Category Archives: Social Movement Leadership

The Practice of Social Movement Leadership

By Marshall Ganz & Liz McKenna

We were delighted to read the recent essay dialogue on leadership in social movements. The contributions reflect renewed—and much-needed—empirical and theoretical engagement with the topic. Leadership (and leadership development) are key mechanisms by which people transform the individual resources they have into the collective power they need to get what they want. Leadership is thus central to movement efficacy at individual, communal, and institutional levels. Indeed, the most significant measure of social movement “impact” may be less in the accomplishment of short-term campaign outcomes than in the long-term development of the leadership and collective capacity required to achieve institutional change. Continue reading

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Social Movement Leadership: Part 2

From Martin Luther King Jr. to Susan B. Anthony, and from Cesar Chavez to Gloria Steinem, the most prominent social movement leaders capture the public’s attention. Yet understanding social movement leaders requires a wider focus than charisma and force of will. For the second month we focus our dialogue on the topic of leaders and leadership. We ask our contributors to consider such topics such as the development of leaders, conflicts between leaders, leader cooptation, and the interactions of personal biography with context.

Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.

Matthew Baggetta, Indiana University (essay)
Adria D. Goodson, Harvard University (essay)
Kelsy Kretschmer, Oregon State University (essay)
Jo Reger, Oakland University (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

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Leading Movements, Being Signposts

By Adria D. Goodson

Dr. Vincent Harding, one of my beloved mentors, was a historian, and a friend and adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his book, “Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement”, he describes how movements and the people who need those social justice movements to challenge the status quo of oppression or inequity need “human signposts”, individuals who seek “to open up the light in the darkness, to be the candles, the signposts.” In order to survive, these human “sign posts” need to see and identify their own work as leaders, experience connection and community in the face of assault and attacks from within and without the movement, and persist for a lifetime. Morris and Staggenborg define social movement leaders as “strategic decision-makers who inspire and organize others to participate in social movements.” (Morris and Staggenborg, 2002) These leaders are the human signposts Dr. Harding described. Continue reading

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Blinded by Gender: The Study of Leadership Dilemmas and U.S. Feminism

By Jo Reger

As a scholar of the U.S. women’s movement, I have spent some of my intellectual time puzzling out the role of leaders in feminism. A historical perspective tells us that there were women who emerged as leaders — an oft recited list includes names such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan. A historical view also tells us that women’s leadership is often contentious, in retreat and ignored.

In quick review of feminist history, we can see these dynamics. For women in the early years of 1960s’ and 1970s’ feminist activism assuming a visible position as a leader brought personal loss as participants “trashed” those they thought were stepping into the public spotlight. Indeed this history is filled with stories of feminists attacking each other as they worked to create social change. The temptation in reviewing this history is to assume that women and cooperative and productive leadership do not mix. Continue reading

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Leadership and Conflict in Online Forums

By Kelsy Kretschmer

Of the most recent twenty posts on the Portland Women’s March Facebook page (at the time of writing), eighteen are explicitly about race inequality and racial injustice. They include posts about the recent removal of confederate monuments in the Deep South, police brutality against communities of color, and an announcement for a hip hop education conference. Two focus on the intersection of gender and race, including a news report about an indigenous woman running for president of Mexico and a black woman owned business tapped to replace lead-ridden pipes in Flint, Michigan. The clear majority focus on race alone. The page recently featured an extended fight over whether all white people are racist, with group members reporting and having each other blocked by Facebook moderators for violating community standards. Continue reading

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“Leader” Should Be Plural

By Matthew Baggetta

In the summer of 2003, I started working on a research project with Andy Andrews, Marshall Ganz, Hahrie Han, and Chaeyoon Lim studying the Sierra Club. Our initial question was what made some of the Sierra Club’s local groups and state chapters more effective civic associations than other ones (here’s the answer). As we talked with Club members and staff, it quickly became clear that local leadership needed to be a central focus of the study. The more than 400 groups and chapters were governed and run by teams of elected volunteer leaders. There were more than 3,000 of these leaders, all over the country—and there wasn’t a household name among them. These were the everyday leaders of the Club and of the contemporary environmental movement in the U.S. Continue reading

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Social Movement Leadership

From Martin Luther King Jr. to Susan B. Anthony, and from Cesar Chavez to Gloria Steinem, the most prominent social movement leaders capture the public’s attention. Yet understanding social movement leaders requires a wider focus than charisma and force of will. We dedicate this next Mobilizing Ideas dialogue to the topic of leaders and leadership. We ask our contributors to consider such topics such as the development of leaders, conflicts between leaders, leader cooptation, and the interactions of personal biography with contexts.

Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.

Andrew Martin, Ohio State University (essay)
Amanda Pullum, California State University, Monterey Bay (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

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