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A Model for Analyzing the Strategic Options
of Social Movement Organizations

by Jo Freeman

First published as "Resource Mobilization and Strategy: A Model for Analyzing Social Movement Organization Actions" in The Dynamics of Social Movements ed. by Mayer N. Zald and John D. McCarthy, Cambridge, Mass.: Winthrop Publishers, 1979, pp. 167-189. Revised version published in Social Movements of the Sixties and Seventies ed. by Jo Freeman, New York: Longman, 1983, pp. 193-210; Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties, ed. by Jo Freeman and Victoria Johnson, Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999, pp. 241-265.

Strategic decisions about how a movement will act are not always made by a leader, or even by a small committee of experts, because most movements are not subject to hierarchical control. Often, major strategic decisions flow from circumstances or are made and executed by an otherwise insignificant group of protestors whose success is then emulated by others. For example, the 1960 sit-in at a North Carolina lunch counter was planned by a few college students, not the leaders of the major civil rights organizations. While these leaders were quick to see its uses, the idea of sitting-in spread largely through the media and informal communications networks of students. On the other hand, the decision in 1955 to boycott public buses in Montgomery, Alabama was made by the black community leaders of that city and organized through the churches. This article presents a model within which strategic considerations, both planned and spontaneous, leader-directed and grass-roots, can be analyzed. It highlights the resources available to a social movement organization at a given time, the limitations on the use of these resources, and how the resources can potentially be deployed.
My model of strategic decision making by social movement organizations has four major elements and numerous components. The elements are: mobilizable resources, constraints on these resources, SMO structure and internal environment, and expectations about potential targets. Although the model is applicable to SMOs generally, I will illustrate points with examples drawn primarily from the women's liberation movement and the civil rights movement.


The resources available to organizers are either tangible or intangible. Tangible resources include money, space, and a means of publicizing the movement's existence and ideas. These resources are interchangeable, but only up to a point. Money can buy space, but not always vice versa. On the other hand, money can be used to publicize the movement, most of the time, and publicizing the movement can be used to raise money. It is a mistake to judge the affluence of the movement by its monetary contributions. A primary reason many new movements emerge out of older ones is not only that older movements provide co-optable communications networks but that they also provide some very valuable resources that would be at best expensive, and at worst unattainable, without the older movements.
Both branches of the women's movement relied on space donated by others during their early days. The younger branch used a room and mimeograph temporarily contributed by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a radical think tank in Washington, D.C., to organize its first national conference in 1968. The National Organization for Women (NOW) initially was organized out of the Extension Division of the University of Wisconsin and then out of the office of the United Auto Workers Women's Committee in Detroit. When this was lost in 1967, due to the UAW's dismay at NOW's support for the Equal Rights Amendment, NOW was forced to divert precious funds to renting an office in Washington, D.C., which it had trouble womanning.
The younger branch had something more important than space —- access to the network of underground newspapers and numerous New Left conferences held every year. Had this branch of the movement emerged five years earlier (or later), when such resources were minimal, it would have had a much harder time growing. The value of this particular resource for publicizing the new movement among potential adherents was so great that it is practically impossible to translate it into monetary terms. NOW did not have access to such a resource, and although it had more money than the younger branch, it did not have the enormous amount of money that would have been necessary to achieve the equivalent amount of press coverage. It took NOW years longer to achieve the numbers of the younger branch. Thus, movements that seem to be poor, that draw from seriously deprived constituencies, may in fact be rich in some less obvious, but still tangible, resources.
People are the primary intangible resource of a movement, and movements rely on them heavily. In fact, a major difference between a social movement and an organized interest group is the particular mix of resources each relies on. Interest groups tend to rely on tangible resources, especially money, some of which are used to hire professional staff to translate the rest of the resources into political pressure. Social movements are low on tangible resources, and the flow of money is erratic, but strong on people resources. Such resources are harder to convert into political pressure, let alone social change, in part because they are not very liquid, but for many activities they are more valuable. The civil rights movement recruited many young people to spend summers in the South registering blacks to vote. This was dangerous. Even had enough money been available, it is doubtful that this resource could have been bought. It is also questionable whether it would have been as effective. Parents of the summer volunteers raised money for their projects and focused press attention on their activities that wouldn't have come to a paid professional staff.
Not all people can make the same contribution to a movement. There are at least three categories of resources. The first I call "specialized" resources. Their essential characteristic is that they are possessed by only a few participants —- and only a few really need to possess them, for the point of diminishing returns is reached very quickly. These resources include expertise of various sorts, access to networks through which other resources can be mobilized, access to decision makers relevant to the movement, and status, whether within the movement's constituencies or within the polity the movement is trying to influence.
The other two categories are unspecialized in that any participant could contribute them if so inclined. These are time, primarily to perform necessary labor and/or sit through meetings; and commitment. Commitment is not dedication. Commitment is the willingness to take risks or entertain inconvenience. Whenever a deprived group triumphs over a more privileged one without major outside interference, it is because their constituencies have compensated with a great deal of time and commitment.


Since a movement relies so heavily on people resources, most activities involve their deployment. If a lot of time is demanded to attend meetings, there may be a lot less time available to do work. If the standard of commitment leads to acts which result in arrests, movement resources may be quickly diverted to fighting legal battles. Groups that have little access to specialized resources through their own constituencies must frequently spend other resources developing conscience constituencies to supply their specialized needs. Even this can backfire. The Southern Civil Rights Movement effectively mobilized young white students to supply specialized resources, especially northern public attention. But within two years the movement decided that their value was had been expended and that their presence interfered with local people developing organizing skills.

TABLE 12.1/Resources Mobilized by the Early Feminist Movement

    Younger Branch Older Branch
Resources Tangible    
  Money little some
  Space people's homes IPS various offices
  Publicity underground papers
New Left Conferences
women's organizations
some access to mainstream newspapers
  Expertise community organizing
public relations
  Access to networks "radical community"
Committees on Status of Women
professional groups
  Access to decision makers in government, media, and unions none some
  Status in polity none little
  Status in group only in "movement" little
  Time a great deal little
  Commitment  a great deal little

Table 12.1 compares the resources available to the younger and older branches of the women's movement in the early 1970s. We next have to ask where they come from, and what are the costs of mobilizing them.

There are three major sources of mobilizable resources: the beneficiary constituency, any conscience constituencies, and nonconstituency institutions. According to McCarthy and Zald, the beneficiary constituency consists of political beneficiaries of the movement who also supply it with resources, and the conscience constituency are those sympathizers who provide resources but are not themselves beneficiaries.1 Institutional resources are those that are available independent of the movement's existence, which can potentially be coopted by it. For example, if a law exists prohibiting discrimination, the power of the state to enforce this law can theoretically be coopted to help a movement eradicate discrimination.
Before Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, making racial discrimination in employment illegal, the civil rights movement occasionally used sit-ins to force employers to hire more blacks. Afterward, the movement encouraged individuals to file complaints with the relevant government agency and helped many to go to court to compel employers to end discrimination. By coopting the institutional resource of the court, through the passage of Title VII, the civil rights movement acquired legitimacy for its fight against employment discrimination and was able to have an impact on far more employers and far more jobs.


The primary distinction between a conscience constituency and a coopted institution is that one has a right to the resources of the latter; access is institutionalized. The most obvious source of co-optable institutional resources is the government, but it is not the only source. When the YWCA made the ending of racism its "one imperative," it was in effect saying that the black movement had a right to the "Y"'s resources for that end.
Regardless of the origin or kind of resource, resources are not just there for the asking. They have to be mobilized, and this in turn takes resources, which a particular SMO may not always have in abundance. Before passage of Title VII, the major resource the civil rights movement used to attack employment discrimination was large numbers of individuals sufficiently committed to risk arrest in a sit-in. This resource was most frequently supplied by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), whose history of nonviolent action had attracted to it large numbers of individuals, black and white, who were willing to engage in these tactics. After 1964, the major resource the civil rights movement needed was lawyers to argue cases in court. CORE had few of these, and its role in ending employment discrimination dissolved. Fortunately, the civil rights movement had another organization, the NAACP, which was well endowed with lawyers who could provide this now necessary resource.
Sometimes not having the resources necessary to take advantage of a particular opportunity can be disabling. The women's liberation movement did not use court action as readily as the civil rights movement did —- even though Title VII also proscribed sex discrimination -— because it did not have organized legal resources. Yet it could not use the sit-in against employment discrimination because the mere existence of a legal channel undermined the legitimacy of such a disruptive tactic. Fortunately the independent development of a "Title VII bar," of lawyers who specialized in these type of cases, has provided that resource, even though it is not under movement control. Similarly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Women's Rights Project, under a Ford Foundation grant, eventually provided much of the legal planning and talent for the women's movement that the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund provided for the black movement. To a certain extent one could say the women's movement coopted the resources of the ACLU.
A major factor affecting the costs of mobilizing resources is their density. Since campuses attract young people in large numbers, an SMO seeking to reach them can efficiently do so by going to the campus. Women are rather dispersed, however, so even with a mailing list of potential supporters, greater amounts of time and money must be spent to mobilize women for a particular activity than to mobilize students. Without such a list, the costs escalate.
Aggrieved groups that are atomized and scattered throughout the population require enormous resources to be reached, let alone mobilized. Those that are concentrated can be mobilized much more easily, which is one reason why students are so readily available to so many movements. Groups that are scattered can be concentrated by being drawn together as part of the mobilization process of another movement or some other agency. For example, the Community Action Programs set up under the "war on poverty" became fertile grounds for welfare rights movement organizers. Without the government, the movement might not have been able to develop.

The reason many different movements tend to appear during the same historical period is not because different groups just happen to discover their grievances at the same time, or even because the example of one group alerts others to opportunities to alleviate their own grievances. Rather, it happens because the resources one movement generates can be used for cognate movements. Skills gained in one movement are readily transferable to another. One movement's conscience constituency can become the next movement's beneficiary constituency. The civil rights movement contributed significantly to the emergence of many other movements for just this reason.


It is easy to think of resources as abstract entities that, like money, can be used for almost anything if enough are available. Unfortunately, movement resources are not liquid. Instead, all resources —- even money -— have constraints on their uses. These constraints differ, depending on the source, but their existence acts as a kind of filer between resources and SMOs. These filters are so important that they can totally redirect the resources of a movement, much as a prism does a beam of light. And it is these filtered resources that an SMO has to work with, not the raw product.
The two branches of the women's movement drew upon similar if not identical resources, in comparable if not identical amounts, from people with closely matched class and educational backgrounds. Yet one branch formed numerous national associations, many of which opened Washington offices to lobby the government. The other branch organized numerous small groups whose primary tasks were education, personal conversion, and service projects. The younger branch of the movement could have formed a national organization at its 1968 conference, yet it didn't even make plans for an annual conference. It could have used the IPS office in Washington as a base from which to put pressure on the government, but it never even discussed such a possibility. It could have organized mass demonstrations, like NOW did in 1970, but took to WITCH (Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) hexes instead. Such divergence of energies cannot be explained unless one looks at the constraints, conscious and unconscious, on the resources available for action.
I have identified five different categories of constraints, and more could be found. Among these are: values, past experiences, a constituency's reference group, expectations, and relations with target groups. The first and the last in the list have been identified by others,2 while the middle three have either been overlooked or referred to only vaguely.
Since these terms don't really require definitions. their filtering function can best be explored by applying them to the two branches of the women's liberation movement. Both the age difference and the political networks from which the two branches emerged provided their members with different values, experiences, reference groups, expectations, and relations with target groups. These differences strongly influenced the kind of SMOs created, and the SMO structure in turn joined with these filters in a synergistic effect that molded the strategic possibilities.
Early participants in the younger branch came largely from the radical community, and their values reflected that community's interpretation of basic American concerns.3 The radical movement's concepts of participatory democracy, equality, liberty, and community emphasized that everyone should participate in the decisions that affected her life, and that everyone's contribution was equally valid.4 These values led easily to the idea that hierarchy was bad because it gives some people power over others and does not allow everyone's talents to develop. The belief was that all people should be able to share, criticize, and learn from one another's ideas —- equally. Any structure, or any leader who might influence this equal sharing, was automatically bad.5 The logical conclusion to be drawn from this train of thought —- that all structure and all leadership are intrinsically wrong -— was not initially articulated. But the potential was clearly there, and it did not take long for the idea of leaderless, structureless groups to emerge and eventually dominate this branch of the movement.
The adherence to these values was premised on the assumption that all women were equally capable of making decisions, carrying out actions, performing tasks, and forming policy.6 This assumption could be made because the women involved had little experience in democratic organizations other than those of the New Left where they saw dominance for its own sake, competition for positions in the leadership hierarchy, and "male ego tripping" rule the day.7 They had felt similar domination and control for its own sake in the social structures -— primarily school and family -— of which they had been part. The idea that there was some relationship between authority and responsibility, between organization and equal participation, and between leadership and self-government was not within their realm of experience.
The founders and early activists of NOW had gained their political experience in party politics, various bureaucracies, and the civil rights and labor movements. They felt structure in organizations was a help, not a hindrance; they were highly task oriented, found parliamentary procedure a convenience, were trained in public relations, and did not feel it necessary to live out egalitarian ideals in their own organization. Getting equality was more important than living it.
NOW's concept of a well-run organization was not one in which everyone participated, but one in which everyone contributed to the tasks of the movement. The concept of democracy was not one in which everyone had a say in all decisions, but one in which any who wanted to could have a say. Equality meant equal respect, not equal influence. Leadership was good, not bad.
The more immediate experiences of the early participants in the two branches also had an effect on their initial choice of tactics. Both had had experience with mass demonstrations, and both had had experience with the press. But radical women shared with radical men a certain jadedness about the value of mass demonstrations. They certainly hadn't ended the war, and they appeared to absorb enormous amounts of time and energy to proclaim messages that fell on deaf ears. Instead, what was needed were actions that would catch people's attention by challenging old ideas and raising new ones. The women in the younger branch did this creatively with WITCH hexes, zap actions, and a "freedom trash can" at the 1968 Miss America contest into which "instruments of female oppression" were tossed. Ironically, while women used these tactics to catch the eye of the public and press, they didn't want to talk to the press. In fact, they were afraid of the press, and since they had access to the underground press, they didn't feel an acute need to appear in the establishment press. They had participated in so many demonstrations that were reported inaccurately that they did not feel their words would be reported the way they wanted them to be.
NOW women would have felt much too inhibited to engage in WITCH hexes (they thought they were silly) but felt no inhibitions about the press. Many were PR professionals and knew how to present their case, as well as not to expect too much. They were also willing to demonstrate, even though many knew the days of mass action were probably over. The first contemporary feminist picket line was organized by NOW in December 1967 to protest the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) inaction on rewriting their want-ad guidelines.8 NOW members had learned the uses of pickets and parades from civil rights and union activities in which most had engaged. They did not give them up even when some of the their "more respectable" members left in disgust to form the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL).

These direct-action tactics, and NOW's other activities, were not just to catch the public eye but to pressure the government. These tactics were part of an overall campaign that also used letter writing, court suits, and meetings with government officials. Many early NOW members had engaged in lobbying for other groups, and it seemed perfectly logical to continue the same types of activities for a new movement. Besides, the initial impetus for NOW's formation had come from the EEOC's reluctance to enforce the provision in Title VII prohibiting sex discrimination, so pressuring for equal enforcement had to be a priority.
Another major difference between the women of the younger and older branches were their "reference groups". A reference group is not always a group; it is a standard against which people compare themselves in order to judge their behavior and attitudes.9 This well-established concept from social psychology is not one that has been used to analyze social movements, but it has a great deal of explanatory power. When I first watched and read about Weatherman's Days of Rage" and other low-key terrorist tactics, I found myself puzzled by what seemed to be a totally unrealistic assessment of potential support from the American public. Only after I had extensively read by and about the group10 did they begin to make sense. I discovered that many of them had spent the preceding years visiting international revolutionaries, largely Cubans and North Vietnamese, outside the United states or had talked to those who had. These revolutionaries in effect became their reference group. From them they acquired the idea that the true revolutionary is one who is not afraid to strike a blow in "the belly of the monster" (i.e., the United States), even if the blow was suicidal. I suspect that Weatherman tactics were calculated not to gain support, or even attention, from the American public but to gain a sense of having met revolutionary standards.
The standards new feminists wanted to meet were very different for the two branches. Women in the younger branch first and foremost considered themselves radical women. While women of both branches wanted to "start a mass movement of women to put an end to the barriers of segregation and discrimination based on sex,11 younger branch women felt this could be done only through "radical action and radical thinking." The desire to be radical virtually precluded any activities that resembled lobbying. The greatest fear of radicals in the late sixties was that they would be "coopted" by the system into helping improve it through reform rather than destroy it through revolution. The idea that they could instead coopt institutional resources to their own aims was totally alien.

Our role was not to be.... "a large "membership organization." What we were talking about being was ... a "zap" action, political agitation and education group something like what the Student Non-Violet Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.) had been. We would be the first to dare to say and do the undareable, what women really felt and wanted.12

This kind of thinking meant actions that "blew people's minds" were OK, but picketing the EEOC to change its guidelines was not.
The movement's most prevalent activity and organization -- the consciousness-raising rap group -- also grew from this radical orientation. The women who developed this tactic felt "the first job now was to raise awareness and understanding, our own and others -— awareness that would prompt people to organize and to act on a mass scale."
Consciousness-raising -— studying the whole gamut of women's lives, starting with the full reality of one's own -- would also be a way of keeping the movement radical by preventing it from getting sidetracked into single issue reforms and single issue organizing. It would be a way of carrying theory about women further than it had ever been carried before, as the groundwork for achieving a radical solution for women as yet attained nowhere.13
While C-R, as it came to be called, started with one group, it quickly spread throughout the movement. First, many groups of women who met to discuss women's oppression and plan their strategy on how to change it found themselves talking more and more about their personal experiences. This was an activity for which they had ample resources. For those who had strong ties with the New Left, this was not an acceptable endeavor because it wasn't "political." When the women of New York presented consciousness raising as a form of radical action at the 1968 conference, it gave them a rationalization for what they were doing anyway. Second, there was extraordinary hostility and resistance by radical men to women's simply discussing their situation. Men dismissed the topics as petty and the process as therapy. Radical women took this resistance as a sign that they were on the right track.

In the beginning we had set out to do our studying in order to take better action. We hadn't realized that just studying this subject and naming the problem and problems would be a radical action in itself, action so radical as to engender tremendous and persistent opposition....14

Gerlach and Hine have emphasized the importance of opposition in maintaining movement cohesion.15 The opposition of radical men to C-R not only created a high degree of group solidarity for the women engaged in it but strongly reinforced their belief that it was the way to be radical. As a result, C-R practically took over the younger branch of the movement as its sole raison d'être.
The women of NOW and the other national associations were not in the least concerned with being radical for the sake of being radical. Many felt that "equal rights" would take women only so far and that structural questions would have to be dealt with, but they did not feel it necessary to provide an analysis and program for dealing with these issues. What they did feel was necessary was to be effective. Effectiveness was the standard they had acquired from the professional and political associations of which they had been members. Since the best way to be effective is to make demands for small changes, and to concentrate one's resources on a few specific areas, this is what they did. The most vulnerable areas were those where women could demand the same rights that blacks had already won. The immediate targets thus became attaining changes that would give women legal parity with blacks. Both their immediate goals and their tactics were borrowed directly from the civil rights movement. Only as these goals and tactics were exhausted did the movement begin to move in new directions.
The expectations of the women in the two branches were governed by their past experiences and the expectations of those they associated with. For young women, the goal was revolution, and the expectation was that it would come soon. Their job was not only to help bring it about but to prepare a plan for women's role in the revolutionary society. Consciousness raising and study groups were two ways of doing this. As the Left became more and more disillusioned with the idea that revolution was around the corner, attaining it could no longer be the primary goal. By then, however, the rap group had become the primary unit of the women's movement, and women were aware that these groups functioned not only to help women analyze their lives but to "change their heads.` Just as important, these changes could be seen and felt within a short time. "People changing" consequently became the primary function of rap groups.
Older branch women expected to change institutions, not people. And they expected these changes to be slow and gradual. While younger women expected the revolution to come any month, those of the older branch debated whether the attaining of equal rights alone would take twenty years or a century. With a longer perspective, they could be content with smaller changes.

Analyzing the relations of feminists with their target groups is a little tricky, because first one has to decide what the targets were. For the women of NOW, WEAL, and similar organizations, the targets were concrete and identifiable. They were laws, institutions, discriminatory practices, and the people who could affect these things. In the younger branch, the first major debate was over just who the target was. Was it men or male-dominated institutions? Was it capitalism or patriarchy? Even when the women of a particular group knew which of these targets they wanted to attack, they were usually distant enough to raise some difficult strategic questions. For this reason, the usual targets became those much closer to home, the men in one's life and the women in one's group. And, contrary to what other sociologists have said,16 the fact that feminists had generally close and intimate relations to both these targets did not keep them from using some very coercive tactics.


There are two heuristic models of SMO structure in the literature. One is the centralized, hierarchical organization with a well-developed division of labor.17 The other model is the decentralized, segmented, reticulate movement with no real center and at best a simple division of labor.18 Strategically, the former seems to be better for attaining short-range goals involving institutional change in which organizational survival is not the dominant concern. The latter appears better for attaining personal changes in orientation and attitude through recruitment and conversion in which organizational survival is a dominant concern.
The centralized movement devotes minimal resources to group maintenance needs in order to focus them on goal attainment. However, this is somewhat reinforcing; short-range goal attainment in turn becomes a means of maintaining group cohesion. The decentralized movement, on the other hand, is compelled to devote major resources to group maintenance. As long as it defines its major task as "people changing," this too is reinforcing because maintaining a strong sense of group solidarity is the means through which personal changes are accomplished. These simple, heuristic relationships work out fine as long as a movement group is conscious of the way in which its structure limits its strategic possibilities. A source of problems for many movements is the frequent attempt to pursue strategies for which their structures are inappropriate.
As Zald and Ash19 among others, have pointed out, the most viable movement is one that has several organizations that can play different roles and pursue different strategic possibilities. Thus the growth, development, and demise of a movement are not the same as the growth, development, and demise of the individual organizations within it. Most contemporary movements in this country have had complex structures and consequently fit both heuristic models. For example, the younger branch of the women's liberation movement was almost a paradigmatic example of the decentralized model, as it had no national organizations and consciously rejected hierarchy and a division of labor. The older branch had several national organizations that reticulated only slightly with one another. None fits the classic hierarchical model perfectly, but they are close enough for analytic purposes.
Neither branch of the movement deliberately created a structure specifically geared to accomplish its desired goals. Instead, the founders of both branches drew upon their previous political experience. Women of the older branch had been trained in and used the traditional forms of political action. They were familiar with national associations, and that is what they created. Women of the younger branch inherited the loose, flexible, person-oriented attitude of the youth and student movements, as well as these movements' disillusionment with traditional politics and traditional forms of political action. They strove for something new -— and radical.
Once these different structures were created, they in turn molded the strategic possibilities —- occasionally contrary to the professed desires of at least some of their members. Both branches made some efforts to change their structures, yet both remained essentially the same as they began. Organizational structure cannot be changed at will. What arises in response to one set of concerns in effect sets the agenda for what the movement can do next.
The younger branch was an excellent example of this molding effect because the original intention of its founders was not consciousness raising but radical action. C-R was supposed to be a means to an end, not the major task of the movement. Nonetheless, the loose, fluid, supportive C-R group was so successful that it became the model for all other groups. People resisted the idea that different movement tasks required different structures, or for that matter any structure. Instead, they elevated the operating principles of the small group to the status of feminist ideology, making it virtually impossible to adopt any other structure.
I have discussed the problems derived from "the tyranny of structurelessness" elsewhere20 and will not go into them here. Suffice it to say that the activities that could be developed by this branch of the movement were limited to those that could be performed by small homogeneous groups without major divisions of labor. These activities were primarily educational and/or service projects that could be set up on a local level. Consequently, the younger branch of the movement formed numerous women's centers, abortion counseling services, bookstores, liberation schools, day care centers, film and tape production units, research projects, and rock-and-roll bands. The production of a feminist publication was one of the most feasible projects for a small group to handle, and hundreds were developed. But there was never any national coordination of these projects; many were repetitive or competitive; and they frequently became closed, encapsulated units whose primary purpose was to provide a raison d'être for their members to stay together.
The molding effect is less obvious with older branch organizations because there was a greater congruence between strategic intentions and organizational structure, but it is there nonetheless. NOW and the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) provide an interesting study in contrasting problems. NOW was created to be a national lobbying organization, and initially that is what it was. From the beginning it required national dues to be paid by all members, whether they were members of chapters or not. Chapters in turn, apart from paying dues, were largely autonomous units. After Congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, it gradually became apparent that a mid-level structure of state organizations was necessary to press for ratification in the states. Neither individual chapters nor the national organization was capable of being effective on the state level. The creation of state organizations proved to be a difficult, time-consuming task. In unratified states they facilitated lobbying efforts. But in ratified states they generally undermined the autonomy of the local chapters by creating a new level of bureaucracy that made it difficult for chapters to act.
The NWPC was created in 1972 in order to try to elect more women to office. Modeled on the American political party, it created state organizations from the beginning but did not require national dues. This hampered its effectiveness on the national level, and it too went through a difficult period of trying to establish, and collect, national dues from recalcitrant chapters that preferred to concentrate their resources on state legislatures and local elections.
Another organization, WEAL, changed its strategy to fit its organization. Founded in 1968 in Ohio as a split-off from NOW, WEAL was intended to be a small, powerful organization for professional, executive, and influential women around the country. Over time, it discovered that a significant percentage of its membership was in Washington, D.C., and that its members there had some influence on Washington politicians. Therefore, it redefined its primary purpose to become a national lobbying organization whose primary resource was not numbers but expertise.


As an SMO searches for effective actions there are three factors it must consider about potential targets and the external environment. They are (1) the structure of available opportunities for action, (2) social-control measures that might be taken and (3) the effect on bystander publics.
As Schattschneider has pointed out, "The function of institutions is to channel conflict; institutions do not treat all forms of conflict impartially, just as football rules do not treat all forms of violence with indiscriminate equality.21 Nor do political institutions treat all demands from all groups impartially. Instead, institutions and the "rules of the game" operate as a filter to eliminate some and redirect others. Because SMOs are generally dissident groups, they frequently lack the resources to exploit the "usual" opportunities for action. Thus the success of such a movement is often determined by its ingenuity at finding less obvious leverage points from which to pressure its targets, creating new avenues for action, and/or effectively substituting resources it has in abundance for those it does not have.
Finding leverage points within the political system generally requires some intimate knowledge of its workings and thus is an alternative available only to those not totally alienated from the system. Ralph Nader's "Raiders" have been very effective at finding leverage points. Affirmative action in higher education became a public issue when a faculty woman sought a remedy for her failure to get a particular job for which she was qualified and found that none of the antidiscrimination laws covered her situation. Her discovery of Executive Order 11375, which required affirmative action for sex as well as race, reflected the fact that such leverage points can be found as much through luck as through knowledge.22
Creating new avenues is a far more common form of action for dissident movements, especially when they have minimal knowledge of or access to the political system. The civil rights and student movements very effectively attracted public attention to their causes through nonviolent demonstrations that prevented people from engaging in "business as usual" without so flagrantly violating norms of behavior that the demonstrators could be dismissed as pathological deviants. Unfortunately, such tactics are usually "creative" only when they are new; their effect wears off over time. Sometimes such tactics do become institutionalized, as did the strike and boycott, which were originally developed by the labor movement. But at other times they simply lose their impact. The arrest in 1977 of over a thousand people protesting at a nuclear plant at Seabrook, New Hampshire, made less of a public impression than the "freedom ride" buses of the fifties or the campus arrests of the sixties.
Resource substitution is a particularly common strategy for social movements that want to utilize institutional channels but do not possess the usual resources for their utilization. Groups that cannot command large voting blocks to elect favorable candidates can achieve equivalent access by supplying the time and commitment of their members as campaign workers. This has been successfully done by the gay rights movement to gain support from local politicians and other groups.
Not infrequently, the structure of available opportunities for action presents no feasible alternatives to some SMOs. This may be because a particular SMO constituency is too alienated or too ignorant to take advantage of what is available, as is the case with movements of the seriously deprived. It may also be because the particular resources of a movement do not fit the channels available for action, that the SMO's structure or values do not allow it to participate in those channels, or that the available channels are not capable of dealing with a movement's demands. In theory the younger branch of the women's liberation movement was just as capable as the older branch of mobilizing its supporters for lobbying activities, but the constraints on the uses of its people resources, as well as its small-group structure, made this opportunity for action unfeasible.
When there are no feasible opportunities, movements do not simply go away; instead, discontent takes forms other than political action. Many riots are now seen as a form of political activity. Withdrawal movements of varying kinds are common when dissident groups feel highly alienated. These withdrawal movements may be "apolitical" in the sense that their members identify their activities as spiritual or cultural. Yet many redefine their politics in "alternative" forms. When the New Left turned to "alternative institutions," it saw these as a new means of pursuing its politics, not a rejection of politics. As has happened with communes and some other leftist activities, however, it is not uncommon for what began as an alternative political institution to become an apolitical one. In this way some movements can be "cooled out" so that what began as a means of making public demands becomes a refuge for seeking personal solutions.
When a movement does appear to find successful avenues for action, it generally encounters social control measures of one sort or other. These may suppress a movement, but not always -- direct opposition is a two-edged sword. As Gurr and Gerlach and Hine23 have illustrated, some opposition is necessary to maintain movement viability. A solid opponent can do more to unify a group and heal its splits than any other factor. Many of the student sit-ins of the sixties would have never got off the ground if the university authorities hadn't brought in the police. But even if the enemy is not so blatant, it is the perceived and not the real opposition that is important. Movements that neither perceive nor experience opposition find it difficult to maintain the degree of commitment necessary for a viable, active organization. Often opposition will be blown up larger than life because to do so serves the needs of group cohesion.
Nevertheless, the relationship between opposition (real or perceived) and movement strength is not linear. Effective application of social control measures can kill a movement; so can completely ignoring it. Similarly, a perceived opposition of great strength can effectively destroy a movement by convincing people that their actions are futile. In the 1970s, leftist and feminist groups developed many infiltration and conspiracy theories to explain their internal problems. Their initial effect was to heighten commitment against a pernicious enemy. But these theories also created suspicion and undermined the mutual trust necessary for movement survival. An opposition that contributes to commitment in the short range can kill it in the long run.
The degree and success of opposition affects not only the movement but the relevant bystander publics. Bystander publics are not direct targets of a movement's actions, but they can affect the outcome of these actions. As a general rule, movements try to turn bystander publics into conscience constituencies that will supply the movement with additional resources and prevent them from becoming antagonists who will discourage targets from responding to movement demands.24 Movements that cannot find leverage points are very dependent on the reactions of bystander publics, and it is not uncommon for demonstrations to be used, not to directly affect a particular target, but to gain sympathy and support from other parties. The southern civil rights movement's used nonviolent demonstrations in expectation that an overtly violent social control response would attract third-party support. When it brought these same tactics to the North where the bystander publics were the targets, it largely failed.
The civil rights movement's failure to appreciate that tactics viable in one area wouldn't work in another is a common one. SMO's plan their actions on the basis of expectations about potential target and bystander public response. These expectations are initially derived from prior experiences, or those of cognate groups. Once actions are initiated, direct feedback becomes relevant. When an activity proves successful, it is generally repeated without analyzing the context that permitted that success.
For reasons already discussed, the younger branch of the women's liberation movement was not interested in ordinary pressure tactics aimed at political institutions. Even if it had been, none of its participants had the experience in this kind of action necessary to know how to do it. They did have experience with zap actions, and did several of these during the first years of the movement's existence. While the actions were approved by other movement participants, they did not receive favorable feedback from the public at which they were aimed. Usually they were ignored; and when not ignored, they were ridiculed. Had this been the only available outlet for their energies, zap actions might have continued.
In the meantime, consciousness raising was systemized and spread widely. Feedback from this process was immediate and favorable. Women recruited into C-R groups spoke frequently of the emotional release they got from the groups, and kept coming back. C-R was sufficiently popular to become the prevalent activity. Its success altered the movement's immediate targets from the general public to that of the women in the C-R groups. Other younger branch activities became the magnet by which to attract new recruits into C-R groups.
In the meantime, the older branch maintained its basic, successful strategy of institutional pressure, though it expanded its repertoire beyond the initial one of lobbying. While some organizations within the older branch, such as NOW, added C-R activities, they did so as a membership service and not as a strategic device. This branch of the movement has been very attuned to the structure of available opportunities for action. It has paid much less attention to actual and potential social control measures and bystander publics. Nonetheless, it is still effected by both these factors; its leaders are merely unaware of how.
In conclusion, some flaws in the model presented should be pointed out. The most glaring one is that it is not a dynamic model. It does not explain changes over time in any of its components or in strategic outcomes. Rather, it enables one to look at an SMO at one point in time to determine the resources available for mobilization and the potential ways in which these resources can be deployed. In addition, the model ignores fortuitous circumstances that might benefit a particular movement's goals and the accidents of history that are often so crucial in a movement's success or failure. Fortuitous resources, as well as accidents, certainly have an effect on final outcome, but unless their availability can be reasonably predicted or controlled by an SMO, they play little part in strategic decision making.


1 John D. Mccarthy and Mayer N. Zald, "Toward a Resource Mobilization Theory of SMOs" (paper presented at the Southern Sociological Society, 12 April 1973), citing, Michael Harrington, Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for a New Majority (New York: Macmillan, 1968).

2 Ralph H. Turner, "Determinants of Social Movement Strategies," in Human Nature and Collective Behavior, ed. Tamotsu Shibutani (Englewood Cliffs, N.T.: Prentice Hall, 1970), p. 151.

3 Daniel C. Kramer, Participatory Democracy: Developing Ideals of the Political Left (Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1972).

4 Linda Lewis and Sally Baideme, "The Women's Liberation Movement," in New Left Thought: An Introduction, ed. Lyman T. Sargent (Homewood, III.: Dorsey Press, 1972), p. 83.

5 Martha Shelly, "Subversion in the Women's Movement, What Is to Be Done," off our backs, 8 November 1970, p. 7.

6 Lewis and Baideme, "The Women's Liberation Movement," p. 87.

7 Marge Piercy, "The Grand Coolie Damn," in Sisterhood Is Powerful, ed. Robin Morgan (New York: Random House, 1970); Robin Morgan, "Goodbye to All That," in Voices from Women's Liberation, ed. Leslie Tanner (New York: New American Library, 1970).

8 The EEOC had initially ruled that separate want-ad columns with racial labels were a violation of Title VII, but those with sex labels were not. NOW wanted the EEOC to "de-sexigate" the want-ads by ruling that all labels were illegal.

9 This term was first used in 1942 by H. H. Hyman, "The Psychology of Status," Archives of Psychology, no. 269 (1942), but the idea goes back much farther.

10 See especially the compilation Weatherman, ed. Harold Jacobs (San Francisco: Ramparts, 1971).

11 Kathie Sarachild, "Consciousness-Raising: A Radical Weapon," in Feminist Revolution, ed. Redstockings (New York: Redstockings, 1975), p. 131.

12 Ibid., p. 132.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation, Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, l970, Chap. 7.

16 Turner, "Determinants of Social Movement Strategy," p. 153.

17 William Gamson most explicitly discusses the strategic possibilities of this model in his The Strategy of Social Protest (Homewood, III.: Dorsey Press), p. 197.

18 Gerlach and Hine, 1970.

19 Mayer N. Zald and Roberta Ash, "Social Movement Organizations: Growth, Decay, and Change," Social Forces 44 (March 1966): 327-40.

20 Jo Freeman, The Second Wave, Vol. 2. No. 1, 1972, p. 20. Reprinted in Radical Feminism ed. by Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine and Anita Rapone, New York: Quadrangle, 1973, p. 285-99. Revised version in Ms., July 1973, p. 76.

21 E. E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960), p. 72.

22 Jo Freeman, Politics of Women's Liberation, New York: Longman, 1975, pp. 191-209.

23 Gerlach and Hine, 1970, Chap. 8. Ted Robert Gurr, Why Men Rebel (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1970).

24 Turner, 1970, p. 152. McCarthy and Zald, 1973.