Social Movements and Social Change
Collective action—that is, the effort of people joining forces to create a better life for themselves and others—is central to the development of modern societies. Most of the time, however, individuals pursue their goals or seek relief from hardship on their own. We try to solve our problems by following the rules and not challenging the authorities. At certain moments in history, however, as some people link their private troubles to wider public issues, they find it necessary to join forces with others to meet unfilled needs and to change social conditions. The benefits of such collective behavior, whether the addition of a stop sign on the corner of a neighborhood street, outlawing racial discrimination, or fighting to end a war, extends beyond the needs of the immediate participants to large numbers of other people in sim- ilar circumstances.1Indeed, the world as we know it is, in part, the product of the effort of people working together to transform old social orders into new ones.
The social work profession believes that by acting in concert, people have the ability to affect and reshape the public realm. The NASW Code of Ethics urges social workers "to pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people" and to focus these efforts "primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice."2This stance is not surprising given that the social work profession itself arose, in part, from the broader social move-