Working Paper 90-3, May, 1990.

By Lynne Ihlstrom

Department of Sociology

University of Colorado at Boulder

This paper was written with a small grant from the Conflict Resolution Consortium, University of Colorado. Funding for the Consortium and its Small Grants Program was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The statements and ideas presented in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Conflict Resolution Consortium, the University of Colorado, or the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail:

Copyright (C) 1990. Lynn Ihlstrom. Do not reprint without permission.

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When people see a colossal problem, they wonder whether they could do anything to make a difference. They need to keep remembering what they are told about how you eat an elephant--one piece at a time. Bishop Desmond Tutu

This quote from Tutu aptly captures the spirit and intent of today's social movements. These movements have arisen as a response to a growing alienation towards a social system that allows little representation of the people within it. Only by creating a collective voice do individuals feel they can have an impact on the ever-increasing bureaucratization of their lives, and the militarization of the world they live in. But, do these collective voices, or social movements, have this hoped-for impact? Certainly, several movements come to mind which brought about social change. The Civil Rights Movement, for instance, brought about an increased awareness to the public of injustices and inequalities against Blacks. Equally important towards social change has been the Feminist Movement against male domination and oppression. Both of these movements, at their height, were highly visible, with a large membership and participation. Most people in our society could relate to either Movement in some way. Consequently, consciousness was (and still is) being raised.

Yet there are questions as to what exactly are the guidelines for a successful movement, as well as how one defines success. The impact of the Women's Movement and Black Movement may be more readily measurable because of the sheer number of members and supporters in society that are directly affected. But understand the impact of movements with much smaller membership, and goals of which are often directly threatening to much of the public, or at the least, not personally relevant to the individuals who compose society. For example, one type of social movement, that of the Peace Movement, umbrellas many different types of actions. These actions are generally smaller in membership than, say, the Women's Movement, and without the stability to endure consistently over time. Although the goals may be to stop war, or end military stockpiling of nuclear missiles, the "success" of these protests is difficult to measure when there is no direct reaction discernible by the government or military. Perhaps the answer of measuring success lies less in an achieved "end" or goal of each action, but rather, more in the internal group process during an action, and the effects of this process on the individual after the action.

For instance, peace marches and walks, unusual forms of protest actions because of their intentionally short durations, have as part of their "process," a non-violent ideology. Anti-war protests, on the other hand, have been know to erupt into violence and death. Although this violence may reach a higher visibility with the public because of it's "newsworthiness," this type of protest may only alienate, instead of convince, the public of the necessity for social change. Certainly, the usual analysis of peace actions has a tendency to measure whether the goals and audience have been reached. But little is know as to how the process, or everyday interaction among the participants of an action, may have a much longer-reaching and profound effect on the ultimate goal towards peace. One example of an action with minimal visibility and relatively low membership, yet powerful effect on those it touched, was the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. The participants believed their walk across the United States needed to uphold a certain peaceful image if there was to be any credibility given to the group as they marched for their specific goal of an anti-nuclear statement. What grew from this experience was an unexpected daily process of conflict management, sharing, and cooperation that not only empowered those on the March, but also impressed all those thousands that came into personal contact with the group. Instead of solely being an anti-nuclear action, the Peace March gave credit to it's name by learning to be peaceful. Many peace groups are known to have great difficulties in achieving any type of intra-group conflict management, which can only erode their external effects for any given action. Consequently, perhaps the definition of "success" for social movements, peace movements, and even peace walks comes not from how the national structure is immediately affected by the movement. Instead, the definition may lie in how well these groups convince themselves and those they make personal contact with, that they are capable of "living" the very way of life they ask of the world.

Social movements arise from the need for social change, or to counteract another element of society which is advocating an unwanted change i.e., the pro/anti-abortion efforts. Nearly any "public issues" that attract a great deal of attention may become targets for change (LO, l982). Through organization of previously unorganized individuals, usually for a long duration, there is a deliberate attempt to shape the social structure to be more representative of the needs of a movement's participants. These social movements create a collective voice which gives power to a powerless group against deeply-ingrained institutions. Martin Luther King best described the intent behind the Civil Rights Movement when he stated:

You may well ask, "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches, etc.? Isn't negotiation a better path?" . . . Non-violent action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue (Kome & Crean, l986:151).

The Civil Rights Movement did indeed, as a collective voice, bring "crisis" and "tension" to bear against the status quo, bringing about not only awareness of the group's issues, but also legislation for institutional change. Social movements can also have specific structures. Rather than one broad definition, David Aberle has analyzed four categories of movements (fig. 1-1). Alternative social movements propose a limited amount of change in some individuals by convincing them to discard certain attitudes and/or behaviors in favor of alternative behaviors. An example is Planned Parenthood which encourages people through education to take more birth control responsibility. A movement directed at more radical change of individuals, on the other hand, is that of Redemptive. This type usually seeks new members by conversion such as the "born again" experience of the fundamentalist Christian religion. The Reformative movements, like the Alternative movements, seek limited change, but with the society rather that the individual. This social change usually works through the political process although it can be progressive, as with the holistic health care movement, or reactionary, as with the legalization of abortion. Finally, Revolutionary movements reject the existing institutions in favor of radically new alternatives. The Vietnam protests are an example but also, in a less liberal vein, the John Birch Society fits this model. This "typing" of movements can be helpful in our understanding of social movements. We tend to think of movements as covering a general and broad spectrum. As we look to the elements of what comprises a "successful" movement, Aberle's typology shows a distinction between breadth of population reached, and depth of change, which may add to our understanding of social movement's goals.

Other explanations of social movements give us further understanding of both goals and membership. For instance, Rose's Deprivation Theory determines that those who are experiencing relative deprivation within a society join a social movement which will bring each participant greater benefits. This type of membership frequently occurs when rising expectations are frustrated (Rose, l982). The best example of this would be the Civil Rights Movement, where participation arises on the micro or individual level, and collects into a macro-level social force.

Another example, that of Mass-Society Theory (Kornhauser, l959), states that even more individual, even psychological, motivations mobilize people into a movement. When social ties are lacking, from either family or community, movements offer a way to escape isolation and a sense of powerlessness. Participants gain a sense of belonging and social power. The negative aspects of this theory though, are that membership is basically comprised of social deviants who are easily manipulated by the leaders of their movements.

A less negative theory, that of Structural-Strain (Smelser, l962), attributes membership to the more altruistic ideals of sharing concern over society's inability to operate "correctly." Some precipitating event may spark the creation of the movement, but it's growth occurs because of the belief by participants of the legitimacy of the ideals. Antiwar and anti-nuclear movements are examples.

Finally, a more encompassing theory, Resource Mobilization, authored by many individuals, incorporates qualities of the three previously-mentioned theories while adding an important distinction. Prior to the mobilization of any social movement, there must be available resources such as money, human labor, social contacts with outsiders, and office and communication facilities. In addition, these resources must be clearly organized toward the goal of social change. in other words, :outside contributions and cooptation of institutional resources" (Jensen, l983:533) are critical. The strength of this theory is the recognition that resources, as well as discontent are necessary to the success of any movement. And inherent in this strength is the weakness that a movement can only become successful if outside resources are available. Once again, the importance on analyzing elements of each theory is to understand what factors are involved in a successful social movement. Membership, visibility, goals, and resources which lead to the desired social change, must all be considered. Theories are built on observance of successful movements. But herein lies the problem. How does one determine what is "success" for a movement. Obvious legislative change is one measure as with the pro-abortion movement resulting in legalized abortion. But results of a movement are not always readily measurable.

Peace movements, for example, must act on faith for often, the action has long died away with no obvious demilitarization or reduction of nuclear stockpiles. Consequently, there is no direct link to success. Even with the anticipated goal of public awareness being achieved, often the public will only maintain that awareness until the conclusion, or briefly thereafter, of an action. The anti-nuclear movement for instance, waxes and wanes. Hence, the public support is "soft and transitory" (Kaltefleiter & Pfaltzgraff, l985:167-8) as it moves back to more relative issues, as a response to this waxing and waning. Therefore, measurements of success, especially in peace movements which have a smaller membership and are of shorter duration than the broader social movements, become even more difficult to assess as successful or unsuccessful.

Up to this point, we have examined theories that explain the personal and intangible reasons; the micro level, for joining a movement or action. We have also looked at the more societal and tangible motivations. All certainly take a part in the success, or lack of, for a movement. But one critical element is missing. Ironically, "peace" movements have the general reputation of tremendous intra and intergroup conflict. The Peace March of June, l982 is one example. Vaguely defined goals of peace led participants to join in opposition to what threatened that peace. The result was that some were marching to show support for a freeze proposal, others marched for unilateral disarmament. This lack of a single focus led to internal factionalism. This factionalism is an example which has three consequences. Those that join a movement get easily discouraged to be caught in such internal chaos and may leave the movement. Others may finish an action only to give up any ideas of working for a peaceful world, based on the model they had experienced. Thirdly, internal dissension siphons off the potential for an action to use it's full power for reaching it's goals. Consequently, the critical missing element for successful movements is what keeps people "in" a movement and empowers participants to continue future actions; that of the internal dynamics or "process" of a movement or action.

This idea of process as being important to a movement's success is not to be confused with organization or structure of tangibles such as resources. Resource Mobilization Theory is only an aspect (along with other theories previously mentioned which are incorporated within RMT) of movements, just as Aberle's Revolutionary type, for instance, is a goal-setting aspect. Instead, the idea of process is the element of peaceful interpersonal interaction, both among the participants within a movement, and those who come in contact with participants.

Nonviolence is one example of an intentional ideology to promote peaceful interaction. Basic tenets of nonviolence are to use no physical violence under any circumstances, no name-calling or hostile remarks, and an attitude toward the opposition which is sympathetic and understanding (Lynd, l966). This technique was used in the Civil Rights Movement, but before that, was used by Gandhi during the Salt March of l930. His walk remained nonviolent despite the fact that seventy of the Walk's demonstrators were killed by the English. Another attack by policemen wielding sticks was met with no resistance and at one point, jails had 100,000 voluntary prisoners. Gandhi stated "nothing but organized non-violence can check organized violence" (Kyttle, l969:138). Not only did Gandhi and his people meet a national crisis with nonviolence, but also achieved victory. His people were able to drop the yoke of subjugation and recognize their power through peaceful protest.

Another example of a nonviolent action was the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. The intention of this march was to travel from California to Washington, D.C. as a nonviolent protest of the nuclear arms race. The belief was that education through dialogue rather than confrontive rhetoric was a much more effective way to bring about social change. This was an unusual approach for a Revolutionarytype movement. What was not initially planned was the internal shaping of the March into a community of consensus decision-making, conflict-management techniques, and a tremendous commitment which would see most of the Marchers who survived the desert collapse, through incredibly rough times.

Initially, the Great Peace March was to be a $20 million "glitzy parade" (Folsom & Fledderjohann, l988:16) across the country where middle America would enjoy the benefits of education, by both marchers and experts, about the arms race. In addition, Hollywood celebrities would follow this mobile city to add entertainment. A true example of Resource Mobilization Theory, resources would be fully available before the onset of the March, as well as entirely supported by corporate and private members of society. Unfortunately, the man who had the inspiration for this march, David Mixner, was too, to become the problem. Funding by corporations never developed. Bills were massive and the march was in jeopardy the day the 1,200 participants marched out of Los Angeles. Those that were attracted by the slickness of the initial idea, quickly dropped out as promises did not materialize. Resources were not available, and consequently, the entire character of the march underwent transformation.

It was at this point that outsiders first came to the rescue. Liability insurance was not afforded. Therefore, the campsite anticipated in Claremont, CA fell through. Local residents quickly gave their support by offering their beds, showers, and meals to the marchers. Not only did this initiate Marcher-in-the-Home programs for the duration of the March, but also seemed to be a small miracle which marchers never forgot for the remainder of the March. It was this "miracle" which would partially inspire the marchers in their darkest hour in Barstow, CA. Here Mixner informed the marchers that the March had gone bankrupt, and the group was left on their own. Resources were in danger of repossession; marchers were hiding keys and vehicles to buy time. Once reorganization was decided, individual efforts were responsible for contacting any and all help. Out of sheer necessity, everyone became "leader." Task forces developed to handle camp work. This lack of power hierarchy evolved into an unusual internal structure for a social movement, and set the tone for innovative group processes.

One of these processes was the development of an Operations Council. Because of Mixner's centralized authority, marchers were extremely reluctant to repeat the past. Some form of consensual or democratic control was preferred. The council fulfilled this preference by being comprised of representatives from each of the March's task forces. Through trial and error, structural organization remained fluid as the March tried to create what worked for the participants, rather than base a government on what society presented as model. Eventually, City Managers developed to be liaisons with their allotted departments. Finally, on March 28, the March moved out of Barstow, firmly committed to completing this venture. Consensus was agreed upon for decision-making and a City Council was elected. Majority vote would not be used unless there was no success in reaching a decision otherwise. This choice of decisionmaking was a novel approach for a protest action and one important element in the cohesion of the group. All had a voice and felt themselves equally important to the group. Whatever the individual motivations for originally joining the March, the "process" within the group was firmly cementing an individual's place, and importance, within this action.

This dual importance on the individual and on development of what "worked best" to give all a voice, as well as the flexibility needed for such an action of unusual and trying circumstances, continued. Methods of conflict management were adopted as the need arose. Traditional methods were used such as mediation; in fact there were trained mediators on the March who worked successfully with disputants, even if the disputants were children. In this situation, it was interesting to note that there was no parental participation. Children were able to vent feelings and settle differences with the assistance of the mediator; something they had not experienced before the March.

Another more nontraditional method of handling conflict within the March was that of "heartspeak" (Photo 1). This way of hearing all sides of an issue was adapted from the Native American tradition of "talking stick." A stick would be passed around the circle. Whoever was in possession of this object had the right to speak without interruption. When the possessor was finished, the stick was passed on the next speaker. On the March, this tradition was changed from stick, to any object; perhaps a flower or crystal. The ground rules were that one could only speak of their feelings (or heart). Not allowed was any kind of an attack or blame on another individual. This process could take hours, or even days, but it once again had the effect of giving all a voice, as well as thoroughly airing and identifying the issues that were creating conflict. People involved with this process were empowered both on the personal level; each voice mattered, but also on a community level. Perhaps never before had they experienced a structure that allowed management, if not resolution of problems arising within their community. If they could coexist peacefully on this micro level, perhaps there was hope for the rest of the world.

Also important for marchers was the interaction with people in towns that were passed through. Nonviolence training was of course practiced when any problems arose with the external communities. But these incidents were infrequent. What was often experienced was the kindness and love received from community contacts. Pot lucks, tears, peace signs, Marcher-in-the-Home, campsites at churches or meeting house, key exchanges with each community passed through; all were important in experiencing the caring from a society most viewed as apathetic and cut off from each other. These contacts had profound effects of renewed hope about humankind. Marcher Michael Krieger captured both the political and the personal experiences of March participants in his poem:

WHY ARE WE WALKING? Because we are frustrated No one seems to be listening WHY ARE WE WALKING? To see the beautiful land during all stages To almost be the land Without car doors and windows to kill the experience

WHY ARE WE WALKING? Because otherwise, we'd never have met you Or been able to draw from your love Or learn from your kindness

WHY ARE WE WALKING? Because each step drives home a point To ourselves and to the world:


Not only did marchers have the hope renewed, but thousands who came into contact with the Peace March experienced a similar renewal. Many were afraid that the March participants were a group of radical, unwashed hippies. One town in Nebraska actually boarded up their stores and disappeared. Yet with each community passed through, residents were able to witness not only the broad societal representation by the marchers, but also observe the peaceful processes used by this mobile Peace City. The original goal of the March to "educate" the public far surpassed their goals. Many peace movements advocate dismantling of certain destructive institutions but rarely do they offer a substitute. The Peace March was able to offer a living model of alternatives.

These combined experiences for the participant; consensus, conflict management, group cohesion, constant experiences of sharing and caring by other march members and outsiders, has led individuals from the March to go out into the world after the March conclusion, totally changed. By living, learning, and teaching peace, participants have gained a sense of personal empowerment rarely acquired from other peace actions. This is best summed up by the example of one person.

Rick, age 22. When Rick joined the March, he was aimless and a recovering addict. He knew that nuclear war was a possibility but he didn't much care about it. Joining the March fulfilled a boyhood dream to walk across America. The Peace March gave him a drug and alcohol-free environment to fulfill that dream. He had no expectations that there would be any social change. Nine months later, Rick had had the greatest learning experience of his life. He was able to observe first-hand, some of our country's problems. From the Nevada test site and high cancer rates of those downwind in Utah, to unemployment of steel workers in Ohio, and conditions for people in Harlem, he learned reality. His awareness and concern expanded to include the entire planet. Now Rick lectures on the nuclear arms race. His is just one example of the hundreds of ex-Peace Marchers who were launched into intense peace work (Folsom & Fledderjohann, l988).

The Great Peace March has been a model for action. Although it is nearly impossible to link this anti-nuclear action to any direct social change within the political or military structure, it is much easier to measure the "success" of this movement on its effect of individuals. The internal dynamics of this March kept the original participants in for its duration; a fairly amazing thing in itself. And it is true that through social and peace networks, it is fairly easy to track ex-Marchers and notice their continued peace work and actions; another way to measure success of an action. Resources are still important as to an action's success. The peace March had to reorganize their resources. Discontent with a system is also important. But without a formulated process to allow participants to feel they have a voice and "place" within an action, they are offered alternatives only from dysfunctional and traditional patterns of interaction. The success of any movement can only be increased many times over by the consideration of that movement's individuals and processes, as well as its resources and goals. Thomas Merton stated:

Our minds are filled with images that call for violent and erratic reactions . . . We are swept by alternate fears and hopes which have no rela tion to deep moral truth. A protest which merely compounds these fears and hopes with a new store of images can hardly help us become men of peace (Kome & Crean, l986:227).

The Great Peace March allowed the opportunity to experience a new way of being.

Works Cited

Aberle, David F. The Peyote Religion Among the Navajo. Chicago: Aldine, l966.

Folsom, Franklin, and Connie Fledderjohann. The Great Peace March. Santa Fe: Ocean Tree Books, l988.

Ihlstrom, Lynne. Photographs. The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. l986.

Jenkins, Craig J. "Resource Mobilization Theory and the Study of Social Movements." Annual Review of Sociology. l983. 9:527-53.

Kaltefleiter, Werner and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, eds. The Peace Movements in Europe and the United States. New York: Martins Press, l985.

Kome, Penney and Patrick Crean, eds. Peace: A Dream Unfold ing. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, l986.

Kornhauser, William. The Politics of Mass Society. New York: Free Press, l959.

Krieger, Michael. As The Train Rolls By. Hollywood: Peace City Publishing, l987.

Kyttle, Calvin. Gandhi, Soldier of Nonviolence. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, l969.

Lo, Clarence Y. H. "Countermovements and Conservative Move ments in the Contemporary U.S." Annual Review of Soci ology. Vol. 8. Palo Alto: Annual Reviews, Inc. l982: 107-134.

Lynd, Staughton, ed. Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., l966.

Rose, Jerry D. Outbreaks. New York: Free Press, l982.

Smelser, Neal J. Theory of Collective Behavior. New York: Free Press, l962.

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