Culture Changing

What Went Wrong?: The Rise of Good Intentions and Terrible Results

I know I have many good intentions for my work, but what if I’m wrong?

These conversations I have with friends or with my trusty journal, about ensuring our work remains positive, often make for difficult times; however, the time I put into critically thinking always pays off.

So if you ever have doubts about the work you are doing and then making sure to have challenging reflections, then you are probably going in the right direction.

If you’ve never seriously considered the idea of being wrong (and I mean really thought about it, not just in idle moments), then you probably should be.


When people don’t consider the impacts of their intentions


For those familiar with U.S. politics, it’s not hard to find a time where inflexible world views about what was right and wrong led to terrible results. With so many to choose from, here’s just a few examples:

  • Starting Indian boarding schools: many thought keeping indigenous children in boarding schools would teach students how to “succeed” in the “civilized world.” In what was one of the most heinous of U.S. policies, children were traumatically ripped from their families, not allowed to speak their native language, and forced to demonstrate Western ways and values.
  • Spreading democracy: U.S. officials, along with a significant number of the general public, felt that U.S.-style democracy was the best form of government and thus, the U.S. should “export democracy.” This included supporting military coups against democratically elected leaders (e.g. Allende in Chile), and installing military dictators favorable to U.S. foreign/corporate policy.
  • Eliminating sign language: some felt that sign language created a barrier for the Deaf to “assimilate into U.S. society.” These folks did not/do not recognize the Deaf community as a linguistic minority with the desire for ensuring self-determination.
  • Capturing Joseph Kony: the Kony 2012 campaign advocated for capturing Kony through military intervention, and focused on what outsiders could do to “help.” Teju Cole brilliantly writes how the Kony 2012 campaign fostered a “White Savior” narrative, ignored the solutions promoted by Ugandans, and encouraged militarization of the U.S.-backed dictator Yoweri Museveni.

I could keep on going with this list, but you get the idea.

Our past and present is littered with cases of people doing what they thought was right, only to detrimentally impact those they were trying to “help” (though without even asking if those communities wanted their assistance).”


How to have good intentions AND good results!


Whenever I try to think of the work I’m doing and whether it is having my intended impact on the world, I make sure to take time to listen and carefully reflect. Make sure to consider if what you are doing is right for you AND others or if it is more the former.

Support efforts for self-determination and let the community identify its own needs, don’t say what someone needs without even bothering to really understand.

Always leave open the possibility that you are wrong. It’s easy to find yourself always in the right if you never consider the possibility of being wrong.

Oftentimes, nobody knows the right answer or there are multiple competing ideas. This is where you must research and evaluate the impacts of your work to see if it is having the intended effect.

Accept criticism and be willing to be uncomfortable. I know I sometimes want to push away or not really acknowledge criticism of my work (especially if I have taken time to prepare and considered multiple points of view); however, I never want to get into a place where I am only hearing those who agree with me.

Identify your personal frames and their influence on your proposed solutions. Many times the most intersectional responses require us to move back and see what preconceived notions may impact our analysis.

So when we work for change, good intentions are critical; however, just as critical is a well thought-out understanding of the situation. We don’t need to have all the answers, we just have to remember we don’t always have all the answers 🙂

What to keep up with a reflective community seeking to make positive change while not perpetuating injustice? Then sign up for Organizing Change’s updates where you can find out what organizers are doing to ensure critical analysis and action!

Strategy Analysis

The Tea Party and Socialism: What They Teach Us About Making Change

“OK, you’ve convinced me, Now go out, organize, and make me do it” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to union leaders urging him to support pro-labor legislation.

While you won’t see too many shared policies among Tea Party ideology and Socialism, they both profoundly altered the trajectory of the United States.

The Tea Party of modern times and Socialists of the early 20th century, each pushed for such radical ideas that formally extreme policies became centrist.


The example of the Tea Party


Most of you are familiar with the now seemingly mainstream war on women and social services. These increasingly regressive platforms would not have been possible without the Tea Party.

By calling for even harsher legislation, the Tea Party ensured that the conservative establishment could implement far right policies and say they were a compromise.

Now I would doubt that most Tea Partiers would be satisfied with even these marginalizing results and compromises to the right. However, their work was part of an effective strategy, whether intentional or not, that changed the political landscape so drastically that we have a lot more work ahead of us to create a culture of justice.

This Tea Party strategy mirrors the impact of the Socialists in the 1930s.


Socialism and the rise of the New Deal


Roosevelt’s New Deal ensured the government would provide jobs to the scores of people looking for work, return of a robust U.S. economy, and restrictions on Wall Street and financial systems.

Though the Great Depression was near its height, the New Deal wasn’t a sure thing and needed an extra push to make it seem feasible. I don’t think the New Deal would have been possible without the rise in interest in Socialism.

During the 1932 election, nearly 1 million Americans voted for the Socialist or Communist presidential candidates. This desire for alternative policies propelled Louisiana Senator Huey Long to the national spotlight. Long mirrored his constituents’ interest in wealth redistribution with his Share Our Wealth program, which called for limits on wealth and the creation of a guaranteed annual family income.

As Naomi Klein writes, in the Shock Doctrine, “It was in this context that American industrialists grudgingly accepted FDR’s New Deal. The edges of the market needed to be softened with public sector jobs and by making sure no one went hungry – the very future of capitalism was at stake.”

As with the case of the Tea Party, the New Deal seemed like a moderate policy. Even though only a few years earlier, the New Deal would not have been possible.


It’s time for us to make some noise


As you can probably guess from my examples, I think that if we want true socially just policies then we need to clearly state our values even if they are considered “radical” and “not popular with independents.” By gliding toward the center, we run the serious risk of moving farther away from where we want to be.

So even if someone only who wants moderate reforms, it’s in their best interest to support those pushing for even bigger movements. That means it’s up to us to demonstrate that calling for moderate policies also means being an ally to those advocated for even bigger changes as well.

I know in some situations it’s hard for me to voice opinions that significantly differ from the majority. However, after understanding how these examples of the Tea Party and Socialism gave an opportunity to formally sideline proposals, I have a much greater belief that we must push for the “impossible.”

What do you think? How can we have e a radical movement make enough influential noise and struggle to push through sustained change? Just leave your comment below.


Introducing Organizing Change – A Space for Strategic Changemakers!

Similarly to many of you, it seems like every day I think about what we need to do to bring about positive, institutional, and lasting improvements in people’s lives.

I started this blog to identify ways to connect my work to a larger strategic shift for transformation. Over this past year I’ve been preparing to launch this blog by compiling activist lessons, examples, and ideas that illustrate how to Change the Way We Organize through:

  • The vision of where we are going with making change through strategic activism and fostering movements that create the world we seek
  • An analysis of what it takes to make change in shifting cultures and disrupting systemic oppression at many levels
  • A toolkit of how we will make change by building skills for what it takes for high-impact organizing

You can probably tell by now that I’m focused on how to achieve a just and resilient planet that fulfills the needs of current and future generations.

I know that what I want to see in society will take us coming at obstacles from many angles, but that is exactly why I want to be a part of initiatives coordinating long-term responses to the problems of our day. Whether you work in a non-profit, a government agency, a business, or a community group, we must break out of an emphasis on single issue areas to demonstrate the results of our collective efforts.


Want to Organize for Social Change…but Strategically?


Each week here I’m looking to build a committed group of changemakers to illustrate not only proven best practices, but also innovative and propelling actions. Organizing Change’s posts will emphasize the following 6 areas crucial to changing our world:

1. Learning from impactful organizing – profiles of current organizers and lessons we can learn from the history of activism

2. Increasing critical organizing capacity – honing skills, resource sharing, and building confidence in acting for what we believe

3. Crafting intentional cultures – shifting dominant narratives and truly representing the full spectrum of personal identities

4. Dismantling injustice – challenging power, privilege, and oppression at an institutional level

5. Propelling strategic action – cross-issue planning and communicating shared values

6. Activating visionary movements – collaborative effort, laying the groundwork for mass change, and stretching what we think is possible to achieve

I’ll be posting about 3 times a week on these essential themes, while also seeking out the most pressing needs and questions that changemakers want discussed. Though it is important to understand the large factors that influence change, I know that it is just as valuable to look at the details facing organizers every day.


Keeping up with Organizing Change


If what I’ve described so far about Organizing Change seems to be similar to your own passions, then think about subscribing to the e-mail and RSS notifications. Or for those more inclined towards the social media side check out the Google+, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

While this space progresses consider contributing your own experiences by guest posting or commenting! Let’s show the necessity of organizing and our commitment to change.


Launching this blog


I’d like to give a big thanks to Jeremy Blanchard (who gave me the space and support to start Organizing Change) and Meaghan Brennan (who made sure that I clearly wrote ideas and posts) for making sure this work became a reality!

As I wrote earlier in this post, I’ve been working on starting this blog for over a year now and my whole outlook on organizing change has dramatically deepened based on the collected organizing lessons I found. Thus, I’m excited to do my best to ensure that Organizing Change gives you as many new insights as it has for me!

Well now that you’ve heard about Organizing Change, check out the first few posts for strategic changemakers on the vision, analysis, and tools we need to Change the Way We Organize.