The Geography of Disability Justice Advocacy

Anytime we build a disability justice advocacy strategy, we use some process to lay it out in a way very similar to mapping a journey. While we tend to focus on the specific procedures that we will use to implement an advocacy initiative, we actually create a kind of spatial CAS that is fractal and could conceivably extend to the entire disability community globally.

The usual way we do this makes the actual impact of our advocacy largely implicit except for the focus of our procedural advocacy. This has the effect of making it more difficult to see the impact of our advocacy (for better or worse) outside the limits of our perception of procedural actions.

When we implement an operational plan as a strategy, this limited perception of the dynamic of our advocacy is a major source for the unintended consequences which often follow.

One way to help avoid this trap is to recognize the more and less abstract nature of the system we are affecting, so we can deliberately include the dynamic context of our advocacy as we develop our strategy. Doing this requires real reflection and dialogue, mostly because we aren’t in the habit of taking the extra time to deepen our understanding. We are also not inclined to take into account those barriers and trends in the larger environment and not directly a part of our advocacy plan activities.

Individuals involved in an advocacy initiative tend to have a “most comfortable” role in pursuing advocacy outcomes. We all choose a level of engagement for any system with which we interact, a level with which we are comfortable, and which reflects our strengths in advocacy. In the Disability Justice Community, people are commonly:

  • Tactical engagers: Procedural problem solvers. Use of bricolage to develop tactics. Solve big problems by repeating successful tactics.
  • Operational Engagers: Link tactics through organizing. Logic Model solutions to problems. Required alignment realized through coordination. Coordination is viewed as the imposition of rule-based common procedures.
  • Strategic Engagers: Viewing the dynamics of a system as though from the outside. Focusing on the larger trends, to the exclusion of individual problem solutions.

As you can probably imagine, such distinct roles in an advocacy initiative can produce very real conflicts over every aspect of planning, outcomes or any other part of advocacy must be made coherent (not aligned, just understandable across the different roles).

So, “geography” in advocacy has several dimensions:

  • An abstract dimension from Tactics, through Operations, to Strategy. This is not some kind of control or logical hierarchy. It is a difference of focus, and doesn’t imply that one kind of abstraction is “better” than another. Rather, people are more comfortable with one kind of abstraction than another.
  • A scope dimension that reaches out from the focus of advocacy to the unexpected consequences unseen by the attainment of the immediate advocacy outcomes.
  • A coordinative reach dimension, which reflects how coherent your dynamic communication is among the roles in the advocacy work.

Creating a way to act across all of these dimensions coherently needs to be the expanding project of disability justice advocacy.

Next: Scaling Disability Justice Advocacy


What Advocacy Strategy Is and Isn’t

This post is a basic overview of the dimensions of strategy that can impact our choices in advocacy approaches and community organizing:

Any Strategy is an integration of the ways (methods), means (resources of all kinds), and ends (the whys) of your advocacy. This integration provides you with a strategic web of meaning that helps you make decisions about your advocacy especially when the inevitable uncertainty of the future and scarcity of resources tests your limits.

  • The coherent integration of ways, means, and ends is your theory of victory
  • The context of your strategy is your Grand Strategy even if you never think about it, or your theory of security, how you keep the doors open and your advocacy continuing.
  • Your theory of victory requires decision-making heuristics (rules of thumb) based on the web of meaning created in your coherent integration, in a context of uncertainty and scarce resources.

What a strategy is not:

  • Strategy is not a simple extension of successful tactics.
  • A strategy is not a big complex operational plan.
  • A strategy is not a SWOT analysis

Defining levels of advocacy strategy implementation:

  • A Tactic is a plan for making a measurable change. It has a start and a stop.
  • An operation is a network of coordinated tactics, and can be judged to be more or less coherent. Whatever planning goes into an operation, once it starts, it will have to be modified on the fly.

So, since significant advocacy plans never survive the beginning of the CAS disruption effort intact, the implementation becomes a dynamic intentional complex adaptive system for the duration of the advocacy effort, ever shifting, and full of surprises.

Examples of Strategies:

  • Western Allies “Unconditional Surrender” in WWII: In WWI, the strategy was to force combatants to sign a peace treaty. Because this was so ineffective at preventing WWII, unconditional surrender became the guide to decision-making. This choice of strategy increased war deaths and injuries by a large amount, but stopped the post war combatant rearming, at least for a while.
  • Local disability organizing of complementary services and supports to The System. Such a strategy allows for the incremental expansion of an alternative support system while maintaining pressure on the current system to improve. This is a more resilient long-term strategy in the face of political and funding cycles, and the passive acceptance of how The System sees itself today.
  • Imagine two 6-month-old fraternal twins using different approaches to getting to and playing with a ball that has sounds and lights. One might choose an approach of careful movements, with lot of checking to see if the ball is closer; the other might choose an approach of wild, large movements, also checking less often to reorient and continue to move closer. Both achieve their goal, but the implicit learning they do is different and points to a difference in personal strategy, that we might call temperament or personality in other circumstances.
  • Intention is often viewed as a strategy. Intention creates a specific explicit outcome, and a possibility space of various potential choices. The strategy lies in the possibility space, not the outcome.

To expand and deepen the impact of the disability social justice agenda, our strategy must include the following dimensions:

  • Viewing The Health Care Industrial Complex (HCIC) as a box of tools rather than a source of solutions to healthcare and social support.
  • Organizing around the creation of real time supports that can respond to the extensive lack of such in the HCIC without allowing the HCIC to absorb them. If we allow the NCIC to absorb our alternate support system, bureaucratic and elite logic will alter that system in destructive and devaluing ways.

Keep this basic framework in mind as we go forward.

Next: The Geography of Disability Justice Advocacy