What is a Political Movement?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., a leader of the Civil Rights movement.
Sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., a leader of the Civil Rights movement.

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.

The Labor Movement sought to organize workers into unions that engaged in collective action.
The Labor Movement sought to organize workers into unions that engaged in collective action.

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.

Malcolm X was a leader of the Civil Rights movement.
Malcolm X was a leader of the Civil Rights movement.

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.

Political movements can unite people with similar ideas.
Political movements can unite people with similar ideas.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Oasis11-What's really interesting about this case is not if you were to look at the Mexican immigration laws where were people trying to immigrate to Mexico they are very strict.

They are far harsher than anything in the American books, so I think its well within the rights of the state to control the legal immigration.

This also protects the citizens of the United States because if we control illegal immigration we know who's coming into our country and we are less likely to allow a terrorist for example, to enter our country illegally.

So I think the people of Arizona have a valid point and it is too bad that the federal government is fighting their right to protect their citizens.


Crispety-I agree with you. Currently, there is an American nativist political movement that is against illegal immigration.

The nativist political movement can be seen as the immigration law passed in Arizona that has caused a lot of controversy.

The law stated that should a police officer pull over a driver or an offense, he or she can legally ask for proof that they are in the country legally.

If they are found not to be in the country legally they can be deported. There was some misconception with this law that police officers can just pull anyone over and ask for their documentation which is not the case.

There has to be some form of infraction in order for a police officer to ask for documentation. I personally think that with the extreme crime rate that Arizona has, which happens to rank number one in the country for kidnappings due to the illegal immigration of Mexican drug cartels, has to do something to stop the crime rate from going up.


BrickBack-The political reform movement aimed at changing the course that our nation is going is very important.

There are parts of our country that are seeing almost 20% unemployment. Many insurance companies are dropping health care coverage for children as well as some of the elderly because of the rising costs.

Insurance premiums are supposed to rise about 15% as a result of this Obama care. The exorbitant government spending and take over private industries is really unsettling to the American people.

Some say that these measures are purposeful and are done with the exact intent of changing the political makeup of the United States.

Many believe that Obama's intention to shape the United States into a socialist nation. It is this detrimental political ideology that is causing the American people to act and create a whole new political movement such as the Tea Party movement. This American political movement is gaining traction with every given day.


Comfyshoes- There is a movement now to repeal the health care bill and there are constitutional challenges that have been raised as a result.

These constitutional challenges based on the 10th amendment and the clause in the healthcare bill that forces the American people to buy health care insurance that is approved by the government.

Never in our history have we been forced to buy anything and the state feel that this is an issue of interstate commerce and not a federal government issue and the individual states should determine what type of health insurance should be covered and how its citizens pay for it if they choose to.


The political news lately has distressed much of the American public. The rising unemployment rates along with the increasingly liberal agenda have created a lot of political protests within the United States.

The rise of the tea party political movement is a direct result of the anger that the American people feel towards the socialist political ideology that the president shares and is demonstrating.

For example, over 70% of the American people were against nationalized healthcare because of the fear that it would ration services and the quality of the health care would go down.

Despite these disparaging statistics, the president signed the healthcare bill into law.

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