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Course 1: How Social Transformation Occurs

May 1, 2018

Created by Daniel Cooper Bermudez, Margaret Flowers, Roni Murray, Emanuel Sferios and Kevin Zeese, Popular Resistance

The Three Final Stages

We provide a more in-depth look at stages six, seven and eight. In particular, we examine the tasks and pitfalls of stage six, “Building National Consensus” and how to navigate the 12 phases, describe the mechanisms of success and what the movement does after success.


Relevant Sections from Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan:

The movement must consciously undergo a transformation from spontaneous protest, operating in a short-term crisis, to a long-term popular struggle to achieve positive social change. It needs to win over the neutrality, sympathies, opinions, and even support of an increasingly larger majority of the populace and involve many of them in the process of opposition and change. The central agency of opposition must slowly change from the new wave activists and groups to the great majority of nonpolitical populace, the PPOs, and the mainstream political forces as they are convinced to agree with the movement’s position. The majority stage is a long process of eroding the social, political, and economic supports that enable the powerholders to continue their policies. It is a slow process of social transformation that create a new social and political consensus, reversing those of normal times.

Although movements need to organize both nationally and locally, they are only as powerful as the power of their grassroots. All the national offices in Washington, D.C., The Movement Action Plan 27 can do is “cash in” on the social and political gains created at the community level all over the country. The movement’s chief goal, therefore, is to nurture, support, and empower grassroots activists and groups. Finally, activists also need to have a grand strategy for waging Stage Six majority movements to win positive social changes against the strong opposition of the powerholders.

The opposition needs to wage a Stage Six strategy. Too often strategy has meant a calendar of events, an assorted number of unconnected campaigns, and reactions to new governmental policies. A Stage Six strategy includes a set of strategic programs, new organizational and leadership models, and an overall grand strategy.

Strategic Programs

  • Ongoing low-intensity local organizing. The key to Stage Six success ultimately is the ongoing, day-in and day-out basic efforts of grassroots local activists—public speaking, information tables at supermarkets, leafletting, yard sales, and so on—all involving face-to-face education of citizens by their peers and keeping the issue before the public.
  • Massive public education and conversion. The basic purpose of the movement in this stage is to educate, convert, and involve all segments of the population. This is accomplished through a broad variety of means, including the mass media. Most important, however, are direct contacts through the low-intensity activities at the local level, through sidewalk tables, demonstrations, leaflets, petitions, housemeetings, literature, and bumper stickers. The issue needs to be re-defined to show how it directly affects everyone’s values and self-interests and what they can do about it.
  • Build a broad-based pluralized movement. The movement needs to include all segments of the population through coalitions, networks, co-sponsorship of events and petitions, and directly involving all constituency groups, example, unemployed, Blacks, workers, teachers, Hispanics, religious, women, students, etc. This includes movement organizations within each constituency such as Women for Peace and Teachers for Social Responsibility. In addition, the movement needs groups in all three categories—professional opposition organizations, new wave grassroots, and principled dissent. The different movement organizations must be allies with each other, overcoming the tendency towards self-righteousness, ani-mousity, and divisiveness.
  • Renewed use of mainstream political and social institutions. As the movement wins larger majorities of public opinion, mainstream channels (e.g., Congress, city councils, officials, election campaigns, candidates, courts, official commissions and hearings, and ballot referenda) are used with increasing effectiveness. While they serve to build the movement—keeping the issue in the public spotlight, educating the public, and so on—they also win actual victories on demands where there is big public support in places where the movement is strongest and the central powerholders weakest, often at the local and state levels. These successes serve to build the movement’s success from the ground up over the coming years. For example, the opposition to U.S. direct military invasion of Nicaragua has been (at least temporarily) successful at the Congressional level, but not at the central powerholder level of the Reagan administration. And nuclear energy plans have been halted at the local and state levels, while the central government and nuclear industry maintain their policies favoring increased use of nuclear power. Also, the opposition to nuclear weapons has been built into a national consensus, which is putting enormous pressure on the national government. Even President Reagan has tried to appear to be ending nuclear weapons, especially U.S. missiles in Europe, where there is overwhelming public opposition.
  • Nonviolent rallies, demonstrations, and campaigns, especially at critical times and places. Although the movement now includes a wide range of programs, it must continue to have nonviolent actions, rallies, and campaigns, with occasional civil disobedience. While nonviolent actions should be held at traditional times and places, such as on Hiroshima and Nagasaki days, they should also occur at critical times and places, such as when Congress votes on aid to the contras, when dictators visit, and during re-trigger events, such as the Chernobyl accident. Because people are involved in so many different programs in this stage, and many no longer see the purpose of some nonviolent actions, the numbers participating in any specific national or local demonstration usually drop below those of the take-off stage (with the exception of some new crises). However, because there are nonviolent actions happening in hundreds of local communities around the country when movements are in the majority stage, the nationwide total number participating in demonstrations actually increases enormously in this stage.Although nonviolent actions sometimes do help win immediate successes, such as change a city council member’s or Congressperson’s vote, their chief purpose is to help achieve many of the goals of Stages Four to Six, such as keeping the issue in the public spotlight and providing a platform for the movement to educate the public.
  • Citizen involvement programs. The movement needs to develop programs in which large numbers of common citizens can become actively involved in programs that challenge current traditions, policies, and laws, while simultaneously carrying out the society’s values and the movement’s alternatives. This empowers the movement and citizens because they can carry out their values and goals without waiting for the powerholders to make the decision for them. This is quite different form isolated alternative “demonstration” projects. Citizen involvement programs put large numbers of people directly in contradiction with official policies. Some excellent massive citizen involvement programs of today’s movements include the sanctuary movement, in which local churches and towns throughout the country provide official sanctuary for Central American political refugees; the thousands of “citizen diplomats” traveling to Russia and Nicaragua; sending tools and aid to Nicaragua in violation of U.S. sanctions; and nuclear free towns, counties, and even countries, such as New Zealand and Palau. These programs educate and convert the public, demonstrate the alternative values and policies sought, demonstrate the extent of popular opposition, undercut the authority of the powerholders to carry out their policy goals, and build change from the bottom up.
  • Respond to new trigger events, such as the Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, to again put the issue in the public spotlight, educate the public to new levels of awareness, build the movement organizations, and increase the pressure for change.

New empowerment organization and leadership model
Movement organizations must switch from the “loose” to the “empowerment” model. The loose organization model was highly appropriate at the beginning of the new movement. It allowed for creative, spontaneous activities, which included civil disobedience and quick, flexible, and direct decision-making by all involved. But after six months the loose structure rapidly becomes a liability. It becomes too inefficient, people burn out from long meetings, the most experienced and strongest activists become dominant leaders, new people have difficulty becoming full participants, and the whole organization evolves into a informal hierarchy. The empowerment organization model is the name given to a new structure that activists must construct themselves, in which they try to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of the hierarchical and loose models. Its goal is to be participatory democratic, efficient, flexible, and capable of lasting over the long haul. This requires more structures, but structures that assure these principles.

This is a critical time for the offices and staff of national movement organizations. While they need to advocate practical policies of “real politics”, maintain the organization, and operate in bureaucracies (no matter how “collective”), they must prevent the organization from becoming a new POO, and the staff from becoming new movement elites. The primary goal is to serve, nurture, and empower the grassroots and to ensure that internal participatory democracy is carried out. The staff model must continue to be that of nurturing mothers, not dominant patriarchs. When the national staff behaves as if they are the movement, the grassroots dries up and the movement loses its power.

Grand Strategy
Activists need to develop a “grand strategy” for waging social movements in Stage Six. Lacking a viable strategy, most activists are unable to see a relationship between their day-to-day activities and the accomplishment of the movement’s goals. Some of the key elements are the following:

  • Keep the issue in the public spotlight and on society’s agenda over time. Keep the policies and conditions which violate the values, interests, and beliefs of the majority of the populace in the public spotlight. Over time, this helps build the social and political conditions for change because it helps fulfill Robert Jay Lifton’s view that the way to get rid of a social delusion is to keep telling the truth. The present social movements against nuclear weapons and in opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America should recognize as tremendous success the fact that these issues have been kept in the public spotlight and on society’s social and political agendas for a number of years.
  • Identify all of the movement’s key goals and identify which stage each is in and develop strategies to achieve them. Identify the movement’s full range of demands, from the very specific to the general, such as end all nuclear weapons, stop nuclear testing, stop Star Wars, and stop U.S. Euromissiles. Strategies, submovements, and campaigns need to be developed for each of these major demands. Activists should identify which MAP stage the movement is in for each of these demands and develop strategies, submovements, and campaigns to achieve each major demand. For example, stop U.S. direct invasion of Nicaragua might be in Stage Seven, official support for the contras in Stage Six, and a positive Contadora peace resolution for all of Central America is possibly just in Stage Three.
  • Counter the powerholders’ strategy. The movement needs to identify the powerholders’ long-term goals, strategies, and programs and develop counterstrategies against each one. For example, the U.S. is considering invading Nicaragua, supporting the contra’s war against Nicaragua, preventing a meaningful peaceful Contadora resolution, etc. The movement needs to develop campaigns to prevent the government’s achieving each of these objectives.
  • Beyond reforms: propose alternatives, larger demands, and a new paradigm. The movement now needs not only to protest present policies but also to propose specific alternatives. In the process of struggle, people act their way into thinking, and they learn that the problem is much bigger than they had thought. They come to realize that their original concerns were merely symptoms of much bigger and deeper problems; consequently, the movement needs to make larger demands. This ultimately includes the necessity for a whole new worldview or paradigm. The movement against Cruise and Pershing 2 missiles in Europe, for example, realized that they needed to remove all nuclear weapons from East and West Europe. This has led a new worldview of a nuclear free East and West Europe that will become increasingly neutral and independent of the Soviet-United States superpower bloc system.
  • Guide the movement through the dynamics of conflict with the powerholders. Waging a social movement is similar to playing chess. The movement and powerholders constantly engage in moves and countermoves to win the public and build conditions to support their own position. The movement tries to build moral, political, and economic conditions that will erode the support that enables the powerholders to continue their policies. The powerholders keep changing their policies to keep their capacity to maintain the status quo. The movement’s goal is to keep weakening the powerholders’ position and raising the price that they must pay to continue their policies. The Reagan administration, for example, seemed about to invade Nicaragua in 1984, but the anti-intervention movement raised public opposition to a new level. The government then switched its chief focus to supporting the contras, but the movement made this illegal by helping pass the Boland amendment, thereby forcing the government to undertake the high-risk policies of illegal and unconstitutional covert aid through Ollie North. This has weakened President Reagan’s capacity to wage his policies in Central America as well as elsewhere.

The powerholders launch a hardline conflict management strategy to defend their policies, which included the following:

  • Promote new rhetoric and myths and re-emphasize the threat of outside demons, such as terrorism and Communism, to try to rally an increasingly skeptical public.
  • Increase their counter-movement strategy to gather intelligence; discredit the movement; cause internal disruption, control, and steer the movement; preempt it by claiming to do the movement’s program (e.g., “Star Wars will end nuclear weapons”); and try to co-opt the movement under mainstream political control (e.g., co-sponsor grossly watered down Congressional bills).
  • Engage in the dynamics of conflict with the movement by switching strategies, stance, and policies as needed, for example, from invading Nicaragua with U.S. troops, to supporting the proxy contras and waging low-intensity warfare against Nicaragua.
  • Publicly appear to be engaged in a meaningful “negotiation process”, while actually carrying out operative policies and doctrines without giving up any important advantages. Powerholders keep pronouncing that their policies are correct and winning. Finally, splits begin happening within the power structure, as over time pressure from the new social and political consensus force increasing portions of the mainstream political, economic and social elites to switch their position, even openly oppose the policies of the central powerholders in order to protect their own self-interests. The issue is now hotly contested within Congress, the Administration, and all other political levels.

Public opinion opposing the powerholders’ policies grows to as much as 65 percent within a few years, and then, over many years, slowly swells to a large majority of up to 85 percent. The populace, however, is evenly split over wanting a change in the status quo. Half fear the alternatives more than they oppose the present conditions and policies. By the early 1970s, for example, 83 percent of Americans called for an end to the Vietnam war, and currently 65 percent oppose aid to the contras and U.S. military intervention in Central America.


  • Keep the issue and the powerholders’ values violations in the public spotlight and on society’s agenda.
  • Switch from only crisis protest to waging protracted social struggle to achieve positive social change.
  • Gear efforts to the public to keep winning a bigger majority opinion.
  • Involve large numbers of the populace in programs at the grassroots level.
  • Propose alternatives, more demands, and a new paradigm.
  • Have activists able to use a strategic framework such as MAP. 32 Bill Moyer
  • Adopt empowerment organizational and leadership models.


  • Activists become stuck in the protest stage.
  • Movement violence, rebelliousness, and macho radicalism.
  • Believing that the movement is losing and local efforts are futile.
  • National organizations and leadership disenfranchise grassroots activists by dominating the movement.
  • Cooptation by powerholders through collusion and compromise.
  • Political sects dominate the movement organizations.

Over many years, perhaps decades, public opinion against the powerholders’ policies swells to an overwhelming majority of up to 85 percent, as was opposition to the Vietnam War. Almost every sector of society eventually wants to end the problem and current policies—most politicians, the Democratic Party, celebrities, professionals, students, Middle America, youth, the unemployed, local governments, and the general population. But strangely, nothing seems to change. The problem continues, Congress seems unable to make decisive votes, and the central powerholders continue their policies, although with cosmetic changes. Moreover the movement appears to be in a lull. There are demonstrations, meetings, and activists, but they seem small, routine, and mechanical, as the movement’s position has been adopted by the mainstream of society. Over the years, however, the weight of the massive public opposition, along with the defection of many elites, eventually takes its toll. The political price that the powerholders have to pay to maintain their policies grows to become an untenable liability.


Stage Seven begins when the long process of building opposition reaches a new plateau in which the new social consensus turns the tide of power against the powerholders and begins an endgame process leading to the movement’s success. The Stage Seven process can take three forms: dramatic showdown, quiet showdown, or attrition.

  • Dramatic showdown resembles the take off stage. A sudden trigger event sparks a mobilization of broad popular opposition and a social crisis, but this time the overwhelming coercive force, in a relatively short time, changes policies or leadership. This was achieved in each issue of the early 1960s civil rights movement, such as when the Selma march started President Johnson and the Congress into motion that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 within a few months. Activists usually feel that they won and had played an important role in achieving success.
  • Quiet showdown. Realizing that they can no longer continue their present policies, the powerholders launch a face-saving endgame process of “victorious retreat”. Rather than admit defeat, they proclaim victory and start a publicly recognized process of changing their policies and conditions to those demanded by the movement and social consensus. The powerholders try to take credit for this “victory”, even though they were forced to reverse their previously hardline policies, while activists often have difficulty seeing their role in this success. A current example is President Reagan’s efforts to reach an agreement with Gorbachev to end Euromissiles.
  • Attrition is when success is quietly and seemingly invisibly achieved in a long process which could take decades, in which social and political machinery slowly evolves new policies and conditions, such as the present winding down of nuclear energy in the United States. During the attrition process, activists usually have even more difficulty recognizing the successful endgame process and the fact that they had a crucial role in causing it. In all three forms, once the endgame process starts, final success is not guaranteed. Until the change is finally actually accomplished, the situation can be reversed. Stage Seven involves a continual struggle, but one in which the opposition is on the offensive until the specific goal is won.

The chief engine for change switches from the “movement” to traditional progressives; the “nonpolitical” majority of the population; and mainstream political, social, and economic groups and institutions. The public becomes involved in a broad range of social actions which keep the spotlight on the issues, reveals the evils of the present policies , and creates real political and economic penalties. Most of the business and political powerholders are forced to defect from their ties to the status quo, because it is in their self-interest. The penalty for defending the status quo has become bigger than for accepting the alternative. The politicians will face hostile voters at their next election, and the business community can suffer loss of profits or business community can suffer loss of profits or business through boycotts, sanctions, and disruption of the marketplace. There sometimes is a general, worldwide insurrection which isolates the central powerholders and their dwindling support.

The opposition’s efforts and feelings vary according to the endgame form:

  • In dramatic showdown, the movement more resembles the take-off stage, in which it plays a massive, publicly obvious role involving mass-demonstrations in a time of crisis leading to success in a relatively short time, such as the toppling of Marcos, following the election process, or the achievement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, five months after the Selma campaign.
  • In quiet showdown, the movement continues its strategy and of both take-off and Stage Six, and while still publicly active, activists need to work hard to recognize the victory and their own role.
  • In attrition, the endgame process is often not recognized as success, the movement’s role is much less visible, and much of the opposition’s efforts are carried out through the work of elites and the POOs.

The viability of the central powerholders’ policies is eroded economically and politically. The majority of powerholders join the opposition view, while the central powerholders are isolated and eventually defeated. The central powerholders are:

  • forced into making fatal mistakes, such as President Nixon’s ordered Watergate break-ins and other “dirty tricks” against the opposition, or when President Reagan felt forced to violate the Boland amendment through illegal covert aid to the contras;
  • increasingly prevented from doing what is fully required to successfully carry out their policies, such as when the Pentagon was prevented from carrying out programs it felt were necessary to win the Vietnam War; and
  • resort to extreme emergency acts of political and economic decrees and repression, which serve only to spur the opposition. The economic, social, and political penalties erode the base for support of the powerholders to either continue their policies or remain in office. The central powerholders have three different endgame strategies, according to the type of ending:
  • Custer’s last stand (in dramatic showdown), in which they hold out until either their policies are defeated in the mainstream political process, such as in the courts, Congress, or referenda, or they lose their office or position through elections or mass social actions and pressures;
  • Victorious retreat (in quiet showdown), in which the powerholders lose on the issue, but in reversing their policies declare victory for themselves; or of
  • Persistent stubbornness (in attrition), in which they hold out in an increasingly losing cause over many years, until one of the above two endings occur.


The public demands change. The opposition to the powerholders is now so overwhelming that the whole issue is publicly recognized as the “good guys vs. bad guys”. One is either for decency or for President Marcos, apartheid, and the Vietnam War. While a majority opposition has existed for some years, up to now the mass population was not willing to act on their beliefs. They had not acted because they:

  • felt powerless,
  • did not know what to do,
  • were not called to action by a trigger event and crisis, and
  • feared the alternative (e.g., Communism, or the unknown) more than they desired change.

Citizens are so repulsed that their desire to end present policies and conditions overtakes their worry about the consequences of the alternative.

They are ready to vote, demonstrate, and even support the central powerholders in changing present policies. For example, people want an end to nuclear weapons more than they fear Soviet attack and takeover.

The movement’s goals for this stage include:

  • Wage a successful “endgame” strategy to achieve one or more demands.
  • Have activists recognize the success and their own role in it.
  • Raise larger issues and propose alternative paradigms.
  • Create new decentralized centers of power based on more participatory structures and an empowered public.
  • Continue the movement.

The movement needs to avoid:

  • compromising too many values and key demands;
  • achieving minor reforms without building toward basic social change;
  • having activists feel dismayed and powerless because they do not recognize success and the movement’s role in a successful endgame; and
  • having apparent final victory end the movement.

The movement finally achieves one or more of its demands. It now needs to address some hard questions: What is success? What needs to be done next? The movement needs to recognize successes achieved, follow up on the demands won, raise larger issues, focus on other demands which are in various stages, and propose larger alternatives and a new paradigm.


The success achieved in Stage Seven is not the end of the struggle but a basis for continuing that struggle and creating new beginnings.

The movement has to continue the struggle in five different ways:

  • Celebrate success. The successes of Stage Seven and the movement’s role in achieving them should be clearly recognized by activists.
  • Follow-up. There needs to be follow-up, mainly by the POOs, at the local and national level (1) to make sure that the new promises, laws, and policies are actually carried out (e.g., after the 1965 Voting Rights Act a major effort was required to assure that Blacks were actually allowed to vote); (2) to achieve additional successes, which are now possible under the new political conditions and legal mandate; and (3) to resist backlash which might reverse the new gains.
  • Work on achieving other demands. The movement needs to focus on achieving other demands, which are probably in earlier MAP stages. After the civil rights movement desegregated restaurants in 1960, for example, the whole MAP stages process was repeated with successive movements to achieve integrated buses, equal public accommodations, voting rights, and work to end poverty.
  • New social consciousness, issues, and movements. The modern student and women’s movements emerged out of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.
  • Beyond reform to social change. Social movements need to go beyond immediate reforms to build toward fundamental structural changes by (1) creating empowered people who become life-long social change agents, and not just one issue protesters; (2) creating ongoing grassroots political organizations and networks; (3) broadening the analysis, issues, and goals of movements; (4) propose new alternatives and worldviews or paradigms that put forward new political and social systems, not just oppose symptoms.

Governmental bureaucracies are supposed to carry out new laws and directives but could drag their feet and even fail to follow through. While most powerholders will be part of the new social and political consensus and try to carry out the new laws and policies, some may counterattack to reverse the new successes, as the Reagan administration did in ignoring the Boland amendment and continuing its support of the contras after 1984.

A new social consensus of about 80 percent of the populace supports the favorable resolution of the movement’s demand and the resulting new policies and conditions. The new demands on which the movement now begins focusing are supported by between 10 and 80 percent of the public and are different MAP stages.

The movement’s goals are to assure that the demands achieved are maintained and to circle back to focus the movement on other demands.

The chief hazards of Stage Eight are having the new successes either inadequately implemented or revoked from backlash.

There is no end. There is only the continuing struggle, acted out in cycles of social movements. The process of winning one set of demands creates new levels of citizen consciousness and empowerment, and generates new movements on new demands and issues.

Peoples’ movements move the world further along the path towards more fully meeting the spiritual, physical, social, and political needs of humanity. Moreover, the very process of being fully involved in the struggle of peoples’ movements contributes to peoples’ political and spiritual fulfillment. Activists are part of the emerging people-power movements around the world. People worldwide are struggling to transform themselves and the world from the present era of superpowers, materialism, environmental breakdown, disenfranchisement, abject poverty amidst opulence, and militarism, to a new, more human era of democracy, freedom, justice, self-determination, human rights, peaceful coexistence, preservation of the environment, and the meeting of basic human needs.

Consequently, the long-term impacts are more important than their immediate successes. The civil rights movement, for example, created a new positive image of Blacks among themselves and whites, established nonviolent action as a means to achieve people power, directly spun off the student and anti-Vietnam War movements, and inspired peoples’ movements got the American people, for the first time, to challenge and change American foreign policy and created the “Vietnam syndrome” in which the American people oppose the century old policy of U.S. military intervention in Latin America to achieve the interests of American powerholders. Social movements are also contagious: Philippines people’s movement spurred similar efforts in Haiti, Chile, and now South Korea.


Suggested Reading:

Real Change is Closer than you Think by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, 2013

The Tasks of the People-Powered Movement by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, 2014