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Social Movements

Discontent has been said to be the mother of invention and in American democracy and culture it has become the father of progress. Social movements have been the catalysts for change since the country’s inception, drawing in ardent citizens not from the playing field of American politics, but largely from stadiums and sidelines. Those impassioned with a cause and fervent conviction put their particular issues in the public eye and promote participation, activism, and general involvement in typically heavily politicized dealings. They are routinely grassroots in nature and are apt at galvanizing and rallying the populace around provocative issues from civil rights and women’s suffrage, to gay rights and anti-war sentiments.

The distinctiveness of social groups to political parties and interest groups is evident in their means and distinguishing attributes. Besides from being grassroots occurrences of political outsiders, social movements use activist tactics and disobedient means to justify their ends, and concentrate more on societal change than on getting members elected or legislatives measures passed, although these are part of the apparatus of social movements. Movements are inclined to include those with a mutual dissatisfaction of society’s direction and can lead to the formation of permanent conduits in the form of interest groups that continually seek the preservation of their interests. While they have a propensity to raise the concerns of many splinter groups of society, often those of the minorities, social movements frequently tackle mainstream views and perspectives, but are likely to be more successful when middle-of-the-road Americans and politicians, support the viewpoints of the movement.

The ancillary effects of social movements include greater participation, political equality, and potentially new majorities, all of which permeate slowly through the barriers and hindrances of the constitution’s proclivity and predisposition for majority rule. They are spurred by social concerns, ranging from economic, to social, to religious, and environmental. Moreover, they are the most successful when the current events are controversial and divisive, the resources are available, when there are capable leaders present at the helm, the goals echo American values, the media and the public reinforce the movement, and when elected leaders are swayed. Society witnesses the waning phases of these quasi-revolutionary movements after aims have been met, differences in the movement have fractured the faction, fervor has been lost and spent, and after interest groups have supplanted the throngs of the avid public.


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