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Social Movements

Scholars define social movements as organized public movements, held not by an individual or organization, but rather masses of people to make collective claim on authority. These collective movements and challenges are directed towards the elite and those in authority by persons with common interests and solidarity. There is often the elements of sustained interaction formed with the authorities, opponents, and the elites. Social movements are seen further as a means to contest the commonly understood limits within the system and hence action takes places. Traditionally, social movements emerged with the creation of governments, spread of capitalism, and specific historic events especially in Europe. They have, however, transformed with time, depending on the caused being opposed and persons opposing them. This paper will focus on a new social movement (NSM) through the scope of the new social movement theory. The analysis will offer insight and understanding on the resourcefulness of the above-mentioned movements and theory and how they are shaping the modern day life, especially among women.

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New Social Movement Theory Overview

This is a theory encompassing social movements in an attempt to explicate some of the social movements in various societies, especially those in the west. The social movements being focussed have developed since the mid-1960s in the post-industrial economies claiming to significantly differ from the paradigms of the earlier social movements. The theory was not developed by any specific author, but rather developed with changing times based on two fundamental claims. First, was the growth and emergence of post-industrial economies accountable for the increased wave of social movements, and second, as a shift from the previous ones. The NSMs differed strongly from the previous movements by primarily changing focus from fighting for materialistic qualities and economic wellbeing, to human rights issues.

In the modern society, the term “new social movements” has been adopted based on four distinct characteristics. These comprise information based and focused on cultural codes, planetary perspectives, building community, and global awareness. Some of the NSMs that exist today include youth and environmental movements, civil rights movements, peace and ant-war movements, and women and GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) movements.

First Movement: Women’s Liberation Movement

The movement was a series of campaigns and agreements between women and those of feminist thinking. It emerged in the late 1960s and progressed to the 1970s in the United States and other industrialized nations in Europe. These campaigns were directed to issues such as sexual violence, domestic violence, equal pay, maternity leave, women’s suffrage, and reproductive rights. After attending a lecture workshop on women at University of Chicago in June, 1967 Jo Freeman invited the organizers of the talk, Heather Booth and Naomi Weisstein, to her own workshop at the National Conference of New Politics (NCNP). The conference sought to table women’s demands for floor discussion. Consequently, the NCNP Director William F. Pepper failed to recognize any of the guest women speakers who wanted to speak. He stated that there were more important issues worth discussing that women’s problems, like the Native Indians. After this incident, Freeman and Firestone held another meeting and invited all those who had attended the women’s workshop and the “free school” course. This was the beginning of the formation of a women’s liberation group and later came to be referred to as Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.

The women’s liberation movement has proven to be an influential contemporary movement in the twenty-first century. Freeman’s influence spread to other European nations through her newsletters titles Voice of women’s liberation movement. Over the years, the movements has worked towards lobbying for certain rights and changes that favour women. In 1968, a group of 100 women protested the Miss America Beauty Pageant. They claimed that the pageant sponsored “physical attractiveness and charm as the primary measures of a woman’s worth”. Additionally, the group helped set up a clinic in Chicago which they named “Jane.” The secret clinic endorsed abortion. The liberation movement also worked towards campaigning for maternity leaves in Britain through the 1975 Employment Protection Act and the enrolment of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

The NSM theory may encompass the women’s liberation movement based on the fact that they both fight for a common cause, improving women’s basic rights. Notably, even though the women’s liberation movement started by campaigning for better and equal rights for women, over the years it has worked with rights movements for the LGBT. The LGBT view themselves as groups of individuals segregated by the mainstream society due to the sexuality and sexuality preferences. However, the women’s movement has worked in conjunction with the LGBT to campaign and create awareness.  

Second Movement: Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a movement started by Kalle Lasn and Micah White on September 17, 2011. The protests took place in Zuccotti Park, situated in New York City’s Wall Street financial district. The duo working for anti-consumerists magazine, Adbusters, channelled a series of campaigns in their publications, website, and emails calling for “A Million Man March on Wall Street.” These series of peaceful campaigns aimed at speaking out against the economic and social inequality globally. The group used the slogan “We are 99%” to show the economic disparity between USA’s wealthy 1% and the rest of the population.

Over the years, OCW’s influence has helped sponsor a series of accomplishments as a result of its revised goals. Some of these goals include a reduced influence of corporations especially on politics, a balanced income distribution, creation of new and better jobs, bank reformations, relief and forgiveness of student debts, and the easing of the foreclosure condition. Some of the movement’s achievements and influences include the countrywide general strike on May Day 2012, Occupy Sandy (a relief campaign to help Hurricane Sandy’s victims), and the 2011 occupy Yale protests that encouraged students to disregard the financial sector.

Indeed, the OWS movement may be encompassed as part of the NSM due to the demands it propagated. The movement’s influence has spread globally, notably in countries such as Greece, Spain, and Chile. Other prototypes of the same movement include the Arab Spring protests, the Iranian election protests (2009-2010), and the 2010 British students’ protests. Occupy Movement that started off as political debate quickly shifted focus to one on economic inequality.

Comparison and Contrast

The most significant element that stands out in both the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Occupy Wall Street and the NSM theory is the use of marching parades for demonstration. Early participants in the movements sought to using parades and campaigns to air their demands. Through these campaigns, the movements were able to amass support and media coverage. Additionally, the street protests created awareness to those who did not know, and with time they were able to generate recognition. Comparatively, the Women’s Liberation Movement and the OWS have been icons of global recognition, sparking identical protests that lobby for the same demands in various countries.

Many of the social movements and campaigns are often disrupted by violence and clashes between police and participators, and limited funding. For example, the Occupy Movement while attempting to mark their sixth-month anniversary on March 17, 2012 were cleared by the police form the Zuccotti Park. Consequently, 70 protesters were arrested. Such events, including the OWS, are viewed by those in governing positions as means of disrupting peace, and wrecking economic havoc. However, some such as Women’s Liberation Movements have beneficially worked towards changing the main theme of the protest to a better placed one. For example, they have been able to work with feminists groups and the LGBT groups to lobby for their demands. The element of wishing to choose peaceful dialogue as opposed to one full of violence has worked well for women lobby groups. Perhaps, other groups within the NSM should take note of such approach. 


Social movements have proven to be resourceful in bringing together peoples of common interest fighting for a joint cause. They have been so historically, and continue till present. However, the focus of these social movements change with time and hence encompassing various groups of people. The women’s liberation movement, as an example of a NSM, has geared towards fighting for women’s rights. What started off as a simple workshop to discuss problems women face has grown to a global force worth recognizing. As a result of numerous campaigns by this movement, women and their lobby groups have been able to challenge laws they feel go against their liking. Indeed, as the world transforms and faces new challenges, so does the need to join hands and campaign against environmental social, economic, and political injustices.

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