precipitating events that transitioned the colonies to passive resistance were The Intolerable Acts, The Stamp Act and the Sugar Tax.
The 1954 Supreme Court Decision, Brown V. Board of Education and the Rosa Parks incident precipitated the movement to passive resistance. Because the Rosa Parks incident was so successful, other groups were encouraged by to engage in similar acts.
Stage Two-Passive Resistance
Passive resistance is usually refraining from participating in an action. It is during this stage that the “movement” gains momentum and gains supporters and opponents. There is little risk of jail unless the resistance consists of violating some law such as not paying taxes.
At the beginning of the American Revolution, the colonists boycotted tea and other goods from Great Britain even though there was opposition from the Tories.
Sit-ins, group rallies and marches were a significant tool of the Civil Rights movement that used the successful outcome of the Rosa Parks incident as a model.
Precipitating events leading to Stage 3, Active Resistance
The Boston Massacre and the attack on the armories of Lexington and Concord led to the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
The various marches as well as the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King led to freedom riders, rallies and various protests.
Stage Three-Active Resistance
Here the movement begins to turn from mere protests to actively resisting the establishment forces. This stage may range from outright revolution to more moderate violations of the law.
At the beginning of the outbreak of the American Revolution, the colonists seeing that all hope for accommodation and reconciliation by Great Britain was gone felt that the only recourse was to declare themselves free and independent. This Declaration of Independence could not help but lead to war.
The Civil Rights Movement had a happier outcome when the ruling powers saw the handwriting on the wall and passed the Civil Rights Act. This however, was only a beginning as there was and continues to be much work to be done and there are still forces that would if they could negate the hard-won gains of minorities.
Application to the OWS Movement: Momentum Building
During the past several years, the same pattern occurred with the development of small groups such as MoveOn.org, People for the American Way and so on. These separate groups had their own constituency although they supported each other.
In my opinion, one of the major precipitators of this movement leading to passive resistance was the Debt Ceiling Debacle. This demonstrated to the Country and the world that the system was dysfunctional. Government was not working for the welfare of the people but for the rich and powerful corporations and individuals.
At the time of this writing, it is difficult to tell where the OWS is heading. Passive resistance usually creates a strong backlash that could doom the movement or could make it stronger.
In any case, I believe we are clearly at stage two, passive resistance. Time will tell as to the success of the movement.