How “movement capture” shaped the fight for civil rights

Kelsey Piper:

Social movements usually start out on the fringe, without a lot of resources, credibility, or public support. When they get more of any of those, that’s a good thing … right?

Well, yes … and no. When a movement grows in funding and mainstream appeal, it has the chance to achieve more of its goals — but often, the goals themselves are changed by the influx of new people and the preferences of new funders.

Is that part of the natural progress of a social movement from unheeded outsiders to part of a coalition big enough to win important victories? Or is it a tragic loss, where the most important goals get tossed aside in favor of ones more palatable to a mass audience? Are organizations building a coalition — which necessarily entails some compromise — or are they getting steered off course?

A new paper by Megan Ming Francis at the University of Washington explores the power that wealthy funders have to change the direction and the priorities of the organizations they fund. She calls this “movement capture” — the phenomenon where activist groups end up pressured by well-intentioned funders into a change in course.