Change Through Movements:
The Case of Suffrage
What is a movement?
- Americans have always been organizers of movements. De Toqueville
commented in the 1830s that Americans were joiners who seemed to found voluntary
associations to accomplish things as easily as they breath.
- When people see problems and concerns as public concerns, they seek others
that share their concern. As they address those concerns rhetorically, they often find themselves organizing those
people toward action.
- Movements form as people begin working in coordination with other
people toward an end. As people begin taking note of what unites them with
others, they begin to interact with those others. As they talk, their energies
begin complementing each other and they begin working together. This is the
emergence of a movement.
- In their initial stages, movements are non-institutional, that is,
there is no formal organization, no "offices," no history or existence
beyond those working together. Mature movements may, in fact, develop
formal institutions such as organizations with history and even an income
tax exemption number.
- Thus, communication is at the very essence of movements. They are
formed in communication interaction, they continue to exist only as long as
those in the movement communicate with each other to energize and direct their
Movements in American Social Change
- Political Action in America is basically conservative. Rhetoric
focuses action in the face of a concern. But that focus may seek to achieve
change by finding the root of the problem in individuals, in institutions,
or in the broader cultures and social orders. The efforts toward change follow
the scope of the targeting. American politics normally focuses action on individuals
so there is no institutional change. Even in times of more dramatic political
activity, the focus is on institutions. More dramatic forms of social change,
therefore, must rely on non-governmental and non-institutional sources. Social
movements are such a strategy.
- American social change has been intensively linked with public voice. The founding discourse of the United States stresses the voice of people.
In addition, the United States is a nation of new groups, most notably the
immigrants but also nativist groups such as new religions and utopians of
various kinds. "Founding" is thus the great American activity. Movements are such groups founded for particular purposes.
- Thus, major social change in America has tended to be non-institutional. Even when change comes through the political system, it normally starts non-institutionally.
Types of Movements
- There are four different types of movement characterized by their
- The Identity Movement. Identity movements provide a place for those
who share a particular characteristic -- ethnic origin, sex, race, religion,
creed -- to have public voice. Movements provide a context for the discourse
that declares discontents to be more than private pain and for isolation
of experience to be artificial. Identity movements provide people who had
seen themselves as separated and isolated to embrace others and join with
them to declare their identity.
- The Integrative Movement. Integrative movements seek to provide
groups access to dominant structures of power. They seek to reorient the
distribution of societal power to drain more power into the protesting groups.
- Cultural Movements. Cultural movements actively seek to bring about
change in the culture through the organizing powers of the movement. They
seek to do so through non-institutional means. Their objective is to change
the attitudes of the people in the culture and with that change of attitudes
- Political Movements. Like cultural movements, political movements
seek change. Unlike cultural movements, political movements seek to gain
access to the power of political institutions as the vehicles of their change.
- Because they are so loosely organized, movements may change their objectives
and even shift from one type of movement to another. Similarly, movements
may splinter in arguments about what kind of a movement they want to be and
what sorts of objectives they should be seeking.
Stages of a Movement
Rhetoric in American movements tends to follow a standard
pattern of rhetorical evolution:
Stage 1: Develops a language to articulate discontent.
This language uses narratives, metaphors, and other rhetorical devices to
capture the morality of the discontent. It is a language that identifies
people together from their common sense of discontent. Movements will succeed
in growing as they are able to articulate the discontent.
Stage 2: Identifies responsibility for the discontent.
That is, the rhetoric develops a target for action. The scope of responsibility
is a key to this move: class, society, system, or whatever. It brings a
focus to responsibility. The rhetoric is often polemic, exaggerating the
differences between the movement and its target. The rhetoric "perfects"
this target, or creates the target's responsibility for the discontent.
Stage 3: Focuses and directs the energy of the
movement toward the target. In this mature stage the movement celebrates
its successes. It is a rhetoric rich in the experience of being in the movement,
the satisfactions, the dreams of success, and the accomplishments of the
movement's work. This is the rhetoric that motivates continued action toward
the idealistic goal.
Tasks for rhetoric
- Attracting energy.
- New energy comes to a movement through
- bringing in new members or
- by increasing the energy of current members.
- The rhetorical problem is to achieve this attraction
of energy. Without it, entropy will destroy the movement.
- But there is a dilemma in such appeal: attracting
new members requires broadening the movement's appeal by reaching
out beyond the current members, yet such reaching out often costs
movements the energy of the zealots or "true believers"
who have a narrow view of the movement.
- The rhetorical appeal of movements that attract
energy is both
- moral: "We are in the right!"
- and pragmatic: "We will succeed!"
- Directing Energy
- A movement must ask: What tactics will succeed?
- Direct action: Members of the movement need
to be persuaded to engage in direct action if this is the right answer.
- Politics: If the movement has a government
or lobbying focus, then members need to be persuaded to engage their
- How can the movement to get everyone to coordinate
their commitment to tactics?
- This is a problem of central or dispersed leadership
- A short history.
- The suffrage movements developed
from reform movements in 1848 from the Seneca Falls Convention.
- In the 1860s there was a division of the movement
into two organizations: The National Womens Suffrage Association and the
American Women's Suffrage Association. The division was over goals --
Broader issues such as the right of divorce, property rights, civil rights,
in addition to suffrange versus Suffrage as a central goal with other
things following; over tractics: the Civil War established the moment
to give all unfranchised Americans rights versus this was "The Negro's
Hour"; and over the arguments for women's rights: equal rights for
all Americans regardless of sex versus women were the society's custodians
of morality and there cannot be moral government without their achieving
power through the vote.
- In 1890, the movement was reunited into the National
American Women's Suffrage Association. The first successes for suffrage
came in the West, but suffrange organizations had been formed all over
the country. The new question of this mature movement was how to direct
- Situation in the 1910s.
- Now a mature (stage 3) movement. They faced a
pragmatic task: How do we finish the victory?
- New generation of leaders. Anthony, Stanton, Stone,
Howe had all retired or died. New leaders to guide the movement had less
- Question of strategy: Through the political system
or confrontation? With a strong committed core or expand the membership?
Achieve suffrage by winning in states versus a federal constiutional amendment