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Cooking-up Social Movements

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what drives issues into the American  conscious. Why do people care so deeply about certain issues while ignoring others? What drives dramatic social change? To be clear I am not speaking about a social media phenomenon that captures the internet for a few months like the Ice Bucket Challenge or Stop Kony 2012. These campaigns were enormous by viral internet standards and had some real consequences. Yet today they are simply echoes of internet legend. In global health HIV stands out as the modern standard for an effective social movement. HIV mobilized everyone from small communities to corporations to governments. These were efforts that often crossed political and ideological barriers. Despite this success (which continues to be imperfect) the global health community often struggles to advocate a message that resonates to the wider population. There is an undeniable and immoral level of inequality in healthcare, but how do we form a greater social awareness. What are the ingredients that one needs to cook up a batch of social change this holiday season? After looking at several social movements over the past few months I had come up with my own recipe:


I was unimpressed with my first few batches. Something was missing. Therefore, I went in search of a master chef. I came across lectures from Stanford sociology professor Doug McAdam who explained through the lens of the civil rights movement that it is not as simple as the ingredients in the recipe. Successful social movements understand circumstances and take advantage of other currents in flowing society. In other words, selection of one’s ingredients in the right season can mean as much as the ingredient list itself. In the lecture below Dr. McAdam explains how the cotton industry, a diverging Democratic party, stubborn sheriffs, Russia, the Cold War, and savvy leaders who knew how to strategize through all of it led to the successes of the civil rights movement. Recognition of factors affecting how we can mobilize for greater health equity will be critical to our social movement.

Have your own favorite dish? Share your ingredients for a successful social movements below.

One comment on “Cooking-up Social Movements

  1. A great question to raise, Ed (and a great graphic, too) – whether we are working on a local or global level, physicians as advocates need to consider carefully how to advocate effectively and how to do so in true partnership with the groups we are supposedly working for.

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