October 19, 2018

Credit: (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) 

After Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, activists may have thought that gun control at the federal level was a sure bet. But as the old saying goes, “there’s strength in numbers,” and the size of National Rifle Association’s membership has long outnumbered that of America’s gun reform groups. Leslie Crutchfield, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative, says high membership numbers is a matter of strategy. It doesn’t matter if the message is pro-Second Amendment, pro-gay marriage or anti-smoking. Those who know how to play the game get results. We talk to Crutchfield, who outlines social movement strategy in her new book, “How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t.”  

Three Takeaways:

  • Step 1: Turn grassroots movements gold. It might be tempting to start national, but the NRA didn’t get its 5 million members by going top down. Instead, it built enthusiasm at the local level and grew from there. 
  • Step 2: Eye a 10/10/10/20 = 50 model. It’s tempting to get all 50 states to adopt the same level of enthusiasm for your cause, but it’s probably a little unrealistic. Instead, Crutchfield says, activists should push separate goals in different places, based on a state’s level of support for an issue. The gay rights movement pushed marriage in some states, civil unions in others, and settled for repealing discriminatory laws in still others. They were different goals, but overall support built up over time. 
  • Step 3: Change culture. Sometimes changing the law isn’t enough. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) did more than inspire tighter DUI laws: they made designated drivers a thing. Now, it’s likely that you’ll grab your friend’s car keys, if they’ve had one too many.

More Reading:

  • The PBS News Hour takes a look at why anti-smoking ads were successful. 
  • The NRA spent $4.1 million on lobbying 2017. The Takeaway examines the organization’s evolution and its influence on American politics. 
  • Less than 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, gay marriage became legal in the United States. Business Insider dives into the movement’s timeline. 

gun control, Culture, same sex marriage, smoking, Leslie Crutchfield

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