Coalitions of Mutual Endeavor
Building critical mass
for critical change

Coalition Basics - Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Efforts are regularly undertaken to network among national and grass-roots groups working on advancing the principles of peace, justice, equity, democracy, solidarity, and to address numerous environmental issues. These efforts seek to build critical mass to support necessary change from a status quo system that isn't just broken, but is inherently destructive, increases suffering for the many and blocks, hinders and subverts democracy for the benefit of special interests.

We've been slapping band-aids on symptoms for hundreds of years, and have never been willing to address the underlying disease--the root cause of our rapidly converging crises. We can no longer deny or ignore these crises, such as peak oil, global warming, increasing biospheric toxicity, loss of biodiversity, the collapse of economic growth, and loss of the sovereignty necessary for democracy. We must honestly admit that these crises are all emergent qualities of the same root disease.

How does this affect coalition building efforts, and how can it be used to advantage in a coalition effort?

The first step is to address the failures of previous coalition efforts. These include, in no particular order, 1) arguing over priorities, strategies and tactics, 2) an unwillingness to forthrightly state what they stand for and what they won't tolerate from a fear of being perceived as not inclusive or negative, which often leads to 3) being too willing to compromise (which also results from not having a clear vision, common goal, and shared values as guideposts), 4) lack of resources, 5) lack of a business plan or model not based on the control hierarchies of the status quo we're trying to change, 6) lack of a cohesive and comprehensive narrative to support change, and 7) an inability to reach agreement on the common goal and shared values that can support all of the individual efforts.

As activists, change agents, and community organizers, we're all actively engaged in putting out raging fires that can't be ignored. Coalition efforts often quickly turn into thinly disguised efforts to corral more volunteer firemen for a particular cause or initiative. Have we reached the point yet that we could support an organization whose goal is putting the arsonist out of commission and that didn't want to draw resources away from the important single issues, but contribute to their solution?

The fact of the matter is, we will not be able to create or sustain a whole-system transformation by simply applying isolated principles and practices within the framework of the status quo.

One often unstated goal underlying many coalition efforts, sometimes simply because they're not sure how to articulate it effectively, is the need to break patterns of domination. One attribute of domination is hierarchies of control. But we are steeped in dominator hierarchies; they are deeply embedded in the cultural stories and social values that behavior is based on; on what is deemed acceptable; on what our jurisprudence allows. The manner in which we communicate and organize today thus reflects dominator hierarchies. So one initial step must be to learn different ways of communicating, organizing, and making decisions that are not dependent on hierarchies and that are more than just inclusive, but that have the ability to bring out the best in everyone and benefit from their gifts.

Coalitions of Mutual Endeavor addresses all of these issues, and provides a systemic framework in which alternatives can emerge. The individual tools and processes have all been field tested and found to be effective. There is an increasing body of evidence from the social and biological sciences that supports rapid systemic change from the personal level on up. What makes COME unique is both the manner in which these have all been woven together, and the fact that they have been woven together.