Affecting Local Change: Making A Movement

By Lisa McTigue

A large swath of people sit around on the grassy knoll. Music of the festival drifts up the hill to the people clumped together, relaxing enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine. A man, off to the side in an open area of grass begins to dance.

As he dances, his movements grow bigger, more wild, more erratic. His motions draw the attention of the people around him. A woman picks up her mobile phone and begins to record this crazy, dancing man. The crowd laughs as the man’s dance becomes more exaggerated.

The man, oblivious of his onlookers, feels the music deep in his soul expressed by kicks and flailing of his arms to the rhythm. Another man runs over to him, joining him. He too kicks, flails, and jumps around to the music. The original dancing man acknowledges his new follower, as they dance and jump.

The dancing follower beckons his friends to join them. One bounds over and joins the flailing, kicking, and jumping. Soon, two more people rush over to join the dance party.

Quickly three more people jump in on the impromptu dance party. This is the tipping point and the once open space fills with people running over to join the dancing, kicking, flailing, and jumping around.

The swath of people gathered on the grass are mostly up and have joined the dance party.

This is how you make a movement.

The Making of a Movement

The leader of any movement needs to be willing to stand out and apart from the crowd and to be ridiculed for their ideas, yet strong enough to persevere. A leader does not need to inspire everyone. He needs to inspire one person – his first follower.

When the first follower joins the dance party, he was acknowledged by the leader and treated as an equal. When the leader did that, the one man show became about the two of them. The leader’s nonverbal acceptance gave the first follower permission to invite more people, which he did.

The first follower plays a critical role in the development of a movement. They are the person that transforms the crazy idea into a plausible concept and a loon into a leader. This is an underestimated leadership role that creates the ability to take one person’s idea, build momentum, and make a movement. The first follower also plays an important teaching role. It is from him that the other participants learn how to follow the leader.

Three’s a Crowd

When the first follower’s friend joined the dance party, it became a crowd. A crowd makes the moment notable. A movement must be public in order for it to affect change.

The leader is the public face and voice of the movement, but new followers emulate the person that brought them into the movement. Creating a tree graph wherein the new follower emulates their friend, who is emulating their friend, so on and so forth until you reach the top of the ordered tree graph and the first follower who is emulating the leader.

The Tipping Point

The momentum of membership or the critical mass threshold moment when people feel it is acceptable to join is the tipping point to an established movement.

For each person that joins the movement, it becomes easier for the next person to join because it makes the decision to join less risky. Therefore, the people that were hesitant to join before the movement reached its tipping point are now ready to sign-on.

These followers are not seeking to stand out from the crowd, they do not want to be ridiculed for joining a movement, but they desire the cache associated with joining the movement in this early phase and want to be recognized as part of the “in-crowd” or the initial founding group.

If you are a leader, remember the importance of acknowledging, encouraging, and nurturing your first followers. Treat them as equals because the movement needs to be about the idea, not the leader. It is the first follower that is the catalyst for the movement.

If you care about starting a movement, have the courage to join a leader with an idea that you believe in by standing up, rolling up your sleeves, and encourage others to join in.

Localist Movement

A localist is a person that believes that their community comes first. The relationships built in the community create a stronger foundation for a prosperous community. They teach others through their words and actions. Localist think before they act. They care about who they do business with, how they connect with people, and the ways they use the land.

The Leader

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, BALLE, sits at the forefront of the Localist Movement. They represent thousands of communities and entrepreneurs, conveners, funders and investors who are affecting change by changing the way we perceive ourselves and our communities. Their mission is to create economies that work for everyone and build prosperity for all.

Act Local First

The best path to developing, resurrecting, and resuscitating a strong community is to create a bond between neighbors. The more a person is connected to their community; the more they care about and put effort into it.

Creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs to open businesses creates a diverse eco-system of locally-owned businesses that pour money back into the local economy. When these new businesses rely on, seek suppliers from, and distribute to other locally-owned businesses, the local economy swells.

This is the first step to local wealth-building for everyone by creating more local jobs.

Prioritize Equality

When we help the least of our neighbors, we all prosper. Community supported infrastructure to training and education for the under-employed creates a strong and reliable workforce for the new local economy.

Be a change agent for public policy. Demand our political leaders to create a level playing field for small, locally owned businesses. Cities, counties, and states have the ability to expand their financing for local businesses. It’s in their power to help make commercial real estate affordable, put an end to corporate subsidies that are short-term solutions to long-term problems.

In exchange for corporate subsidies, create robust local ecosystems that build strong towns and solve real economic issues.

Cultivate Connection

Humans desire connection. We live in isolated times. A room full of people can create an instant conversation without speaking a word. When we look up from our devices and look into the eyes of our neighbor, that is when we can begin to heal ourselves and our community.

We need to tap into a deeper level of humanity, discover who we really are and define who we want to be as a society. As creatures, we are all interdependent. The world we’ve created blocks our natural desire to connect and feel connected. We’ve lost our sense of communal purpose and desire for generosity. Our interpersonal connections make us fundamentally human.

Accelerate Collaboration

No man is an island. No business should be a solo sport. Create reliable, effective backbone organizations and mentorship structures that put the collective “we” over the importance of “me.”

Community centers like accelerator programs or alliances build the infrastructure, resources, and shared expenses to help propel small businesses and entrepreneurs. The development of local distribution channels and collectives help scale businesses at the necessary rate to make them relevant in a modern growing economy.

The Tipping Point

“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push — in just the right place — it can be tipped.” —  Malcolm Gladwell, author The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

As much as humans desire connection, we also instinctively have great disdain for partial solutions to our greater problems. Being convinced that a comprehensive solution involving multiple levels of mass teamwork that also requires steady, continual work and mindfulness to reach the solution is a massive sell.

In The Tipping Point, Gladwell talks about the small moments that propel a movement into the mainstream and mass awareness. Every idea that reaches the threshold had the support of The Law of the Few. There are natural connectors or salesmen that spread the word and are able to galvanize groups of people.

Localism calls for the reframing of the information we have been given and the solutions we’ve been told are the best solutions. A movement of this magnitude calls for people to reshape their ideas of how society and community work. Humans absorb and relate to new information in different ways. We reflect the new against the old and begin to reject the elements that appear to be false. This is one of the greatest hurdles of our time.

Create a Ripple

The thing most misunderstood about movements is the leadership factor. We are conditioned to look to the top for an answer or an explanation, however, movements are a culmination of something — a ripple effect through people emboldened by the cause.

If you are tired of your community being hung out to dry, it is time to create a ripple by learning more about the localist movement.

We are interdependent. It is time to look in the eyes of our neighbors and decide if this is the place we want to be and how we want to live. Will your community rise to the challenge of building a prosperous community, or will it choose to continue in its complacency with the status quo?

Movements are created by people who are no longer content sitting on a grassy knoll enjoying the music — they are literally being moved by the thing that they are feeling.



Featured in The New York Times, AmericanExpress OpenForum, Intuit Small Business Blog, and The Washington Post.