(2) The Real World Application of Social Movement Theory

One of the most significant takeaways from my Brandeis experience has been learning the optimal structure for creating and sustaining social movements. Heavily influenced by political theorists such as Charlotte Ryan, William Gamson, and Alicia Garza, I learned that effective social movements require a multifaceted framework for framing, coalition building, and resource mobilization. Framing is valuable for focusing dialogue with target constituencies. Coalition building is critical because social movements are grounded within existing power relations. As a result, garnering supporters and allies is critical in placing a movement in the most advantageous position. Lastly, resource mobilization is fundamental, as effective social movements must be prolonged and sustained efforts. This is only possible through the creation of a reliable and robust supply chain for resource acquisition. 

I keep this framework in mind in all the work I do. For me, it is imperative to fully understand my role within any collective movement to advance a specific cause or issue. In the past, I have worked as the field director for candidates running for local office; as member of the senior staff of Congressman Jamie Raskin’s Democracy Summer, a nationwide program dedicated to teaching youth the nuts and bolts of political organizing; and now as a public policy intern for the Health Policy Team at the National Consumers League. All three of these positions placed me in different parts of a broader movement, each with distinct objectives and opposition.

Recognizing my role in the framework I outlined above enables me to increase my effectiveness in furthering specific agendas. For example, during my time at Democracy Summer, we employed roughly 400 fellows across the United States. In the context of the resource supply chain, we had the unique ability to influence key elections by phone banking, canvassing, and more due to the massive amount of people we had at our disposal. In contrast, as a field director, it was my responsibility to build a coalition and incorporate organizations like Democracy Summer into the campaign. These two roles are distinct and understanding my place within the context of organizational structure was critical for success.

The Health Policy Team at NCL works in all three of these areas, but there is a large emphasis on the framing aspect required for an effective social movement. As a consumer advocacy organization, our job is to understand consumers’ needs and then fight to ensure these needs are met. This is accomplished by honing in on specific policy objectives such as eliminating copay accumulator adjustment programs or making PBMs more transparent. In order to ensure these are enacted by Congress, we not only need to target specific representatives based on their constituencies and values, but also to enlist support from the people most adversely affected to make our argument more compelling. 

As a public policy intern, the majority of my work revolves around writing policy statements and blogs about a diverse set of public health issues. Within the context of movement structure, NCL must make itself available to other groups as a potential ally in areas ranging from expanding healthcare to protecting reproductive rights. This is why publishing policy statements is critical. By making the organization’s position known, other groups are able enlist our support and vice versa.

Jeanette Contreres testifying at the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Rights, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights’ hearing on the baby formula crisis.

An excellent example of this is when Senator Amy Klobuchar asked my former boss Jet Contreres to testify on the baby formula crisis after seeing NCL’s blogs and policy statements about the issue.

Using what I learned from Brandeis, when crafting statements, I try to make NCL’s position as clear and specific as possible. This places the organization in a more advantageous position to not only build coalitions of support, but to also unite like-minded groups. From there, we are able engage in weekly/biweekly meetings to strategize on how to best achieve key objectives aligned with NCL’s mission.