26 February 2017
MLK Synthesis Essay
“The hard truth is that the unity of the movement is a remarkable feature of major importance”
Throughout history, the United States has experienced a multitude of social movements.
There have been social movements by many demographics: women, African Americans, Native
Americans, and for many causes: civil rights, war protests, political policy. The common thread
between those effective social movements is widespread unification. This is seen throughout the
history of the world. Whether the movement be the American Revolution or the Catholic
Reformation, success is dependent upon the unity of the movement. Standing united in solidarity
is the most powerful weapon humankind can use to effect change in society.
Individuals will swiftly encounter difficulty in protesting or resisting injustice alone, yet
groups of individuals together have a greater power. One has only to look back on the various
social movements in the United States to see the truth in this. During the Civil Rights movement
of the 1960s, individuals joined together in groups to perform sit-ins or freedom rides. The
freedom riders were some of the first protesters to initiate the widespread Civil Rights
movement. Their unity in the face of brutality and fierce opposition was a key factor that
“generated more publicity and inspired dozens more Freedom Rides”Though they were few at
first, they were like-minded and strongly unified in the pursuit of justice and equality. This is
seen in a similar movement: the women’s suffrage movement. In the election of 1872, Susan B.
Anthony cast her vote in the presidential election. This in itself might not seem so extraordinary,
if it were not for the fact that women were prohibited from voting in 1872. During this time, the
women’s suffrage movement was not large or strongly unified, and Anthony quickly
encountered difficulty. Two weeks after she cast her vote, she was arrested. As the movement
gained more support, however, and Anthony worked hard for unity, the opposition diminished in
the face of their strength. In 1917, strongly united women marched for their right to vote in the
rain , and it was only a matter of time before they won the vote with the 19th amendment. What
Susan B. Anthony had been unable to accomplish single-handedly, women as a whole won
together. Together, individuals find power.
Though one might argue that the most substantial change occurs from a strong leader, an
executive order, or a Supreme Court decision, the desire and motivation to create changes
originates from the people. The United States, touted as the most powerful nation in the world,
backed out of the Vietnam War as a result of widespread, strongly unified antiwar protests. After
learning of the beginning of the war, many college students launched protests. As the U.S.
continued to fight in Vietnam with no tangible outcomes except mass casualties, more and more
Americans joined in these anti-war protests. Eventually they presented one front of angrily
protesting demonstrators and became “an unstoppable force, pressuring American leaders to
reconsider its commitment” . The United States withdrew. Likewise, the freedom riders, a small
group at first, became an unstoppable force which urged substantial change in government
policy. They, by helping to initiate the Civil Rights movement, helped elicit civil rights
legislation. On such example is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By presenting the beginnings of a
national movement, they were “putting pressure on President Kennedy” to take action and “end
the violence” . In this way, the most substantial change comes from the people, both as the
initiators of change, and as those who lay the groundwork and do the heavy lifting.
Society and government, as products of humanity, must be subject to the will of people.
Therefore, the power of the people becomes ultimate when they unite. Returning to the anti-war
protests during Vietnam, we see that government, often regarded as the ultimate power in a
country, found itself bogged down by unpopular sentiment and the realization that “it is
impossible to win a long, protracted war without popular support” . As the protests proliferated,
the cost of the war was more and more difficult to maintain. Eventually, the cost was too high.
The government backed out. The people, united, were unstoppable. The women’s movement,
also, demonstrated this power. By uniting, they claimed their roles as members and creators of
society and government. They demanded their right to be represented, and they won. Their
prolonged marches and dedicated protesters, fearless of the elements, garnered attention and
ultimately triumphed over opposition . Once the people can unite with a strong enough goal,
government must change.
Furthermore, strong unification in a social movement not only has the power to change
government and society, but to reshape it or model it into something entirely new. Before the
Civil Rights movement, United States society was deeply divided. The two races: black and
white, lived separate lives. Social interaction and collaboration were non-existent. This all
changed with the freedom riders. After “the Interstate Commerce Commission issued rules
prohibiting segregated transportation facilities” as a result of the riders, the first step had been
taken towards creating a new society for a new generation . A new society was on the rise.. In the
same manner, women reshaped the political and social landscape. The unity of their movement
not only forced government to change and grant them the vote, but it demonstrated the potential
impact women could have when they took up their own cause . This impact has become evident
in society today, where both men and women of different races can hold powerful jobs across
Across time, we have seen that groups of individuals can effect change more productively
than individuals alone. As they unite, they gain the power to alter society. They can achieve this
through government, powerful leaders, representatives, or their own voices as they claim their
authority. It is important to recognize this power of solidarity and unification, and utilize this
ultimate weapon for positive societal change. When the people are awakened to their own power,
equality and justice are in reach.
A. “Suffragists marching in rainy street during the Grand Picket, March 4, 1917.” The
Library of Congress. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
B. “The Freedom Rides.” The Freedom Rides. Congress of Racial Equality, n.d. Web. 15
C. “The Antiwar Movement.” Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 15