Group photo from the Gathering

In the 1980s, an activist and scholar called Bill Moyers created a tool called the Movement Action Plan or MAP.

MAP lays out the eight stages of the process of social movement success, ranging from the status quo to eventual victory and mainstream acceptance. The Movement Action Plan has been used by activists for almost 40 years to help them understand their place in movement history and the trajectory of their campaigns.

In a field that lacked accessible tools, MAP helped countless people chart the chaotic, beautiful and confusing world of social movements. And at the Fossil Free Europe Gathering last weekend, MAP helped me do exactly the same thing.

I’ve been campaigning for fossil fuel divestment in the UK for three years. I’ve seen more than 500+ institutions divest and $3.5 trillion dollars removed from fossil fuel companies.


A workshop at the Gathering

I’ve met amazing people, debated some less than amazing ones and had a chance to become a part of one of the most successful and passionate climate campaigns in recent memory. But, I was getting tired.

Years of unanswered emails, debates with pension boards and twitter fights with finance directors can take its toll. You work, pray and fight for divestment. If you don’t get it, you have to decide what to do next. Do you get louder, campaign harder and fight smarter? Or do you pick your battles, lick your wounds and move on to something else?

The university committee says no thanks. The pension fund gives you partial divestment. The foundation remains silent. Your team is exhausted, enthusiasm has worn down and the campaign seems lost. What do you do?

Here is where MAP comes back in.

According to Moyer, there are 8 stages of social movements. All of them are important and all of them absolutely ring true to my experience. But what really got me was Stage 5 – Perception of Failure. The chief characteristics of Stage 5 are:

See goals unachieved; see power-holders unchanged; see numbers down at demonstrations; feelings of despair, hopelessness, burnout, dropout, seems movement ended; emergence of negative rebel.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve actually failed or not. What matters is your perception and I was beginning to feel my fair share of burnout and hopelessness (the UK leaving Europe surely didn’t help).

Our local campaign, Divest Hackney, is expecting a decision on divestment in September. In what should be the final high intensity months of what has been an extremely passionate and effective campaign, we’ve been falling flat. Gradually, we’ve been meeting less frequently, in fewer numbers and lowering our expectations for the decision. I took this knowledge with me as I headed to the Fossil Free Europe gathering last weekend, looking for some type of antidote to a growing sense of despair.


The moustache in action

And sitting in a basement in Belgium, I found it. As I watched Nicoló from 350.org walk us through the 8 stages of social movements, I first admired his moustache. I then immediately recognised my position, firmly in the middle of Stage 5.

Surrounded by divestment campaigners from all across Europe and on every stage of the spectrum, I realised that I had been looking at the situation with too narrow a lens.

What’s really important is what comes after Stage 5. You guessed it – Stage 6: Majority Public Opinion, Stage 7: Success and Stage 8: Continuing the Struggle. Basically, if you can make it through Stage 5, you have a pretty good chance of bringing about the change you’re trying to achieve.

Bill Moyer’s says it best:

The crisis of identity and powerless is a personal crisis for activists. After the experience of a movement in take-off stage, their view of the world and themselves is transformed. They come to realise that the problem is more serious than they had thought, the governmental institutions, powerbrokers, and democratic processes which they thought would help solve social problems were actually part of the problem, and that the problem can only be resolved if they are part of the solution.

Rather than feeling depressed and powerless, activists now need to recognise the power and success of themselves and their movement. The need to realise that their movement has successfully progressed to Stage Six, to the majority opinion stage, and they need to catch up to it by finding a role for themselves and the group in waging Stage Six.


Ending the weekend

While I’ve recognised the global momentum of divestment, I had begun to doubt the momentum of my own campaign. I knew the movement was winning but I couldn’t feel it anymore in my own small part of London. Going to Belgium, learning about MAP and being surrounded by 50 incredibly dedicated, brilliant and engaged activists, helped me rediscover what I think I had known all along.

We’re winning. In Hackney, London, Berlin, Malmo, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Helsinki – all over the world – we’re winning because we’re faster, smarter and more full of love than our opponents.

So if you’re like me and you’ve ever doubted yourself, don’t despair. Doubt, burnout and hopelessness are natural feelings of a successful social movement. Take a deep breath, hug the people next to you and keep fighting.

By Gabriel Davalos, Divest Hackney