Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recipe for Revolution


In the world we live in it's easy to feel powerless, like there's so much in this world we'd like to change that we simply can't do anything about. After all, the system we live in is incredibly resistant to major change, and the odds are definitely stacked against us - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, after all, and many things that seem impossible are often merely improbable.
Just think about all the positive social progress we've made as a society in just the past one hundred and fifty years. We've abolished slavery, we've secured the rights of all citizens to be able to vote, we've outlawed segregation and racial discrimination, and we even created the "weekend". [Imagine if you were to go back in time to a cotton plantation and tell a slave that one day we'd have an African American president - they probably would think you're insane.] If there's one thing the example of history can teach us it's that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things when they commit themselves to an ideal. Each of these successes came about because people just like you and I banded together in solidarity and stood up for what they believed in and together they left an indelible impact on our society. [So the next time someone tries to tell you that you're being too idealistic, politely remind them that just because something is unthinkable doesn't mean it's impossible.]

Where does change come from, and how does it start?
It starts with you. Gandhi once said that we should "be the change we want to see in the world," because every good deed, regardless of size, makes a difference. To a large extent, he was right. Think of it like drops in a huge bucket: if enough drops fall in the bucket, eventually one of those drops is going to be the one that makes the whole thing overflow.
But is making a difference in your daily life really enough? I mean, for many of us working for non-profits in our local communities, there are times when we question whether we're making a lasting impact at all - like we're stuck with constantly treating the symptoms of a disease because we simply can't afford the cure. Don't get me wrong, small things can and do make a huge difference in people's lives. The problem is that unless those small things are brought together and given a common direction, they won't do much to change the system. So if change starts with individual actions, how can they become something more?
I'd like you to consider the eloquent words of Robert F. Kennedy:

"Each time a man [or woman] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he [or she] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

This is the foundation of coalition building - the idea that when even the smallest actions of individuals or groups are brought together and focused on an objective, the aggregate effect is a current, a movement, that's a force to be reckoned with. Simply put, a coalition is a diverse network of individuals, communities, and organizations that come together in the pursuit of common goals. Coalitions have the potential to be powerful tools for remaking our world, and it’s important to recognize that this is because much of their strength comes from three key elements: diversity, flexibility, and solidarity.
Diversity is important because a successful coalition draws on the strengths, abilities, insights, and resources of its members to create an empowered community. [A network is strongest when it is membership is diverse, because it provides the whole with resources and opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. Diversity also helps ensure that the coalition proceeds in a direction that is sensitive to the needs of all its stakeholders] Flexibility is also important because, like any organism, a coalition must be able to adapt to its environment in order to thrive. [On a deeper level, members must be willing to be flexible and willing to roll with the punches - keep in mind that it's not about you, but about the movement.] Solidarity is absolutely essential because unless the members of a coalition make a meaningful commitment to help one another succeed, why even bother?
It is because of these characteristics – diversity, flexibility, and solidarity – that coalition building is effective strategy for change in almost any context. By standing in solidarity with their fellow human beings and tenaciously pursuing the necessary steps towards realizing a common vision, coalition members aren't just advocates - they're revolutionaries. Individually we can make a difference, but together we can change the world. So ask yourself:

"Do I want to spend my life putting band-aids on problems, or do I want to help start a revolution?”


If you want an example of a successful coalition, look no further than the Children's Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition (CHPCC). CHPCC began with two ladies armed with a vision and a mission. In 2001 Lori Butterworth and Devon Dabbs - alongside a handful of tenacious, committed people - decided that the children facing life-threatening conditions and their families in California needed help transforming the way they received health care. From this need emerged a shared vision of a healthcare system that's more natural, healing, and family-centered. Since then, CHPCC has grown into a diverse network of individuals, families, community members, local organizations, clinicians, policy makers, and representatives across the nation that collaborates with other national organizations to pursue a common mission: challenging the existing healthcare system for children with life-threatening conditions and insisting that public funding for healthcare services for these children be in line with their unique needs. Eight years later, CHPCC has grown to nearly 2000 members across the country. What has CHPCC accomplished, so far?

• CHPCC has successfully developed an award winning model of community-based coordinated palliative care that is being replicated across California.
• CHPCC has also helped create a comprehensive palliative care benefit that uses state plan services and a federal hospice eligibility waiver that is now in the process of being rolled out in counties across the state.
• CHPCC has also created a Family Advisory Council, made up of parents who are currently caring for (or have lost) a child with a life-threatening condition, to educate clinicians about pediatric palliative care.
• CHPCC's "Partnership for Parents" is the first (and only) multilingual web resource for parents caring for a seriously ill child.

The best part about all of this is that YOU CAN DO IT TOO!

Concrete Steps and Tenets of Coalition Building.
How did CHPCC achieve such success?

The first step is to identify a major need that is being neglected and formulate your movement's vision. Think of the vision as your long term goal, a sort of idealistic carrot-on-a-stick propelling your movement forward. For CHPCC that need was improving the way care was provided to seriously ill children and their families, and the vision was a health care system that is more natural, healing, and family centered. A well thought out vision is important because it is the inspiration not only for your movement, but for others to join your movement as well. It's your revolution's rallying cry.
One of the keys to coming up with a compelling vision is to make sure that the voices of those you want to represent are right beside you from the very beginning. So get out there and start a conversation! When Lori and Devon started CHPCC, neither of them had lost a child to a life-threatening illness. So what did they do? They brought parents and kids into the process, listened to them, and made sure CHPCC's vision was their vision.
As you are developing your vision, you should also begin coming up with a mission statement. Your mission should be the pragmatic embodiment of your vision, focusing on practical, obtainable objectives. If your vision is where you want to be, your mission statement is your plan for how to get there. A strong and well thought out mission statement is an essential component of a successful coalition and should be at the forefront of everything you do. Like a game plan or a road map, it can help guide your decisions and focus your efforts - strengthening your movement and maximizing its impact in the process. When things get tough or out of control, you can always fall back on your mission statement to get your priorities back in line and get the ball rolling again. It's also important to remember that while you should stay focused on your mission, you must never lose sight of your vision. Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the horizon.
Both your vision and your mission should be viewed as works in progress because the next step is to reach out to potential stakeholders who you feel share your passion and begin the long process of building a collaborative network. Bring them to the table and identify ways you can help each other while allowing diverse perspectives to enrich your understanding of your cause. Keep in mind that a stakeholder is any person or organization that has a vested interest in your cause, so the more receptive to new perspectives and inclusive your organization is, the more innovative it will become and stronger it will be. As you reach out to other organizations, be sure to identify key opportunities, form alliances, and most importantly make friends. Friendships are a crucial asset to a coalition, because you never know when that "friend of a friend of a friend" is going to have precisely the information or resources you need in a pinch.
The process of building your organizational network can be long and difficult, but there are some things you can keep in mind that will make it easier. One good strategy is to do your best to keep personal politics out of the mix. People can't be expected to always agree on everything, but sensitive political issues can be especially divisive. It’s essential that you keep an open mind, and try to encourage diversity. CHPCC recognized early on that politicizing things distracts and detracts from the organization’s ability to pursue their mission, as well as alienates potential allies from the cause. Do your best to leave these at the door, and focus on the task at hand.
Resource allocation is another key aspect, because the way you distribute shared resources across a network is critical to its total effectiveness. One good strategy is to develop an efficient division of labor: form task forces to solve immediate goals that advance your cause, and get the right people and resources involved. Form local and regional committees, undertake projects that attract and include motivated people, and develop strategies to connect people to existing local and regional organizations.
Keep in mind that resource sharing includes information sharing, because information is a valuable resource to both your coalition and the people it’s striving to help. There are numerous ways you can keep people in touch, coordinated, and up-to-date. Social networking sites, teleconferences, electronic newsletters, print magazines, fliers, events – all of these are at your finger tips, so use them! Keeping people informed about what’s going on is vital to both sustaining your movement’s momentum and attracting new supporters to your cause, so be creative. Sponsor an event, host a consortium, and even hire a lobbyist if you can afford it. Get the word out, explore opportunities to make new connections, keep people posted, and you might be surprised at the results.
The last phase of the coalition building process is, quite frankly, keeping it going in the right direction. Effective communication is a great place to start, but figuring out how you can turn it into an ongoing conversation is really what it’s all about. Mutual respect and flexibility is absolutely critical, because you’ll find that the more willing you are to listen to and respect others the more willing they will be to help you. This is where the value of solidarity shines through. With diversity comes challenges, to be sure, but with respect for one another and a mutual willingness to set aside trivial differences you can make progress.
It’s also a great idea to bring people from different world views together and get them collaborating on a shared praxis, a practical habitual practice, that is mutually beneficial and advances your cause. When people help each other out over and over again, members of even drastically different communities can forge lasting social bonds that makes your movement that much stronger.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” - Henry Ford
Revolution is about committed individuals armed with a mission relentlessly pursuing a vision of justice in the face of adversity alongside an empowered community of friends and allies. If you're serious about changing the world get out there and build a movement. Reach out to those who you want to help, to the countless others who share their dreams, and to those with the resources to make it happen. Remember that it's not about "us" and "them," but what WE can do to make sure that the world our great grandchildren will inherit is not only something we can be proud of, but something we can be proud that we helped create. With patience, respect, and dedication you can use coalition building as a model for starting a revolution founded on diversity, flexibility, and solidarity that can remake our world. The path will likely be difficult, but never, ever give up.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead.

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