Amber Tamblyn, a leader in Hollywood’s reckoning on sexual misconduct, fears the movement is ‘starting to taper.’
Movements need blood, sweat and tears — and longevity.
Actress Amber Tamblyn, a prominent figure in the national reckoning on sexual misconduct, suggested during a recent book tour stop that the #MeToo movement was “starting to taper.”
“I do think everyone’s exhausted — I’m exhausted — and the problem with that is that the other side is betting on our exhaustion … Some men have been accused, even recently, with some pretty horrific behavior and haven’t been forced to step down,” she said, according to the Washington Post. “You can already kind of see how the Me Too movement is starting to taper a little bit, and sort of be disregarded.”
It is true that some alleged perpetrators — like CBS chairman Les Moonves, accused by six women of sexual misconduct — have managed keep their jobs and weather the storm, at least for the time being. And under a third of American workers said their employers had taken new actions to address and prevent workplace sexual harassment since the post-Harvey Weinstein accounting began, according to an American Psychological Association survey released in May.
But there are also promising signs that #MeToo, which began proliferating on social media last fall, has some staying power: Corporate lawyers, for example, have begun adding so-called “Weinstein clauses” into certain merger agreements, compelling companies to disclose sexual harassment allegations. Several state legislatures have been considering bills to address sexual harassment. And the #MeToo-adjacent Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, launched in January by the Hollywood elite, has aimed to defray legal costs incurred in workplace sexual harassment and related retaliation cases for victims across industries.
If you’re an activist trying to help sustain a social or political movement, here’s advice from experts on how to make it more than just a flash in the pan:
Build a community. Activism can be “hard and draining” — so create a space where fellow activists can talk, strategize and support one another, said Rachel Einwohner, a Purdue University sociology professor who studies social movements. “To a certain extent, that can be done online,” she said. “But a physical space — which could be in a student union, or a residence hall, or somebody’s apartment, or a community center — where people can gather (and) support each other face-to-face … (is) really valuable for helping sustain activism.”
Find a motivating message. While you’ll want to highlight how bad the problem is, you also don’t want to make people feel like it’s too overwhelming to tackle, Einwohner said. “The message can’t be so entirely horrible that people feel like, ‘Oh God, there’s nothing I can do about this and I’m just going to retreat,’” she said. “A movement can fall apart if the problem seems so daunting that there’s nothing that can be done about it.”
Practice self-care, a priority that has taken hold among many activists. The idea is that “part of sustaining the movement is taking care of themselves and not burning themselves out,” University of Wisconsin sociology professor Pamela Oliver, an expert on social movements, told Moneyish. “Sometimes when you start in a movement, you have a sense of emergency … ‘All I’m going to do is activism, and I should do it 15 hours a day, seven days a week,’” she said. “You have to think of it as something you’re going to do for a long time — and that means you’re also going to spend time with your children, and have a romantic relationship, and take vacations, and sleep and eat … but also not lose the commitment.”
Institutionalize. Organizations that survive for decades and maintain their influence — like the Republican and Democratic parties, labor organizations and the NAACP — tend to build structures to sustain themselves over a long period of time, said Harry Rubenstein, a curator emeritus at the National Museum of American History. They have officers, budgets and treasuries, formal communication avenues, strong leadership, and a core message that still resonates with people, he said. “Just building structure in and of itself is not the answer,” he said, “but I think it’s a requirement.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which took a decentralized approach to activism, suffered from a lack of leadership and unclear goals and policies, said Fabio Rojas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University and author of “From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline.” “It’s been seven years, so some real time has passed,” he told Moneyish. “And now you can ask … did that movement get what it demanded?”
“Protests of social injustice (have) crossed the country at different times,” Rubenstein said. “Those sparks happen. … It’s just that without any organization, that burst of social energy disappears; falls apart.”
Don’t rely on a villain. “If you focus on a boogeyman or you focus on a political party, then people will forget your issue once the boogeyman goes away,” said Rojas. “Once you attach yourself (to) the boogeyman, you depend on the boogeyman.”
Realize that your movement’s activity may be periodic. “You may back off for awhile, rest up, and then come back again,” Oliver said. #MeToo, for instance, is competing for people’s attention alongside a variety of other issues, plus the midterm elections. In the latter case, she said, “you’re either going to tie (your issue) to an election, or you’re going to get drowned out during the election.” Sometimes an event will renew attention to your cause, she added: “You wait until the next high-profile case, and then come at it again.”
Evolve. “For large, successful organizations that have existed for 100 years, they’re … having to change over time as the issues change over time,” Rubenstein said. While the NAACP has retained its core values since its founding in 1909, its specific issues of concern have changed. “For you to survive beyond your victories requires you to be an organization that can evolve,” he said.
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