Quentin Young, Founder, and Margie Schap, Executive Director
Health & Medicine Policy Research Group
Earlier this month, I hosted a series of guest posts on the topic of Movement Building and Social Media. Karin Pritikin, who I met in Chicago in June and works for Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, reached out to me to share some of the "hallway conversations" taking place in her organization about movements and social media.
Her organization was formed 27 years ago by an activist group of clinicians, social scientists, health care executives and policy analysts to advocate for health equity and improved public health. The organization's founder, Quentin Young, has a long history of organizing and supporting movements using low tech tools like mimeographs, bullhorns, placards, shoe leather, sweat (sometimes blood) and public convergence spaces.
Karin noted in an email to me, "We often talk about how Facebook Fan Pages and tweets reach people quickly, but we wish their was some way to bottle the "grit" of some of the earlier, more visceral methods. Karin posted some snippets of conversation on the Health & Medicine Policy Research Blog that I'm sharing here.
Quentin Young describes an early movement he was involved in:
In 1937-39, I was a member of the
American Student Union – a national organization of high school youth
protesting fascism, racism. The depression was raging. It was a politically charged time and we were
“blessed” (I use the term with quotations) by powerful enemies who served as a
motivation force. Hitler was gaining in
. Other fascist leaders were rising to power. These events, and later, World Events like Peal harbor were powerful motivators. Though one dominant force that moved us to action was the race issue.
The proximity of
played a role in
the way our “movement” grew. College
students recruited youngsters, exploited our youthful zeal as they exposed us
to the issues of the day.
We connected largely via meetings, not unlike today’s meetings they had fairly versatile formats: sometimes a well-known speaker or someone with special knowledge or credibility about an specific issue, sometimes in large auditoriums, sometimes smaller rooms. There were other organizations fighting fascism in the city, and other youth organizations in neighborhoods on the north and west sides. Occasionally we joined with them for larger conferences, but we focused on building awareness within our own communities.
We distributed literature, leaflets. We had newsletters. We spoke publicly. The tools available for mobilization were primitive.
What does he think is different today?
In the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s
action took place at meetings and demonstrations. Today’s media (TV/DVDs/MP3 players/The Internet
and now social media) has transformed where people are and live.
People stay in their homes and connect using
these new social medial tools and channels. That is where they are. There is less physical outward
action people take now is different. The
recent demonstration and sit-in over the proposed closing of the Republic
Windows plant attracted attention and resulted in action, but it wasn’t
attended by many people and it petered out quickly.
Margie Schaps describes the differences from the 1980's onward:
Today you learn about an issue online, or from a blog post, or an email someone has forwarded, and you take action by “clicking here to donate” or by “emailing your congressman” or by forwarding the link to your friends and mobilizing lots of people to e-blast an organization or an elected official to express your ideas.
Our organization, which Quentin founded in 1981 with John McKnight, used to write long policy papers, really meaty 50 page documents that were read by no more than 50 of our collaborative partners. These days we’re evolving toward much briefer messages, distilling issues and action steps into much shorter form/format.
There is a new movement building model emerging. As a policy organization, we still use face-to-face meetings to address issues/inequities and develop solutions. This development of policy is not the movement building part. Movement building takes place as we use new media tools to mobilize interested people to make decisions and take action on these highly specific issues.
Both Maggie and Quentin describe how social media can help power movement building:
The issues that we work on are emblematic of the larger social injustice that needs to be addressed. We create “small movements’ around “hunks of oppression” that are mapped onto the larger social and health trends and issues. Free standing birth centers are a good example of what I mean. We worked for 20 years on the issue of giving medically underserved women in Illinois access to choice in childbirth. It’s a w omen's reproductive rights issue. There’s a sexual/gender equality dimension. There is a need to oppose vested interests that continue to oppress the public– in this case the obstetrical specialties. It took 20 years to get legislation passed to allow the building of these centers in Illinois. There is now public acceptance of the idea. So the small movement we built within the health policy sphere, to leverage change, is now broadening as we make the next step public, garnering broader support from the public to demand these options in their communities.
And by mapping this small movement onto the larger issues of health access for women and for everyone, it becomes more than an example of a hard won victory twenty years in the making, serving as both a motivator and an example of change in process. It really is movement-building on multiple levels. Social media tools will play a large role in getting the word out and mobilizing small groups and the public for progressive policy change.
Says Karin in a follow up email shares, "Beginning that discussion has led to a powerful "small movements that feed change on a large level" framing that is helping us as we move forward. It also is helping steer us to use social media for the "right" part of the equation."