No 384 Posted by fw, January 3, 2012
Parts 2 through 5 of this series were excerpted from Chapter 1 of Gee’s book, Counterpower: Making Change Happen. These posts centred on the three types of Counterpower – Idea Counterpower, Economic Counterpower and Physical Counterpower.
This post, Part 6, features a selected excerpt from Chapter 6, How the vote was won in Britain, narrowly examining the stages of social movements, with special attention to Gee’s own four-stage Counterpower model.
Gee introduces the stages’ conceptualization with a variant of the famous maxim: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” (According to Wikipedia, the quote is disputably attributed to Gandhi).
He notes that although “the quote is not without its problems . . . the maxim is a useful guide to action” in the sense that it alludes to the four stages of a movement’s evolution – Consciousness, Coordination, Confrontation, and Consolidation.
Granted, there need not be four stages. Gee cites the work of US social change activist, Bill Moyer, who has written of an eight-stage model:
“. . . real-life social movements will neither fit exactly nor move through the [eight] stages linearly, smoothly, or in the manner outlined. . . . [Moreover] Every social movement of the last 20 years has undergone significant collapse, in which activists believed their movements had failed, the power institutions were too powerful, and their own efforts were futile.” Bill Moyer, The Movement Action Plan, 1987
Nevertheless, insists Gee, thinking of social movements as passing through stages has significant value. Moyers was convinced that a stages’ model “usually lifted morale, helped activists recognize their movements’ successes, restored energy, and helped developed strategy for moving ahead.” And Saul Alinsky, in his 1971 classic, Rules for Radicals, cautioned impatient activists with this best advice:
“Effective organizing is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change . . . to go right in to the third act, skipping the first two.”
Gee’s four-stage model
Returning to the four-stage’s model, here’s Gee’s summary definition as it relates to the use of Counterpower to make change happen –
- Consciousness is the stage of realizing that there is a problem and creating the conditions for Counterpower.
- Coordination is the stage of building Counterpower through a movement to challenge the problem.
- Confrontation is the stage when Counterpower is used most intensely, as the movement challenges the target’s power outright.
- Consolidation is about maintaining Counterpower, adjusting to the new balance of power following the Confrontation Stage, and ensuring that it turns into real-life change.
Future posts in this series will draw on past social movements to discover teachings and best practices that can be applied in building Counterpower opposition to contemporary, entrenched power elites.