Social Movements and their Effects on Political Policy

Examines the effects grassroots organizations and movements can have on a country’s politics.

Social movements are collective actions in which the populace is alerted, educated, and mobilized over years and decades to challenge the power holders and the whole society to redress social problems or grievances and restore critical social values. This paper shows that social movements are seeking change in a variety of policy areas, such as the peace movement, nuclear policy, and environmental policy. The paper shows that to fully understand social movements it is important to examine not one their emergence and development of protest, but more importantly, the policy outcomes. There is an interesting dynamic between social dissent and protest and the effects upon policy in the modern American political system. The paper notes that dissatisfaction or disillusion with partisan politics or the American political system altogether creates the atmosphere and the proper social conditions for social movements to occur.
The civil rights movement utilized the ideas of peaceful public protest combined with the new use of television and a variety of other mass media to influence the public opinion. Burstein (1985) has proposed a theory that stresses the crucial role played by social movements and media coverage as external factors that shape the general public’s preferences. His study shows that the Civil rights movement and media coverage affected the people’s awareness of the issue and this, in turn, led the Congress to act in favor of African American rights. By this we can see that social movements have and impact on public policy but not a direct one. Rather the impact is therefore mediated by the public opinion.