Social movements are a type of group action in which a large group of individuals or an organization focus on carrying out a plan for social change through a series of campaigns, demonstrations, organized protests, organized resistance, public meetings, use of the media, or a number of other methods. There are many types of social movements and many passionate, dedicated members of society who have led these movements. Read about some of the more famous social movement leaders here (by no means a comprehensive list) and be inspired to create your own destiny for change.
1. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was a major political and spiritual leader of India and the Indian independence movement. He led the movement by inspiring his followers to use strategies of nonviolence, fasting, and a life of simplicity. Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for the alleviation of poverty, for the liberation of women, for brotherhood amongst differing religions and ethnicities, for an end to caste discrimination, and for the economic self-sufficiency of the nation (which was under the rule of Great Britain).
2. Desmond Tutu (1931-) is an Anglican Archbishop in South Africa and an activist. Tutu first rose to worldwide fame in the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid. Tutu has also been recognized for his commitment to stop the spread of AIDS. Tutu led a massive uprising against apartheid beginning in 1976 and supported an economic boycott of his country. He advocated reconciliation between all parties involved in apartheid through his writings and lectures abroad. He was instrumental in the fall of apartheid and thus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
3. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister who became one of the main leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, which advocated for equal treatment for people of different races. King was an adherent of the philosophies of Mohandas “Mohatma” Gandhi and he applied this to his own cause by promoting organized, nonviolent protests against segregation.
4. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was an American social activists and leading figure of the early woman’s movement. Before Stanton narrowed her political focus to almost exclusively women’s rights, she was an active abolishonist. Unlike many of those involved in the women’s rights movement, the concerns she addressed went beyond voting issues to women’s parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, birth control, and abortion, among others. Stanton did not understand why after the American Civil War, rights were being given to African American men, while still denying women any rights. After meeting Susan B. Anthony, the two ladies became the movement’s leaders, with Stanton scripting many of the speeches that Anthony gave. Their fight lead to more women joining the cause, including, among others, Lucy Stone and Matilda Joslyn Gage.