Movement Building

14 Characteristics of an Intersectional Mass Movement

Photo: Jaymi Britten via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Jaymi Britten via Flickr (Creative Commons)

As I was walking recently, I asked myself “What would a 21st century intersectional mass movement look like?” and tried to imagine this reality.

What sounds would you hear? What sights would you see? What emotions would you feel? What would life be like while achieving success?

At the heart of this question is the search for the characteristics that compose a mass movement. What would it be like to experience an intersectional mass movement for social change?


What is a mass movement?


What is the difference between a “movement” and a “mass movement?”

In the U.S., the 1950s/60s/70s mass movements (e.g. American Indian Movement, civil rights, and Asian American Movement) continue to serve as inspiration for countless other movements (both large and small).

Mass movements occur when simmering movements grow into inspiring narratives that can, and do, transform societies and cultures.

What I mean by this “inspiring narrative” is a movement’s ability to fundamentally alter our perception of the world (e.g. how we understand justice) and even ourselves (e.g. by increasing communities’ confidence in themselves and identities).

Right now we have a racial and gender justice movement, climate movement, education reform movement, and a host of other movements that endeavor to give more people a chance to succeed to their highest ability.

However, these movements have not morphed into “mass movements” that mobilize a vast number of people and shifted our worldviews.

Currently, those pushing for an intersectionality appear very close to helping create mass movements.


Connecting intersectionality to movements


Intersectionality comes from an understanding that identities, privilege, and oppression are intimately connected and cannot be segmented from each other.

For example as a white male, I have privileges that compound upon each other and equal more than my identities separately.

I cannot just “add up” my privilege, I must multiply. Oppression works in a similar way.

An LGBTQ identified individual with disabilities experiences oppression at the cross section of their identities, and NOT as an LGBTQ identified individual separately from their social disability.

A good example of the importance of intersectionality comes from Occupy..

Occupy emphasized class struggle as the priority above all else.

Rinku Sen notes (in her book “Stir it Up”), for rhetoric similar to Occupy’s, that “The implication here is that class war is universal, but race, gender, and sexual liberation are particular and are not appealing to all of humanity.”

Due to this focus, Occupy has often struggled with issues of member privilege and racial/gender/etc. justice and continues to express in many ways the white male privilege of many of its members.

An intersectional mass movement would explicitly look for change through a kaleidoscopic lens and would itself be composed of many different identities.

This intersectional movement would NOT draw on dominant narratives (e.g. “as American as apple pie,” “everyone has the same opportunity to succeed”, etc.) or just to appeal to a majority base.

There are many pieces to this movement and below are some important ones to consider for this 21st century intersectional movement.


14 Characteristics of an intersectional mass movement


Intersectional mass movements understand the relationship between diverse identities and challenging systems of oppression.

Intersectional mass movements aim to fundamentally shift values.

Intersectional mass movements have resilient hope/confidence and “faith in the future” (The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements).

Intersectional mass movements are composed of a broad spectrum of human identities (e.g. backgrounds, ages, beliefs, etc.) and do not attack “the other” or marginalize groups of people.

Intersectional mass movements address root structures and systems, not just a specific issue.

Intersectional mass movements build capacity with and center on those most marginalized and on the frontlines of injustice.

Intersectional mass movements foster the ability of people working for collective success over individual success.

Intersectional mass movements use inclusive organizational models, instead of replicating privileged leadership structures.

Intersectional mass movements have compassionate unity and “commitment to each other.”

Intersectional mass movements channel emotion and analysis to change the dynamics of power and privilege.

Intersectional mass movements have no one face, and instead have numerous leaders and organizations that truly represent their multifaceted constituency.

Intersectional mass movements are innovative, creative, and dynamic.

Intersectional mass movements intentionally incorporate relationships with loved ones and larger community, otherwise the movement cannot be truly “liberatory.”

Intersectional mass movements have a clear vision of the future.

We will need many smaller intersectional movements before making the changes we seek; we must be in for the long-haul.

What other pieces do you think we need to build a 21st century intersectional mass movement? Leave your thoughts below!

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+