Anatomy of a movement: Give people useful things to do…

I recently co-presented the session ‘Building Big Digital Movements’ at the IOF National Convention. In it, I talked about the ‘anatomy’ of a movement.

One of the key things in movement building is to give those who join your movement something genuinely useful to do.


I recently came across this amazing interview in Fast Company with Rashad Robinson, the founder of Color of Change, which included a fantastic example of this in action. It relates to Color of Change’s response to the events in Charlottesville last year in the aftermath of the the fascist march and murder of Heather Heyer. They ran a campaign to target payment companies whose platforms were being used by the far right to process donations.

The most relevant section is pasted below.

FC: You were quick to harness the energy and desire for activism that came out of Charlottesville into a #NoBloodMoney social media campaign, along with a website that got consumers to press credit-card companies to stop processing payments to hate groups. How did you know the campaign would gain traction?

RR: Like many organizations, Color of Change put out a statement about Charlottesville. But our most powerful statement was giving people watching the events something clear and strategic to do. To say, “Hey, you are outraged, you are saddened, you are frustrated. And here is something that you can actually do.” We didn’t have to create a moment. In some ways it’s about finding the strategic avenue and giving people the ability to feel useful, to feel like they make a difference. That is important in a democracy. We are a black-led, black civil rights organization, but we are powered by black people and their allies of every race.

The full article can be found here: “Power Is The Ability To Change The Rules”: How Rashad Robinson Holds Companies Accountable.

Rashad’s response really resonates with how I think about movement building. Movements exist to change things, to create the world the people who join the movement want to see. The power of a movement can be incredible and we can all learn from the principles, strategies and tactics that drive their success.

But let’s all remember, building a movement is not a marketing trick. It is not prospect or lead generation. If we are to learn from the mass movements of now and of history we need to make sure that we are authentic in everything we do. Otherwise it’s just advertising.

Paul de Gregorio

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash