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Start a movement

Guide: social movement building
4 min read
Last update: Nov 25, 2023

In this guide, we explain how to start a social movement. From big organizing to distributed organizing, this guide will help you change the world.

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Steps to build a movement

1. Get together and act

Start small. Get together a few people to organise a protest action. You will likely not achieve your goals with just one action. Instead, use your first actions as a way to grow your group. Learn how to organise a protest.

2. Start strategizing

To build a strong movement, you need something that binds its members together. Having a well-defined strategy will help you understand what you would like to achieve and how. Learn how to write a strategy.

Example: We would like municipality to build more affordable housing. To get them to listen, we need at least 5.000 people to join a protest in front of the town hall.

3. Build up your capacity

Once you have determined what needs to happen in order to achieve your goals, you need to find out how to get there. You will likely not have the resources needed yet:

Example: Right now, we are only with 5 people and we do not know how to organise a protest. We will use our personal networks to get more people involved. And we will reach out to other organisations that might want to collaborate. We will ask experienced organisers to train us, so that we can pass on that knowledge to others. And we will start a crowdfunding campaign to pay for a podium.

4. Strengthen your team

Working together is a challenge. By learning how to collaborate, you will be able to achieve more with the same amount of people. And you will notice people stay active longer, because they feel their contributions are valued and impactful. Learn how to build a strong team.

5. Organise impactful actions

Organising an impactful protest action is challenging. Sometimes just two activists organise a protest (for example, by throwing soup against a painting), and the whole world hears about it on the news. Other times, thousands of people go out on the streets and nobody talks about it.

If your protest action is not well organised, it will not bring you any closer to your goals. But if you learn from other movements, you can achieve a lot, even with limited resources. Get inspiration by having a look at our list of action tactics.

6. Spread a strong message

Getting attention is not enough. You need to reach the right people with the right message. Learn all about audiences, messaging and media platforms in our communication chapter.

5. Create a culture of care

It is common for activists to motivate each other to work really hard to achieve your goals. And while it is good to be motivated, you cannot make any impact if you are burned out.

When building a movement, make sure to create a culture of care right from the beginning. When organising a protest, make sure to put wellbeing on top of your to-do list before, during and after the action. And do not forget about yourself: learn about self-care.

6. Pick your digital toolset

If you are not using the right digital tools, you will soon find yourself overwhelmed with boring administrative tasks. With a good digital toolset, you will be able to do more in less time.

Check out our tools chapter to learn all about:

  • Project management: Use tools to keep track of to-do's and stay on track with your team.

  • Creating a website: Allow people to sign up for events, add forms for registering as member, share guides for your volunteers, and write content so you can be found via search engines

  • Automate administrative tasks: Use tools like Zapier or n8n to make all of your digital tools work together seamlessly.

  • Digital security: You should protect yourself and fellow change-makers from hackers. As activist, you are in a high risk group.

7. Know your rights

Once you start making impact, you will find that your opponents start using the law to try and stop you. Don't let them. In many countries, the law provides certain protections to activists. Learn all about your legal rights and common police practices in your country.

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What is the difference between a campaign and a movement?

A campaign usually consists of a series of actions over the span of a few months to a year, and focusses on a single issue. A movement exists for a longer period of time, and targets multiple issues within a bigger story.

Often, the injustices we are fighting are complex. A campaign focusses on changing a single issue within that complex system. In many cases, when activists win their campaign, their group falls apart because the thing that bound them together is no longer there.

This does not mean, however, that all injustices are gone. It would be a shame to let the change-making capacity you have built up with your group fall apart. This is where movements come into play. A movement communicates a message that helps people understand how various issues are connected. In addition, a movement invests more resources into community building. People join your movement because they care about your cause. They stay because they feel at home.

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