Will the Movement Doctors please stand up?

Movement leader Dolores Huerta with megaphone

I grew up in Grand Blanc, a small town just outside of Flint, epicenter of the Flint Water Crisis and birthplace of Michael Moore. My family members were the only Hispanics we knew and we shared our culture with others – friends came over for picadillo and my father would regularly share his story about leaving Cuba when he was fifteen, working his way through school as a newspaper boy and a waiter at the Kings Arms Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia. Growing up as the daughter of an immigrant made me acutely aware of issues of power and privilege in society and of what perseverance, hard work, and resourcefulness look like.

It is not surprising that I have gotten involved in various social movements throughout my life and about four years ago, became even more curious about what makes them grow. I have seen and learned that social movements are emerging and dynamic, ever-changing to capitalize on new opportunities and respond to threats, as well as representing the demands of people who join and exit them. The fact that no one can put boundaries around social movements or control them is exactly what makes them effective. They are designed to be antagonistic and paradoxical to the status quo. Effective activists continually reinvent new ways of attracting the attention and respect of their targets. If they repeat the same strategies and tactics, people will stop listening and responding.

The fact that no one can put boundaries around people in social movements or control them is exactly what makes them effective.

My first day at Blue Shield of California Foundation, after hearing that I am completing a Ph.D. in social movements, someone said, “We can call you The Movement Doctor, then!” Although it brings me joy to be a helpful participant and resource — it is why I do what I do – in the world of social movements, experts can come from anywhere. I admire the work of Dr. Christopher Rootes, a sociologist who suggests that all of us who act or study social movements as activists or researchers are part of a common "we" – we are partners and cannot exist without one another. Activists can never be fully prepared for the types of challenges they might face, and it is that ambiguity that we thrive on.

There is no doubt that we are living in “movement-building times.” Activism is intensifying in scale and magnitude across the globe. So many of us are getting more involved, even putting more skin in the game. We know that our collective actions today will drastically impact the lives of future generations. Perhaps less obvious is that capturing how we build movements, including what we learn, will be a tremendous resource for future movement-builders. Why? First, because what we know about building movements today is based on research conducted on past "movement moments" such as the 60s and 70s in America. The data we gather today will produce the next generation of social movement research. Second, social movements are intergenerational and fueled, as well as constrained, by past struggles. We are standing on the shoulders of giants and must literally write social movement history so that future generations know how to pick up where we left off.

People gathered at a demonstration

As a senior fellow at Blue Shield of California Foundation, I am excited to be exploring the cutting edge of social movements. At this moment in time, there are provocative questions for us to be asking, including: How might funders and movement-builders work together to confront system failures? How might philanthropy better assess the resource needs of social movements? What digital tools could enable activists to track the progress of their movements and coordinate activity in new ways? How have our philanthropic ancestors funded movements? I hope the work that I do can serve as a resource for philanthropy in addition to informing our efforts to make California the healthiest state and end domestic violence.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants and must write social movement history so that future generations know how to pick up where we left off.

To lead philanthropy into the future, we know that we must cast-off our usual assumptions, challenge our biases, and ask ourselves new — and what might seem like unusual — questions. For example: What if a foundation board meeting operated like a movement meeting? What if philanthropists got inspired by the tactics of activists? What if philanthropy became a movement-building industry? By asking more aspirational and contentious questions, we might come closer to solutions that build a healthier and more equitable society for all.

Movement-building is a practice, mindset, and an art that requires courage, vision, persistence, and determination. Perhaps if we each cultivated our inner movement-builder, the way we show up in the world, and live and work with one another, could dramatically shift.

So, will all the Movement Doctors please stand up, and keep standing? Please, from wherever you are; today we need you, and one another, more than ever.

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