There are three possible scenarios for the future of campaigning:
- The undertow of individualising social trends could slowly triumph over civil society organisation, leaving campaigning at best fragmented into marginalised interest groups.
- Existing institutions could be renewed through energy, innovation and collaboration, as has happened with some churches and with the Service Employees International Union over the last two decades in the USA and Canada.
- New civic mediating institutions could emerge and provide fresh roots for sustained campaigning.
In fact, all three scenarios are unfolding in parallel today. Human action through social dynamics will determine their ebb and flow, establishingwhich scenario is most prominent and when, where and how.
The undertow of social individualisation cannot be dismissed. On average across Europe,membership in trade unions and political parties has been dropping steeply while membership in voluntary organisations has also declined. This isparticularly the case for public issue organisations which are likely to engage in campaigning. Levels of religious affiliation are also declining overall in Europe, despite countertrends such as the rise of Islam.
There is evidence that the rise in campaigning is due disproportionately to the activities of the middle classes, and the organisational capacity of a socially excluded and disenchanted underclass may actually have been declining. Sentiments of global solidarity and local community provide only a weak countervailing force.
Although we have seen a boom in campaigning, its most prevalent practices from the late twentieth century to the present day have been celebrity-endorsed or media driven campaigning, professional efforts by organisations, and occasional massive and spectacular mobilisations of discontent. The overall effect may be extremely dangerous.
If social campaigning fades and fragments, it can risk degenerating into conflict and interest group politics, making it more easily dismissed or marginalised by centres of power in states and corporations, in turn breeding widespread dissatisfaction and hindering social progress. State and market institutions suffer too when their credibility and responsiveness are not renewed through social challenge and debate.
Civil society challenges the very power of the state by calling for the reallocation and re-distribution of resources (such as debt relief), or challenging attitudes and“received wisdoms”(for example wider social movements suchas feminism). The success of these campaigns will often find expression in legislative changes, even though a series of checks and balances exist in most democratic systems precisely to defend the state from such challenges and to uphold parliamentary democracy. As a result, tensions between the state and such movements have always arisen.
Furthermore, as the historical narrative shows, these tensions will always occur – mainly because the campaigning work of civil society is never done, due in part to the fact that democratic institutions will never be fully responsive to people’s needs.In short, the limitations of state democracy explain why we will always need the creative energies that are found at society’s political edge.The innovations described in this report in consensus-building, coalitions and network campaigning are of considerable interest, not only because they can accelerate the gathering and exercise of popular will on key issues of social concern, but also because they can help to consolidate it through lasting civic infrastructure.
Civil society organisations pioneered the consumerist model of campaigning. They may also play a crucial role in developing and implementing campaigns that centre more effectively on the needs and priorities of citizens and communities. Like other organisations, they will need to consider how to evolve to take advantage of these opportunities. Unless they do, their social position is far from assured.