From environmental preservation, human rights to climate change, social movement has been the central figure to represent public issues which sometimes can be more influential than government. It is fascinating to discover how the social movement work rather than defining what, exactly a social movement is which can be difficult. Social movement s are not political parties or interest groups, some are structured and organized while some are loosed line up. Social movements are varied in their objectives and way they work, many social movements are limited to local issue while others were established to focus on international policies for example Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Some works for advocacy in education, democracy, gender equality and some focuses on lobbying, pressuring, promoting. Different objective uses different approach. It can be aggressive or peaceful measures such as street mobilisation, memorandum and petition, art’s performance and occupy strategy.
It is quite interesting to study how these social movements emerged. Based on earlier research by Herbert Blumer, Jonathan Christiansen describes there are four stages of social movement as emergence, coalescence, bureaucratisation and decline. The Arab Spring revolution which started from Tunisia may has similar characteristic of unstructured social movement was receiving overwhelmed supports at the time thanks to Facebook and Twitter. While no one claims ownership of 25th January 2011 rally in Tahrir Square in Egypt, nevertheless with thousands printed posters and placards were used by close to a million peoples gathered there, it is undoubtedly to deny existence of any structured movement. Another good example is the American Civil Right Movement emerged, coalesced and gained support through years of struggles against white segregation’s law in South. The movement went to bureaucratisation when prominent leader emerged, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that brings the movement into political force.
The last stage of social movement cycle is decline, which not necessarily ends with failure. According to Miller as cited by Christiansen, there are four ways which social movement can decline through repression, co-optation, success and failure. I’d like to share a success story of social movement in my home country, the Abolish ISA Movement (AIM). The movement emerged as early as 1970s, as small and undiscovered to the public. It comprises support group of inter families, lawyers and sympathisers to the detainees of the Internal Security Act (ISA), a preventive law that allows detention without trial, inherited from British Colonial law to regress communist subversives in the then Malaya in 1960s. However, in the late 1990s, when the Malaysian government was allegedly use the ISA to suppressed reformation movement led by the then former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim plus the detention of it activist in addition to the post September 11 worldwide’s so called reaction against terror, have changed the scenario. ISA uncovered and peoples were intriguing to get more information from underneath of the draconian law. More social movements and NGOs came to show support to the AIM movement with increasing international sympathy and condemnation. With series of lobbying strategy at local and international level, public mobilisations, creative social campaigns via musical, performance arts and comics publications, AIM finally declined as a victorious social movement in Malaysian history when the government repealed the law.
One thing that might place social movements worldwide into internal challenge is the question of how they were aided financially and politically. Some social movements are receiving financial aids and political supports from foreign governments or international bodies and that reminds me on the foreign donor’s debate that we had discussed earlier on. How far social movements are able to stand by their own principle and to engage their interests without fear being influenced by their contributors shall remain as the biggest challenge to their existence.