Can Social Movement Be Political Force? [1]


The existence of social movement in development is not something new, however it increasing contribution in domestic and international social resurgence in recent years has shaped many public opinions and government’s policies. Social movements are the “key forces of social change in modern world” (Johnson,2014) and perceived as the prominent figure to in many public interest and social justice struggle which often became influential in most of development discourse. It is fascinating to discover how the social movement work rather than defining what, exactly a social movement is which sometimes can be strenuous. Their establishment often unrevealed, they are commonly survived through hard time and hostile challenges and their success are measured thoroughly, although some of them ended via savagery suppression. Social movements transformed ideas and interests from margins to mainstreams and most of them succeed to put demands and polemics into policy. This could perfectly describes social movements ability to transform themselves into political force.  This time, I would like to explore the potential of social movements to be reckoned as political force in development, without leaving the academical discussion on their definition and characteristics.


Social Movement Characteristics

Social movements are not political parties, some are structured and organized while some are structure less. 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. Christopher (2007) argues that social movements are   “instances of collective action” which they can be varied multiple latitude of formal  or informal organisation, different scale of mobilisation and forms of actions. Different kind of objective determines the characteristic of the social movements, nevertheless different objective may use similar approach. It can be aggressive or peaceful measures such as street mobilisation, memorandum and petition, art’s performance and occupation strategy. It is interesting to study how these social movements began. Based on earlier research by Herbert Blumer ,there are four stages of social movement as emergence, coalescence, bureaucratisation and decline (Johnson,2014). The last stage of social movement cycle is decline, which not necessarily ends with failure. According to Miller, there are four ways which social movement can decline through repression, co-optation, success and failure (Johnson,2014).

History has shown us that political struggle against autocratic regime post particularly after the end of Second World War and declining of imperialism has not ended with success moreover, conceded in coercive suppression. However,  social movement is amazing distinctive instance of social agent that able to bring change within regressive state. Social movements are dynamically living entity and evolved within social demand. It is quite simplistic to equates social movement in the world of consumerism which that one side offers services or products and that keep them exist whenever there are demand for their existence.


The Arab Spring revolution that emerges through Tunisian uprising, sparked by the young Bouazizi which burnt himself as act of protest may provides similar characteristic of unstructured social movement. The overwhelming support of the revolution at the time surprisingly marks the end of political fear and increases the citizen’s right awareness, especially in the region where authoritarian leaders have laid undisputed foundation for a long period of time. While there was unclear who responsible of 25th January 2011 rally in Tahrir Square in Egypt, it is undoubtedly to deny existence any form of structured movement, with thousands printed posters and placards were used by close to a million peoples gathered there and massive social media mobilisation through Twitter.


Another good example is the American Civil Right Movement and Anti Apartheid Movement that emerged, coalesced and gained support through years of struggles against white segregation’s law in South of the United States and South Africa respectively. The movements established their pathway to political force when prominent leader emerged and international supports are gained, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. These movements perhaps good evidences to explain how could possibly social movements turned themselves into political forces.


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