Not all ways of working for change appeal to everyone. Some organizers disdain reform, which involves changing laws and policies. In many cases, reform means trying to protect current policies that serve the public. These are what Joanna Macy calls, “holding actions.”
I know that the compromise that is so often at the heart of reform work can be very hard for people working for social change. An organizer who had worked very hard to get the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 told me he would have preferred that the “watered down, weaker bill” that finally passed had not passed at all. I agreed I would have liked a stronger bill but on the other hand, I wouldn’t have been able to move back home to North Carolina if there had not been a provision requiring insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.
Some organizers call this a Band-Aid, because it doesn’t necessarily address root problems or offer a solution like “Medicaid for all.”
Reform is often a compromise position, but it is critical to keeping situations from getting worse while we working on changing overall systems. After all, where would we be without having Ruth Bader Ginsburg argue for social security benefits for men in order to get equal rights for women?
Change-making reform can also involve politics and the election of people who will support our interests. As the Piedmont Peace Project was organizing in rural North Carolina and feeling powerless to make change in our communities, we realized that we had to elect representatives who were accountable to us. We were able to provide training to our members on how to run for office, manage campaigns, lobby and do nonpartisan voter turnout. As a result, several of our members ran for offices on city and county councils, school boards and local commissions.
We educated our elected officials too, not only about our issues but about our power. They respected that. This is why our TAKE 10 trainings are not just about one election, but about all the elections to come. Candidates need to understand that we hold the power to determine whether they stay in office.
We don’t have to alter the way we have chosen to work for change, but we do have to work together, building the power of the collective. The opportunity in our current crisis is to recognize and consciously take advantage of our inherent inter-connection. Because we cannot escape from the web of life, we are called to see how we can intentionally weave new threads and strengthen old ones so that we ALL can thrive.
We’re not just putting a small piece of adhesive over a gaping wound. Respect, collaboration and cooperation are key for activists and community organizations to survive and thrive.
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