Part 2: Building Strong Progressive Movements

We do not engage in activism in isolation. Our organizations and movements have a strong influence on our activist work, our engagement and motivation as activists, and on our likelihood for success.


While up-and-coming, ragtag groups of friends can spark local change, research has found that large, long-standing, stable organizations are often necessary for significant and long-lasting influence.[1] Research on social movements from the present day and going back all the way to the 1500s has also consistently shown that the most successful social movements have had strong partnerships with other organizations, movements, and communities.[2] Partnerships and coalitions allow movements to pursue broader change and increase their likelihood of success, as they have more people power and leverage. Movements and communities that support each other are all more likely to win their desired changes.


Building a strong progressive movement will allow us to more easily secure social change, instead of fighting an uphill battle. Many mistakenly believe that the way to build a strong progressive movement is through ideology—“getting everyone on the same page” by convincing them to adopt our particular viewpoints, tactics, or political frameworks. It’s important to realize that movements often institutionalize and radicalize at the same time.[3] Disagreements within movements are equally common.[4] You do not need to agree with other progressive organizations’ or movements’ values, tactics, or ideologies in order to support them. No successful social movement in history was made up of individuals who all shared exactly the same goals and opinions, but many social movements have failed due to infighting and burnout.


Research has shown that the way to build strong progressive movements is through intentional recruitment that supports and nourishes budding activists from all backgrounds, and through active organizational attention to burnout and oppression. This section will teach you proven best practices for recruiting activists to your cause, preventing burnout, and challenging oppression and promoting social justice in organizations.


NEXT SECTION: Recruiting Activists and Volunteers


[1] Andrews 2001; Baumgartner and Mahoney 2005; Cress and Snow 2000; Gamson 1990; Giugni 2007; Johnson, Agone, and McCarthy 2010; Minkoff 1997; Soule and Olzak 2004

[2] Barkey 1991; Baumgartner and Mahoney 2005; Goldstone 2011; Gould 1991; Kim and Pfaff 2012; Zhao 1998

[3] Klandermans 2003

[4] Benford 1993a


Need to dig more into the literature? Visit our  full references page  to search for the article you’re interested in.