Is the maker movement really a movement?

The alliteration is sticky, but I wonder whether the Maker Movement is truly a “movement”?

The word “movement” is usually follows “civil rights”, “gay rights”, “women’s suffrage”, or another idea that created widespread change in society for the better. The women’s suffrage movement won the right to vote. The civil rights movement put an end to official segregation, and the gay rights movement secured the right for homosexuals, bisexuals and transexuals to marry.

Have we in the maker movement done anything on that scale? As makers, have we truly made the world a better place? Sure, makerspaces are popping up in cities, libraries and schools across the country. But as much as I love being a maker, I don’t think we’re a “movement”. Not in comparison to these movements. But we could be.

A Movement Needs A Clearly Defined Goal

So what does it take to make a “movement”? In a recent article, “Building a Nation of Makers,” Tom Kalil, the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, encourages us to “take the phrase ‘Maker Movement’ literally.” By Kalil’s definition, “Movements have goals, and the organizational capacity to mobilize people and resources to meet those goals.”

He’s absolutely right, movements that are successful in creating cultural change have clearly defined goals. Consider the women’s suffrage movement. They had a clear goal: the right for women to vote. Not only was this goal clear to the people within the movement, it was clearly understandable to the general public outside of the movement.

Clear goals are also measurable so it’s obvious when they are achieved. For the women’s suffrage movement, the passing of the 19th Amendment clearly indicated they had accomplished their goal. Similarly, the gay rights movement reached its goal with the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

What is our goal?

As we consider what we want the goals of the Maker Movement to be, let’s consider how we can “mobilize people and resources” to accomplish our goals.

A Great Movement Requires Great Leaders

The civil rights movement had a unifying leader in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but he didn’t stand alone. He was part of a core group of civil rights leaders which began with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and expanded to include more spiritual and secular leaders as the movement grew. The civil rights movement simply could not have “mobilized people and resources” for boycotts and protests without the tireless efforts of their leadership.

The woman’s suffrage movement had highly visible leaders, Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and the gay rights movement has had a succession of leaders, most recently Evan Wolfson and who led the Freedom to Marry initiative. Each of these individuals became the face and the voice of their movement, both a focal point and a symbol that could unite stakeholders inside and outside of the movement through their eloquence and determination.

Who are our leaders?

Successful Movements Need a Clear Strategy

Movements don’t happen overnight. They are achieved through multi-pronged strategies, skirmishes and battles waged over many years.

The strategy which is crafted by the core leadership of movements also plays a vital role in their ability to provide “organizational capacity” and ultimately be successful in meeting their goals and creating widespread change in society. The civil rights movement used bus boycotts, litigation, sit-ins, Freedom Rides and dozens of other tactics in a multi-pronged strategy to create change.

Similarly, the gay rights movement, consolidated in the leadership of Freedom to Marry set state-by-state legislative goals to achieve their larger goal of cultural change. Even the NRA, supporting the “right to bear arms” movement, employs a thoughtful and methodical strategy of influencing opinion at the local and state level to drive their national agenda (unfortunately).

What’s our strategy?

We Can Learn From the Occupy Movement

So what will it take for the Maker Movement to develop a clear set of measurable goals, a core group of (great) leaders, and a consistent strategy — that truly make a movement? Because without them our efforts, while worthy, may have no lasting impact.

Compare the civil rights movement and gay rights movement with the Occupy movement. In retrospect, it seems little has changed since the Occupy protests. Sure, we are more aware of the “1%”, but the Occupy movement didn’t create any widespread change in society for the better. Lacking central leadership, a clear agenda, and a strategy to unite the protests around the country, little was actually accomplished beyond a lot of sound and fury and some great TV drama. It kind of makes sense that the Occupy protesters were chanting, “We don’t know what we want, but we want it now” outside Mayor Bloomberg’s office. That sort of sums up the movement, doesn’t it?

To avoid the Occupy movement’s fate — and truly make the world a better place — we have to get serious about what we want and how we will get there.

We have to MAKE a movement, just like countless others have done before us. Otherwise, we’re just a fad. Maker Fad doesn’t sound nearly as good.

Originally published September 2016 on medium.

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