Until recently, the strategy of the disability community has been one of incremental improvements in civil rights law, and local initiatives to improve some aspect of daily and community life. This strategy has resulted in substantial policy and legal changes over the course of our lives. But I believe that we are now getting less improvement for our efforts from this strategy than we were, and that the changing conditions of global culture and economy are moving this approach to organizing our community’s future to a declining path.
Some of the changes that make our current community strategy less fruitful:
The global reaction to civil rights initiatives of all kinds has been to slow their impact and undermine the resource commitment needed to make the advances effective.
The global connection of diverse communities of people with disabilities has made the white nonprofit model of disability civil rights advocacy a real barrier to progress.
Advocacy organizations have two missions. One is the purpose for which they were created, and the second is to keep the doors open. There has been a gradual shift to focusing on keeping the doors open by advocacy organization management and boards, though there are many small organizational initiatives to refocus on original purpose. In the same way that politicians have increasingly focused on getting money as their job and modifying their ideologies to match the most effective ways of getting that money from their constituencies, so too has there been a gradual shift in the organizational base of the pursuit of personal autonomy and freedom of choice in our community.
Our current approach envisions the creation of disability freedom as
Creating models of effective and meaningful policy and law
Getting these models embedded into policy, practice, and law
Using the System to implement and enforce these policies and laws.
But the System is far less open to effective implementation and enforcement than it has been since the early years of our civil rights movement (true for all devalued community rights initiatives). The System’s logic for implementation and enforcement is to minimize the impact of successful rights initiatives both in terms of their values and the resources committed to them. This means that our successes have less and less actual impact by themselves. In effect, the imposition of System logic gradually guts our successes.
Our community needs a different strategy to confront these realities.
If you want to change things, then you need to let a thousand flowers bloom —Dave Snowden
Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy. –Sun Tzu
Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking –Antonio Machado
Back to Basics
In my model of Disability Rights Systems Change, Strategy is a framework for making decisions when the decision processes are clouded by future uncertainty and scarce resources. Ultimately, your strategy is an enacted framework of change design. The change design concerns four arenas of action:
In the language of advocacy, ends are valued outcomes, not simply possible outcomes or most likely outcomes. Advocacy fails if a valued outcome isn’t achieved, even if some other outcome is achieved.
You can think of ways as design paths to change which you try and learn from. The paths can be conceptual, rather than geographic as they might be in a military action.
What tools, resources, and other assets can you use to support your change efforts? In advocacy, there is also a dimension of morality in the use of means, which doesn’t exist in other arenas such as war, politics, and finance. Each effective use of means to change asks a moral question that must be addressed in our advocacy. For example, it wouldn’t be moral to fabricate a lie about the person representing a target in order to disrupt the ability of the target to negotiate effectively.
Because advocacy can develop into long term negotiations with many ups and downs over the course of an advocacy initiative, we need to constantly assess whether our effort is retaining the values and broader advocacy purposes that were part of the initial change effort, or whether we are drifting away from that secure value-driven base.
The next part of this series will explore how FutureStrategy can be made real.
Your target also has dispositions (policies, incentives and disincentives, cultural ableism, political pressures, economic concerns, etc.) that you can use to anticipate where advocacy might be needed, and where an advocacy ecosystem framework might be more useful than simply responding to an oppressive action.
You can think of these dispositions and system drives like thirst or hunger in us. You can also think of these dispositions as implicit biases which provide “answers” to “questions” that the system gets from its environment, including your advocacy “questions”. They are all flows of ongoing perceiving and acting to deal with the unavoidable in the target environment.
As advocates, we also have dispositions, both as drives and biases, and we too act continuously in the same way that our targets do. You can use your target’s dispositions to enhance your advocacy, and you can use your own dispositions through reflection and dialogue to expand your vision of the possibilities of advocacy, as well as expanding your skills. Most importantly, you can use reflection on your experience and practice of advocacy to move along the 3 phases of becoming a capable advocate:
Beginning: Creating a base reference system of rules and techniques in your brain to recognize repeatable patterns and methods of advocacy.
Adeptness: Understanding when to break the reference system’s rules and tweak the techniques in order to solve difficult or unusual advocacy challenges.
Mastering: Being able to respond to the entirely unique aspects that a particular situation requires for a successful advocacy outcome.
Your brain can “jump” to new levels of capability through the experience and training you gain over time. And you can collaborate with other advocates to expand the scope and impact of your advocacy. The process of reaching mastery of advocacy is a process of building pattern-recognition and reflection competence as an integrated internal complex adaptive system.
Your target’s dispositions are roughly similar across time, and once you have had significant interaction with the target, you can begin to see these dispositions as the structure of the system, and you can anticipate them as roughly standard responses to your advocacy.
We can think of target dispositions as constraints within which the target operates. They are like the weak link processes that the target has with agencies and local context processes. While advocates might have difficulty destabilizing a disposition (as advocates, we often don’t have the ability to do this), we can always threaten the relationship that the target has built up with some specific dispositional trend or force-say a millage election.