(CNN) -

Nan Grogan Orrock defied her family's wishes by sneaking away to join the 1963 March on Washington. But don't ask her about Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. She doesn't remember it.

She was struck by something else.

Orrock was stunned by the marchers. They nonchalantly told her they had been fired from their jobs, forced from their homes and beaten and jailed for joining the movement.

A white student at a women's college in Virginia, Orrock had ignored the movement until then; she'd been taught by her fellow Southerners that civil rights were "somebody else's business that had nothing to do with me."

"The highlight of the day was not his speech," says Orrock, now a Democratic senator in the Georgia legislature. "My mind was on fire from all that I was seeing and hearing. I realized that I was in the presence of great courage. I resolved that day that I was going to be a part of this."

Some people are asking if the protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, will spark a new civil rights movement. Here's another question: What makes a movement work in the first place? Why do some movements like the struggle for civil rights take off while others like Occupy Wall Street wilt?

Orrock's story suggests that it's not just the big moments -- the charismatic leader and the thrilling speech -- that make a movement work. There are those tiny moments, such as ordinary people sharing their stories of quiet courage with outsiders, that are just as crucial. What are the ingredients that any successful movement needs?

There is a secret sauce for the weak to beat the strong, say those who have studied and participated in successful nonviolent social movements. The lessons from the March on Washington and other movements throughout history offer clues. If you want to take on the forces of power and privilege known in some circles as "The Man," they say, you must remember four rules:

1. Don't get seduced by spontaneity

Spontaneity is sexy. The urge to act on an irrepressible urge can inspire others. A Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire is credited with starting the Arab Spring. And who can forget the lone man who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the pro-democracy protests in China in 1989?

A spontaneous act gave the March on Washington its most memorable moment. King's "I Have a Dream" riff wasn't in his written speech. He improvised it after he completed his written speech sooner than he had planned and a gospel singer behind yelled, "Tell them about the dream."

Yet spontaneity is overrated, some observers say. Successful movements are built on years of planning, trial and error, honing strategies for change. A good movement should already have an organizational structure set up to take advantage of a spontaneous act that grips the public.

Some movements stage their own "spontaneous" acts.

Remember Rosa Parks? Schoolchildren are taught that Rosa Parks was the quiet, bespectacled black woman who sparked the civil rights movement when she spontaneously decided one day that she was not going to move to the back of a segregated bus.

It's a good story but bad history. Parks had been carefully chosen for that moment. The woman who looked so docile in the historical photographs was actually a tough, seasoned civil rights activist who had been with the NAACP for 12 years and had attended an elite training school for civil rights and labor activists.

Parks was just one in a line of several black women chosen to stage "spontaneous" sit-ins on segregated buses, says Parker J. Palmer, author of "Healing the Heart of Democracy."

"Six or seven black women had done what Parks had done before and had simply been ticketed or arrested and certainly did not make history," Palmer says. "I can guarantee you when Parks sat down on that bus where she ought not to, she had no guarantee that this was going to work out. In that moment, she felt very alone."

Parks attracted attention because her arrest could not be ignored, historians say. The other women arrested were unmarried or single mothers who could be caricatured by segregationists as women of ill repute. Parks was a married seamstress who was respected in her community.

"She could not be thrown in jail and forgotten and there would be no publicity," says Jerald Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. "She had been preparing for that moment her entire life."

A contemporary movement in North Carolina also reveals how deceptive the idea of "spontaneous" can be.

The movement has been called Moral Mondays. News accounts say it began in February 2013 when 17 people were arrested in Raleigh, North Carolina, while protesting the policies of a new Republican-led state legislature. At least 900 people have since been arrested during weekly protests over everything from the legislature's decision to cut teachers' pay and unemployment benefits to its rejection of expanded medical coverage for the poor and underinsured under the Affordable Care Act.

Much of the news coverage describes Moral Mondays as a spontaneous reaction to the legislature's decisions. But the coalition driving the protests actually formed years ago to be a force in North Carolina politics and "go where the sparks go," says the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP and one of Moral Mondays' leaders.

"Seven years ago we started to prepare," Barber says. "We didn't know we were preparing for this moment. We didn't see this day coming."

Barber says the multiracial coalition behind Moral Mondays originally formed to push for increased voter registration, labor rights and more support for public education. It maintained its unity over the years because it knew other issues might arise and it wanted to be ready to hit the ground running.

"You have to do the hard work," he says. "You just don't helicopter in and make a speech. You have to build trust, talk with people and struggle with the issues."