By Dave Ewoldt | August 01, 2011 at 11:43 AM EDT | No Comments
An increasingly common topic of conversation among activists of all stripes is how to build big-tent coalitions to achieve the critical mass necessary for positive change. Most of the national groups fighting today's fires tend to have a lot of crossover in their membership lists. There tends to be a better than even chance that if you're interested in social justice issues, you're also interested in economic equity, abolishing corporate personhood, migrant rights, etc.
Most people further understand that a healthy environment is important, both for today and our future, for a number of reasons, and further yet, that we're currently headed in the opposite direction. An interconnected view of the world is also starting to creep into mainstream consciousness. One major frustration for many people who have this level of awareness is that there simply aren't enough hours in the day to deal with the cascade of crises, and few have enough money--especially now--to donate to all the causes they know are in desperate need of support.
When it comes to building coalitions, though, it turns out there are some common stumbling blocks. And, in order for an effective coalition for systemic change--that is, one that both disables the arsonist instead of merely putting out fires and provides a realistic alternative--to develop there are a few foundational requirements.
The requirements for a coalition effort of this type to become successful include, at minimum, a common goal, a set of shared values, and a truly comprehensive and cohesive--i.e. systemic--framework that includes processes, tools and concrete action items these efforts can deploy. The framework itself is also a tool, as it provides an understanding of how we got to our present state and what is keeping it in place. This understanding has a secondary benefit, as it helps ensure we're applying our limited resources to the proper issue and not to a distraction or a symptom, and that we're fully addressing all aspects of the root cause.
Progressive political circles are also starting to talk more openly that an independent movement for actual change instead of mere reform must develop, and it must provide an alternative to, not work within, the dominant paradigm. We must first realize that an independent movement doesn't mean we're all heading in different directions. The status quo must be not only resisted, but stopped, and a positive alternative must be implemented--one that can be shown to improve quality of life and not simply consolidate power in a different set of limited hands.
For this independent movement to be successful, it must build from a foundation that is just as systemic as the dominant paradigm. A piecemeal approach that uses the tools and methods of the dominant paradigm is doomed to failure. We have the past 150 years of "progressive" change as direct evidence to support this assertion. Being systemic means the movement must address personal, environmental, and social issues which means economic and governance issues as well. In an interdependent world these issues are inextricably intertwined.
Success also requires being honest about the fact that the dominant system, the status quo, Business As Usual, is fundamentally anti-life--it is unsustainable. This means the alternative must build on a foundation of true sustainability. It must be realized that justice is not possible without sustainability, and without justice there will be no peace.
For any movement to be successful, it must create critical mass. Creating critical mass entails agreeing on a common goal, which is a sustainable future, and a set of shared values, which are provided by the international people's declaration of interdependence--the Earth Charter. A sustainable future will only be realized if it is based on ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy. Ecological wisdom comes first because there will be neither justice nor an economy on a dead planet, but all are required because of the strength they provide each other.
One defining aspect of the status quo are patterns of domination. These emerge from and are supported by force-based ranking hierarchies of control and separation that depend on fear. Fortunately, there are non-hierarchical ways to organize, communicate, and make decisions. There is also a direct method for overcoming separation; of building relationships of mutual support with the natural world, each other, and our communities that comes from the field of applied ecopsychology and is known as the Natural Systems Thinking Process.
All of these methods can be learned and pressed into service, and they start by inviting participation. People have a need to participate. If they're involved, they'll create a future that has them in it, and they'll work to make it happen.
So, and no big surprise really, the needs and goals of progressive politics today and efforts for social and environmental change that is life-affirming are one and the same--coalitions that can successfully build critical mass for systemic change toward a sustainable future.
My wife/partner and I have wrapped all of the above up into an organization called Coalitions of Mutual Endeavor. Its focus is on building coalitions, incapacitating the arsonist responsible for all the single issue fires we're all overly busy trying to put out, and laying the foundation for a sustainable future we can all be involved in creating through the process of relocalization. Based on a couple of decades of research in systems science and applied ecopsychology through Project NatureConnect, and our environmental, community and political activism based on natural systems principles, we're building a membership base and working on getting national organizations actively involved.
We've developed a workshop that introduces the framework, the tools, action items, and supportive evidence from a number of fields on how change can occur and how quickly. If you're interested in helping organize a workshop for your community or know of national organizations who would be thrilled to be involved and/or could benefit from the organizational tools, please explore this website further and get in touch. There are endorsements of the project and a published review of the workshop on the website.
It's going to take us all, and we the people are more powerful than we dare to believe.