HAS HOPE DIED? THE SUCCESSES OF SOCIAL MOVEMENT AND ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS IN THE POST-CIVIL RIGHTS ERA

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2005-07-13

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This study examines the work of social movement and interest group organizations on behalf of women, African Americans and the homeless between 1975 and 2000. Four major questions are pursued. How have marginalized communities attempted to empower themselves at the national level during the last quarter of the 20th century? What success did they achieve? What contributed to that success? And are there differences between types of marginalized communities with respect to activities, success and contributions to success? To answer these questions, I collected data on forty-five national level organizations (15 from each category of women, African American and homeless groups). Three measures of success are constructed. The first, outcome success, measures whether and to what degree movements and their organizations have made a difference for their constituency. The second, legislative success, measures whether and to what degree movements and their organizations have pushed through supportive legislation in Congress. Finally, perceived success measures the range of success leaders feel their organizations have met. I find that the success of social movement and advocacy organizations is the result of internal and external factors and differs by group. Internally, success is a function of what groups are asking for and how they are asking for it. Externally, success is a function of who is helping an organization and how receptive the broader environment is to its needs. I find that outcome success is dependent upon an organization's age, structure, and local crises and how radical its demands are: less radical demands produce increased outcome successes; older organizations and those with federated structures produce greater collective benefits; and local crises enhance outcome success. Legislative success is largely dependent upon public opinion but none of the other factors. Finally, I find that perceived success has more to do with internal issues, relationships and openness than with strategies and tactics.

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