Guest Post: Today's Social Movement

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Guest Post: Today's Social Movement

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 6:10pm

By: Jeff Raderstrong

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the 60s. It started with the music—first classic rock like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but I quickly moved on to the protest songs of the day—Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Crosby Still Nash and Young, Pete Seeger. From there, it was only a small jump to focus my attention to people like Martin Luther King jr. and groups like the Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers.

I think I was so focused on these people because they were a part of something bigger than themselves. They were a part of a movement that would be remembered forever, and I wanted to be a part of something that would be written about in the history books so I could say: “I was there. I remember that.”

But I didn’t see those same things happening among my generation—no Marches on Washington, no sit ins. I was a very liberal teenager, and as this was the early Bush years, I thought there was a lot to protest about. But it just wasn’t happening*.

But then I went to college and studied the work of Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank, read the writings of development economists Jeff Sachs and Bill Easterly, and became involved in various campus groups—from divestment campaigns to environmental justice organizations to a local soup kitchen. I learned that change didn’t have to happen in the form of a big movement. It could be small in scale and small in impact. I then graduated and began work in the nonprofit sector, where I realized there were so many different approaches, programs and even products to help make the world a better place.

I had been thinking about all this stuff in the wrong way. By focusing on comparing my generation to that of the 60s, I missed out on all the different components of change happening around me, around the country, around the world, each day. Because there still is a movement going on.

Our movement doesn’t look like the March on Washington. Our movement is expressed in growing volunteer rates, consumers wanting businesses to give back to society, and a young generation more committed to social impact through their professional careers. No matter the sector, no matter the organization, there is a movement of people working to make a difference. Just because our movement isn’t expressed through picket signs and marches (although those still happen), that doesn’t make our work any less valid.

However, there is still a problem. All these people working on social change don’t talk to each other. Their worked isn’t coordinated or aligned. We have, instead of a mass movement, a fragmented “social change ecosystem,” with duplicated efforts and repeated failures.  While there is good work being done, arguably on the same scale of the civil rights movement, our organizations do not share goals and best practices. By working in silos, we sacrifice the potential for great change on a grander scale.

We have discussed the reasons people don’t collaborate here on UnSectored—ego, constrained resources, stereotypes, shortsighted goals—and these barriers need to be overcome. Not only does our generation have its own social change movement, this new movement has the potential to surpass in impact that of those movements of the 60s I revered as a teenager. If we all recognize our work for what it truly is—individual components of a broader ecosystem—we can start to look around for ways to improve what we are doing.

Please join us as we break down those barriers. Add your thoughts on this post, or join us at our next event.

*Actually, it was. It just wasn’t happening on a scale I wanted, and there wasn’t a culture of protest at the same level of the 1960s.

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This post originally appeared on UnSectored. Posted with permission of the author.