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Building a movement

In recent years I have increasingly heard people talking about movements in the context of campaigning. Not content just with an organisation or individuals seeking to run a campaign, a wider more ambitious aspiration can emerge to build a movement pushing for change.

Influenced no doubt by the experience across the Atlantic in the US where many funders have embraced the rhetoric of movement building, this language has crept into the UK. Although this may be an incorrect assessment – it may be better to say this language has re-emerged into the UK. What was the pressure to abolish slavery, form trade unions, get women the vote if they were not movements? Movements have surely played a crucial role in the history of the UK.

In their article on How foundations can support movement building, Masters and Osborn look at social and political change and the role that movements can play in pushing for change. They argue that:

“While there is no formula for a social movement, we know that successful ones share some things in common. First, people become mobilized around issues they hold dear; at some level they share a powerful vision about what is wrong with society and how it must be improved; and they engage in lots of diverse activities not under any one leader’s direct control resulting political motion and its effect lead to a change in attitudes, practices and public policy.”

I am very attracted to this notion especially where you are looking for major political, social or economic change. A campaign can push for a specific policy or practice change, a movement, being more free flowing and diverse, can generate broader activity maybe harnessing different campaigns and approaches with the same over-arching goal.

In the UK context I am struck by the number of people who have been talking about the need to build a movement in defence of asylum seekers and refugees. While there have been many campaigns run on specific issues, a feeling has developed, due to the prevailing political and media environment, that we need a broader movement to offer a positive counterpoint.

For the past few years I have been involved in the City of Sanctuary movement. Starting in the great city of Sheffield in 2005, local people came together to provide welcome to asylum seekers arriving in their city. From this inspirational move, we now have over 40 cities and towns of sanctuary across the UK, we have schools and health services expressing support, more and more communities expressing solidarity and interest from across Europe.

I have been fascinated by this development. In the face of such a negative political and media environment, the development of cities of sanctuary has been such a positive antidote. You just cannot ignore local people coming together motivated to do their bit to support asylum seekers and refugees.

Yet this in itself is not enough to create a national environment for a culture of welcome across the UK. For this reason support has been building for a sanctuary summit from organisations like Refugee Council, Refugee Action, the Forum, Boaz Trust, STAR, Still Human and many more.

On 15th November 2014 people will gather in Birmingham from across the UK for the first Sanctuary Summit. The criteria for attendance will be simple: the power to represent a community and/ or the energy to campaign. Grounded in eight policy concerns, we hope to bring a diverse collection of people together to encourage their own local expressions within a loose national movement. We aspire to offer the space and structure to inspire activity but for it all to be linked up.

We got a taste of what is possible in Parliament earlier in September when local groups from across the UK came to Westminster to meet their MP and talk about how they welcome asylum seekers in their community. The Sanctuary in Parliament was a great success.

These are lofty aspirations to build a movement for sure but also exciting – will this Sanctuary Summit succeed in bringing people together united by a common vision, encouraging local and national actions all pushing to achieve the change for a culture of welcome in the UK?