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Cycles of Movement Building

Movement building isn’t linear, and there isn’t a formula or one right place to start. Like any kind of change, it both leaps ahead at times and loops back at others. Different—and ever changing—contexts and challenges require different strategic choices and approaches. We need to be smart, creative, and adaptive.

From JASS’ years of experience supporting all kinds of movement builders, we recognize 4 interconnected Cycles of Movement BuildingRising Up, Building Up, Standing Up and Shaking Up. Click on each cycle below for key ideas, relevant tools and practical tips from activists.

Not sure where to start?  These questions can help.

Rising Up and Building Up are about laying the groundwork and organizing—we develop the political awareness, relationships, skill and organization needed to make lasting change, both inside and out. Standing Up and Shaking Up are about getting heard, taking action and making impact – we resist, challenge, change and transform power dynamics and decision making, policies and institutions, cultural norms and practices.

Cycles of Movement Building

The questions below will help you assess Where You Are in Your Movement Building Strategy and what cycle might be most useful for you. There is also a list of Strategic Considerations below that we recommend you review as you shape your strategies.  

Where Are You In Your Movement Building Strategy?

  1. Rising Up

    Is your group just starting out? 

    Have you found common ground and built trust?

    Are you creating safe spaces to break silences, share experiences, and discover each person’s “power within”?

    Or do you need to regroup or refresh thinking and awareness about the problems you face?

  2. Building Up

    Are you starting to build your group/organization/movement and thinking about what you can do together?

    Are you wanting to understand more about how power and gender dynamics affect your context and lives?

    Are you dealing with issues of difference, conflict and solidarity?

    Are you thinking about issues of risk, security and well-being as you organize?

  3. Standing Up

    Do you need help defining your agenda - the change or solutions you want?

    Are you ready and organized for action – speaking out, making demands, resisting injustice?

    Do you have strong allies?

    Are you clear what tactics will serve you best and have you prepared for backlash?

  4. Shaking Up

    Are you positioning yourselves to impact decisions, policies, institutions and cultural norms?

    Are you building resilient and feminist movement leadership?

    Do you have strategies and allies both inside and outside the decision-making processes?

    Are you integrating strategies for protection and resilience into all you do?

Strategic Considerations

Context: Every context is different and it is critical to know as much as you can about your own. Who are the decision makers and powerful players in your context? What are the dominant social norms which impact you?  What other social conditions or historical events shape today’s realities and ways of thinking? What is the level of fear and repression?  What is the role of the media?  What is the degree of citizen participation and social movement strength and activity? You could use the Contextual Analysis tool in the Toolkit to help you.


Issues You Want to Address:  As you think about what issues you want to tackle, it is important to think about which are the most important to you, which will activate broad support, which you have the capacity to impact and which level of risk and conflict you are ready to confront.  Organizing issues that challenge structures of power more directly – such as challenging extractive projects or challenges to fundamentalist policing of sexuality and gender – can bring more backlash and conflict.  That means we need to be prepared and well organized with protection strategies in place.


Timing and “the Moment”: Taking stock of your current moment means doing a scan of what is happening in your context and assessing the implications for you.  What issues, opportunities and challenges are arising now?  How are you prepared and positioned to use their spotlight to act strategically in relationship to them?  


Risks and Opportunities:  Making change is often a combination of preparation and strategic use of opportunity. Do you see any openings or “cracks in the armor” of the status quo you can mobilize and take advantage of to advance your agenda?  Sometimes a crisis or other change creates openings as business as usual is interrupted. You should know who your opponents are and what the political obstacles may be.  All challenges to power will generate conflict so it’s important to map out risks and potential backlash and plan accordingly. 


People:  Organizing at its heart is about people – those with whom you are building, your allies, your strategic partners and the broader community.  Time on fostering and growing these relationships is vital.  Is your constituency or membership very connected and committed?  Do you have focused and trusted leadership? Do you have allies inside and outside the formal institutions or media that you are seeking to influence or win over?  


Organization and Capacity: Knowing your capacity informs your strategic choices. How broad or deep and active is your constituency? What is your experience, skill and preparation for action and negotiation?  Do you have a clear agenda and responsible leadership? Do you have clear decision making and communications capacity?  Do you have needed resources?

Tool Kit

As you explore the Cycles of Movement Building - Rising Up, Building Up, Standing Up and Shaking Up – and the related Key Ideas, you will see tool icons.  Click on any icon to view a summary of that tool, and if you like it, add it to your personal We Rise Toolkit.