In any history that includes an organized government, there is likely to be stories of at least one political movement, if not numerous ones. These are characterized by an organized group within a society that attempts to change behavior, possibly by voting for new measures but also by working to change people’s mind, about a specific issue. This is not the same as belonging to a political party where the key focus is on voting for candidates with the party affinity. Instead, it usually involves some social issue in which people feel a keen interest.
For example, the Civil Rights movement in the US in the 1960s and onward was a political movement. People involved in what most consider a stunning achievement in forwarding American thinking weren’t necessarily marching or boycotting to get a person elected to office. Instead, the group of people who were at the center of this political movement were doing all they could to change people’s minds about the necessity to perceive the races as equal. This ultimately led to political legislation that helped to desegregate schools, to provide fairness in the workplace, and to outlaw discriminatory activities on a number of fronts. The fact that people had done so much to convince others that this legislation was worthwhile gave it a broad base of support, though there was certainly opposition to it too.
Sometimes a political movement gains impetus because it has a strong and recognizable leader. The Civil Rights movement certainly had more than one, with people like Malcolm X and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. These leaders may be the coalescing point for the movement and if they are also adept speakers, they may be able to reach huge audiences and convince them of the good of the social and political aims. This isn’t always the case, and some movements don’t have a recognizable central figure to those who aren’t insiders.
It’s important to see the political movement as usually having social aims too. It’s not just an attempt to get certain legislation passed. It’s an attempt to change people’s minds about social issues that might require legislation for more change.
A modern political movement that continues to be a contentious one, in this respect, is the quest for the rights for same-sex couples to marry, which many see as an extension of the Civil Rights movement. Though in some states in the US such rights have been granted, in others they have not and continue to be denied. There is also a counter-movement, with many people attempting to make sure marriage rights remain exclusive to hetero couples.
While gay rights activists would like to see marriage made free to all people regardless of gender, defense of marriage activists attempt to convince people that marriage should be exclusive. Both political movement groups are in favor of legislation defining marriage. The former would prefer marriage to be defined as between two people of any gender, while the latter often favor a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman only. These movements do more than march and organize; they also fund things like commercials in the hopes of changing the minds of others and to garner support for their point of view.
It’s not hard to find political movements in history. The Temperance Movement in the US sought to ban alcohol use, achieving this goal for a while, and it was often intricately tied with the movement to gain women the right to vote. Sometimes groups like the Suffragettes must take years to accomplish their goals, and some political movements fail, with people gradually losing interest in the cause. It always starts, however, with the hope, that other people will be influenced, and the success of a political movement may depend on how effective its supporters are at convincing others.