On April 26 the Center for Policy Studies’ Friday Public Affairs Discussion Group partnered with the Schubert Center to host Doug Imig, PhD, Professor of Political Science at The University of Memphis. Imig discussed the characteristics of effective social movements in history, commented on the progress of the current pre-K education reforms, and how other contemporary and future movements might continue in light of these patterns. As the title of the talk implies, the most important action for achieving social change is the use of a galvanizing moment to inspire birth of a social movement. This transition requires an increase in social anxiety around the issue, institutional reform, and an ideological shift in how people think about the issue.
Imig identified six factors common to all successful social movements. The first, as described above, is the use of an external shock to the status quo to inspire change. Imig used World War II as an example of this: the war forced women (mothers) into the workforce, thus necessitating childcare as a workforce issue instead of an early childhood development issue. This transition inspired social movements that promoted out-of-home childcare. Perception of injustice, agency, and identity is the next critical factor for social movements. When people realize and identify with an injustice, they can do something to fix it (agency), and galvanize around a shared identity. Framing and language of the movement is critical because social movements arise out of the identification of a common “enemy,” and rely on a passionate leader’s framing of the issue as important. Networks of people, political alignment and venue, allies and opposition/repression are the other key components of a successful movement.
Imig also discussed the role of data in social movements. He pointed out that data is always available but is often ignored for decades until advocates use it to support social change. Therefore, the notion that more data will move policy makers from complacency to action is historically misguided. However, he acknowledged that resource-rich sponsors and favorable political conditions can help with the implementation of evidence-based (data-supported) practices.
Finally, Imig commented that states’ stances on the importance of childcare are more related to administrative apparatuses than to the majority status of political parties. If pre-K program funding is tied to K-12 education funding, it is much more likely to remain strong in the face of budget cuts than funding that stands alone.