In the last half-century, the disability community has gone from a fragmented, cure-focused, disconnected aggregation of individuals isolated in their families or in institutions to an identity-aware, active, present, and organized advocacy movement.
The kind of advocacy that led to this blossoming of our community can be thought of as driven by the same model that black civil rights, feminism, and other identity-based rights movements have used:
- The passage of legislation that mandates certain rights.
- The development of procedures to define rights and due process when those rights are violated.
- The use of legislative solutions to the trade-offs and detailed reification of those rights.
Essentially, rights, in this model, are only those which can be legislated and bureaucratized. This process of rights expansion is driven by presence, protest, policy proposals.
The successes of our common effort are real, but not complete. Both the larger world and the requirements of future success with advocacy have changed and will continue to change. The ongoing resistance to our advocacy over the last half-century has gradually muted our impact. We must face up to these realities if we expect to further our project of social justice and personal empowerment.
The core of a new approach to advocacy for our community requires an understanding of the advocacy environment as a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) , and not as a machine that we change as we would a car engine.
Seeing the constraints on our community as processes in a CAS is not a new technique of advocacy, though it does offer us a new way to view how we change The System.
There is a basic pattern that we have used to pursue rights, and in my next post, I’ll go over that pattern as a prelude to a version for advocacy in a complex adaptive system.
We tend to value our success changing The System in tactical terms:
- Creating this specific improvement in support; this specific elimination of discrimination, bullying, limits; this change in public policy or practice.
- Enabling a move into a better or more expansive “adjacent possibility”, unavailable before this specific advocacy success.
- Bringing with it increased funding, skill enhancement, recognition, and an expansion of our current reach.
But, underneath our judgment of immediate value lies a deeper and far more extensive meaning, that we would call a strategy if we understood what a strategy is.
We don’t understand. We think a strategy is a clever engagement with the System of Focus (SOF) to force them to accommodate us. It isn’t.
A Strategy is a scaffold for engaging our environment with effective decisions over time, when:
- The future is unpredictable. If the future was predictable, we wouldn’t need a strategy. We could just make an operational plan like a logic model and success would roll out like a boulder falling off a cliff to the ground.
- We don’t have enough resources. If we had infinite resources, we could just keep plugging away, through trial-and-error, until we succeeded.
The traditional view in the military is that strategy is embraced through ends, ways, and means, the “dimensions” of strategy implementation.
So, what should the underlying strategy in our disability community advocacy that allows us to decide on our ends, ways, and means, and be effective advocates?
I propose that we should embrace a two-pronged strategy:
- We should continue to work to make The System on which we all depend, better at supporting our needs, and providing more ways we can control the supports that the system provides.
- We should also begin building an alternative system based on our local, collaborative ability to supplement what The System locally provides, to make a base for supports that we control democratically and through the synergy of our various skills, abilities, and experiences. In other words, we band together to make up for the shortfalls of The System, and to provide support no governmental or private system would consider worth pursuing.
This strategy recognizes our current dependence on The System, and the complexity of reducing our dependence on it. It also says that we, as mutually supported and respected friends, families, and allies, can and should create what we want right now. This is true, even though the process of creating that alternative will be long and complex. Only through our mutual determination to take each step together will it be possible for us to realize what we should have had available to us all along.