The Tiffin Girls’ School, United Kingdom
To what extent have emerging social movements caused politicians to respond with effective social change?
Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, Brexit, all these social movements are social movements. They have caused politicians to respond with change through parliamentary acts. However, they have not changed the systemic issues prevalent within society as the same injustices remain, highlighting the inefficacy of the change. In turn, social movements have not caused politicians to respond with effective change because it the change has often been impulsive, aimed to pacify protestors, not impact societal change. This essay argues that the education of society is key to making change.
Primarily, emerging social movements have caused politicians to respond with change, however this is often impulsive, to suit the party’s political agenda. Politicians create a persona behind their party to demonstrate their morality. This means that they sustain such a brand to retain public favour, meaning they make snap decisions to do so. For example, in Brexit, which is arguably a social movement as voting was down to social policies such as immigration (Ishkanian, 2018), such a precedent was followed. Cameron understood the consensus of wanting an EU referendum and was opportunistic as he offered a referendum as part of his 2016 manifesto, allowing him to gain votes and thus the majority in Westminster. However, once the outcomes of the referendum were announced, Cameron had no policy in place to enforce Brexit (Kaufman, 2016), suggesting he made his promise of change to cater for the stipulations of a movement and without careful consideration. This recklessness demonstrates the inefficacy of change brought by politicians, highlighting how they may have ulterior motives circum these policies.
Nevertheless, even if change is due to ulterior motives, at least there is institutional change. This is because of the ‘top-down’ mechanism, where changes in conglomerates feed down into more equality (Campbell, 2010). However, poorly thought out change can lead to political chaos. This is because the legislature introduces a short-term solution, meaning it is futile in the long-term. For example, after the 2020 Extinction Rebellion protests, Prime Minister Johnson unveiled the ‘Green Deal’, whereby the government endeavoured to stop relying on fossil fuels by 2050. Yet, a new coal mine has been set up, highlighting how this was to soothe political tensions surrounding climate change. This resulted in more than 300 arrests of XR supporters after protesting this in 2021 (the Guardian, 2021). In turn, Johnson’s hypocritical moves to suppress tensions and gain public support in fact exacerbated the turmoil. Thus, when such impulsive decisions are made without pragmatism, the political scene worsens. In this way, effective change is not always brought about as politicians are inclined to bring change for their own sake, as opposed to what is effective.
Secondly, even if politicians are pressurised and change occurs, it may not improve society. This is because people have beliefs instilled within them from youth. This means no one is able to change that belief. This means that a politician bringing about change is not going to be effective, as it is not going to change how society perceives social issues, meaning that no change will occur as people believe the same things. For example, in America, the Black Lives Matter movement called for necessary change. President Biden followed suit and changed certain inherently racist regulations (France 24, 2021). Despite change being brought about from above, there is no effective societal change as it has not changed the attitudes towards race in America. For clarification, Biden’s reforms were not going to solve racism, but they are only having a de jure impact on America, meaning they were ineffective in reforming aspects of racism which he wanted to resolve. Therefore, effective change requires change in individuals’ minds, meaning that recent movements have not resulted in effective change.
On the other hand, since pressure is put on governments, the public becomes involved. This is because pressure on governments attracts the news which people watch or read. This gains attention from the public, so they become invested in the movement as it is the issue in society which impacts them; judiciary action may occur. This means they become more educated about social injustice, suggesting that effective change can be brought by putting pressure on politicians. For example, in Poland, in 2017, there were protests about abortion which inspired people to join them (Satell and Popovic, 2017). This was so powerful it resulted in lawmakers conceding, highlighting the power that society holds as they can be implicit in change. However, this still is not effective for two reasons. Primarily, Poland reinforced abortion laws in 2021, with citizens still agreeing with it (Poland abortion ban, 2021). This demonstrates how societal views have not changed despite mass protests in 2017, highlighting how government change does not mean effective societal change. Secondly, this may be because in 2017, no laws had to be introduced to achieve change, but in fact the goal was to stop a law being implemented. This is an easier task and there are no unknown ramifications from it, highlighting how growing social justice movements cannot attain entirely effective change by pressuring governments. In this way, movements do not always accomplish effective change as they cannot change citizens’ ideology.
Ultimately, emerging social movements have not always caused politicians to respond with effective change. Whilst it is true that progressive and effective policies are passed, the benefits of educating society instead prove to be more constructive. This is because there is more acceptance, creating more effective change. Moreover, it is important to understand that
politicians are not as effective at realising change: this ensures the best for the most vulnerable members of society, who are subject to social injustice. They need monumental change and governments cannot provide them with this. As seen with abortion laws in Poland, education was pivotal in ensuring women’s rights, even if it was later overturned. The long term implications of governmental change can lead to more disarray, meaning governments are not very effective at responding to calls for change. Nevertheless, they are required for change as they are capable of making educational reforms for a more equal future.
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