Movement professionalization: A positive force for the Grassroots SMO?

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Laurel Holland


The professionalization of a social movement has been a much debated issue among movement analysts. In this work I analyze a grassroots movement, Solutions to Issues of Concern to Knoxvillians (SICK) that has endured for over 19 years with professional leaders working in conjunction with a grassroots membership. McCarthy and Zald (1977) asserted that professionally led movements gain their support from outside sources and have a membership base that is disconnected from the roots of protest. For SICK, this is not the case. While the organization does receive the majority of its funding from large foundations, the membership base remains grassroots (i.e. directly impacted by the issues). My investigation reveals that professional staffs aid the organization in 3 ways: strengthening the grassroots membership base; building budget stability and growth, and generating public appeal for campaign issues and increasing the number of campaigns promoted and initiated. In sum, this study shows that movement professionalization and grassroots involvement/ membership are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

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