The Burghers of Calais is a statue by Rodin, pictured above, and a story of commitment by actual politicians to the lives and future of those they represented. This commitment brings up some interesting questions about the future of US political elites after the current election.
Around the time that Britain became a hotspot for the Black Plague, King Edward was fighting in the early part of the Hundred Years’ War. Edward was conducting a siege of the French City of Calais that had lasted almost a year. Needless to say, the citizens of Calais were suffering from starvation and disease.
Edward (being a nasty piece of work) demanded that the Burghers (the most prominent citizens) come to him dressed in rags, with nooses around their necks, carrying the keys to the city, ready to be beheaded. Edward said he would spare Calais destruction once the city was open, but would kill the Burghers.
Six of the Burghers met Edward’s demands in order to save their city. At the last moment, Edward pardoned them for reasons that are obscure (many stories have emerged as to how this might have happened).
My question to you as you participate in the 2020 election, no matter who you vote for, or how you vote, is:
What current officeholders or candidates for this election do you think would be willing to give up their lives for those they represent?
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.
All advocacy occurs in what might be described as negotiation possibility space. Each advocacy effort is an ongoing “conversation” with a target about the division of some resources.
These resources can be based on a rights schema but usually involve actual negotiation over other kinds of resources, including money, power, target control over infrastructure and decisions, and just about any other trait the target might have that impinges on the access by the person, family, or community being represented.
The target ordinarily views the negotiation as a contest over the division of resources-money, staff time, staff tasks and obligations, and so on. While targets have some commitment to the rights of the person, they view rights as negotiable precisely because rights involve the division of resources in a process of negotiation, not as inalienable rights of the person.
It is important for advocates to remember that the right to autonomy and free choice is not what is being negotiated. It is the resources that are necessary to make autonomy and free choice real. It is easy to forget this fundamental truth in a tense long negotiation over resources. Also, over time, it is easy to develop habits of thought and action that focus on the resources being negotiated and not the autonomy and freedom that is the only justification for the advocacy.
When people negotiate over resources, they will suffer some loss even if the negotiation is viewed as successful. This is the nature of negotiation between parties who each have some power. This is another reason why negotiation should not be viewed as the same as the right to autonomy and freedom.
We use our ability to abstract as a way of making a map of some territory. We use the map to get some insight into, say, the target of our advocacy work. Once we have the insight, we are supposed to put that insight back into the territory. But we often stop before putting it back. Instead, we treat the insight as though it were the truth of the territory. We confuse the useful map for reality, and we make decisions based on our now false sense of reality.
We can use the base metaphor as our example. I am old enough to remember when I had to use an actual book of maps to find my way around for the many advocacy activities I di at Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service. I might have 3 separate advocacy meetings across six counties in the Thumb of Michigan in a single day. It was common that I was traveling to a place I’d never been to before. I had to plan my trips to assure I had a decent chance of arriving on time. Poring over the maps was necessary most days.
But it was easy to forget that, especially back then, there were no notices of road conditions, accidents, construction schedules. The map route was not the actual process of traveling in the real world. And that is the difference between the map and the territory. If I did conflate them, I could very well get caught up short in my plan by reality, in a dead end, blocked by an accident, by the change of location of the meeting, and so on.
But a lot of map-territory conflation is not so easily detected or so quickly punished. Confusing the map for the territory is a common kind of misinformation that often goes undetected because believing the map to be the territory allows for political and financial control over the distribution of power, reputation, and wealth. There are no obvious consequences to the belief that the map is the territory (at least not in the short run), This failure of thought becomes habitual, and undermines our ability to see and plan with some level of clarity.
This fallacy arises from the way we use language, and so is unavoidable. We must question our abstractions, not just use them for real world analysis. By not questioning, we make strategic errors in our advocacy, and undermine our ability to create valued outcomes. We use planning and the logic of the “logic model” to organize “things” that don’t exist. We assume that people will change according to the way we manipulate them as abstractions (director, asshole, enemy, ally, etc.)
I’ll use education as the basic model for the discussion of the ecosystem idea since everyone has lived experience with it and advocating in education has been advocacy in which I have been deeply involved.
Ecosystems are self-evolving frameworks of many interactive parts and are a type of Complex Adaptive System (CAS). The parts act for their own benefit, so the stability of the CAS requires interactions in which the parts need each other to survive. This idea is equally true of Advocacy Target Ecosystems.
Model of an Advocacy Target Ecosystem:
Imagine two circles.
The inner circle is the education system that is your advocacy target. Within this circle, the strong relationships/processes that make up the target drive its ongoing behavior and purpose.
The outer circle includes all the peripheral organizations and communities that relate to the education system. They constitute weak relationships/processes that buffer the target system and effectively prevent the strong processes of the target from running away and undermining the ability of the target to fulfill its purposes.
These two subsystems make up the actual target ecosystem. Together, these two subsystems act as a roughly stable ongoing process. If we wish to change the target, we must engage these subsystems.
The standard way of engagement is to disrupt or destabilize processes in the subsystems, to force the target to respond to a change in its control. However, it is very difficult to destabilize or disrupt the strong processes without undermining the ability of a target to pursue its purpose. In fact, it is the gradual corruption of these strong processes that divorces the target from its reason for existing over time. (See The Struggle of Two Missions).
It is easier to disrupt or destabilize the weak processes.
Because they are weak processes, why would the target change its behavior to respond to a disruption or destabilization of its periphery?
The relationship between a target and its peripheral buffering weak processes (from the perspective of the target) is ideally one where the weak processes cycle through a repeatable set of predictable actions. If the predictable cycle breaks down, the target must invest energy in restoring the predictable cycle, even if it means changing in some small ways inside the subsystem of strong processes. It will expend this extra energy (from a capped total amount of energy that also supports its strong processes) in order to restore rough stability and continue as much as it can to behave as it did before.
So, advocates disrupt the weak processes by filing a complaint or calling for an IEPC or reaching out to stakeholders to which the strong subsystem can’t avoid responding. They try to leverage the target systems to make changes that expand the personal autonomy and possibility space of choice available to students and their families. This engagement is the standard way that advocates change target ecosystems.
There are many variations on this standard way of engaging a target ecosystem. And, the weak processes that stabilize and support the target consist of much more than rules and due process. There are many weak processes that support any target, and all of them are potentially subject to destabilization/disruption, forcing a response from the target. For an education target, these might include the school board, the various funding mechanisms necessary for the strong process subsystem, the political interface of the target in the larger community, target policy or action failures in any part of the strong process subsystem, and so on.
Our advocacy must become part of the weak process subsystem before it can be effective over the long term, and before we can be in a position to approach changing the strong well-protected processes of the target. This means that, in addition to our work to disrupt or destabilize weak processes, like the target, we must engage the weak processes and build ongoing relationships with them. We must become part of the target ecosystem to be able to effectively advocate.
A few years ago, I created a short presentation as part of a grant to train LTSS Supports Coordinators in the Why and How of PCP. My presentation was part of the Why. I did the presentation is a Microsoft Tool called Sway, so I could see how the tool worked. Sway is a way of rapidly creating online presentations that is easier than PowerPoint.
I decided recently to redo the presentation using a Social Justice Framework instead of the more step-by-step version I did back then. Here it is, and I’d be interested in your view of the results…
A Social Justice Response to Disability-Based Oppression
I estimate that more human beings are enduring agony today than ever before; the number could be greater than the sum of sufferers throughout history. I speak of starvation and epidemic; war and terrorism; deprivation, exploitation, and physical torture. I repeat the word agony; I am not talking about “hard times”. -Stafford Beer
All forms of oppression deny, distort, degrade or disrupt the exercise of agency by individuals, families, human communities (however they are defined by gender, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic of identity), race, ethnicity,or nationality. Because all these examples of targets for oppression have members who have disabilities, the oppression of the disabled embodies the deep richness of the meaning of intersectionality and its possibilities for real empowerment.
For most dimensions of identity, social justice progresses through large-scale activism, focused on community-level protest and policy advocacy. Successful activism creates “affordances”, tools in the environment that can be used by members of the community to resolve or correct some form of oppression. For People With Disabilities (PWD), while such activism is a core part of our progress in Social Justice, the level of oppression embedded in the infrastructure of every society in our world is so ubiquitous, that community level social justice progress is not enough. Each PWD needs a very local and granular set of affordances to experience and pursue the same freedom that other communities can explore through the modern advocacy of valued social justice outcomes.
Although we tend to focus on the advocacy task at hand, our work to support the personal agency and full life of individuals with disabilities does not occur in isolation. As advocates, we are a part of a larger complex adaptive system (CAS) that includes support and funding systems, policy and legislative systems, and communities of people with Lived Experience from the many communities of people with disabilities. Our focus on the current task assumes the ongoing operation of the larger ecosystem as a context for all our advocacy work. We make use of affordances (agencies, laws, rules, funding, expertise, etc.) that act within the larger advocacy context as ongoing processes which we can influence to achieve valued outcomes.
In the larger processes of this ecosystem, all subsystems change and adjust over time through advocacy activities (and many other activities as well). Our goals as advocates are to:
•Build our relationships with other parts of the ecosystem in order to carry on advocacy and the other kinds of communication necessary to maintain these relationships.
•Evaluate and adapt our advocacy planning and actions based on a constant debriefing of the impact of our actions and an equally constant monitoring of the ongoing changes in the rest of the ecosystem, that both enable and disrupt our advocacy strategy.
•Facilitating a more effective advocacy/target ecosystem, in the sense that it becomes easier over time to advance valued outcomes.
•Introduce New Values and Novel Expectations into the interacting parts of the ecosystem. Successful introduction triggers a cycle called Autocatalytic Mutualism which drives changes in the ecosystem. Effective advocacy is always creative in this sense.
This part of the project will explore why we need to keep the entire advocacy ecosystem in mind while we work toward our valued outcomes. We are a part of this ecosystem and never stand outside of it, though our focus shifts as our work and the context of our work evolve.
Once we develop our tactical advocacy skills through individual representation and traditional systems advocacy, we need to expand our vision and our skills to encompass a form of systems advocacy that supports the organizing of emergence as a way we implement our social justice agenda.
Emergence means (among other things) the creation of a network with a core of strong process links and a periphery of weak process links. This mutually reinforcing network of strong and weak ongoing process links is the way that emergence occurs. This network is the governing constraint that creates a possibility space in which emergence can grow.
Remember that strong linked processes drive the local system, and weak linked processes buffer the local system and prevent it from “burning out”.
World Building is another way to talk about such networks and organizing for emergence. World building can be a very human tool for building a change ecosystem. While the detail of building a change ecosystem is the subject of the next Part (7) of this work, I hope this slide will introduce you to the idea of world building, something which we all embrace as a standard part of our social and personal lives., mostly in media, the arts, and social culture. For example, many entertainment vehicles (like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, the Matrix trilogy) have been extended as highly detailed, multi-media, social community driven worlds far beyond what we used to accept as the boundaries of entertainment and fan culture.
World building can create possibility spaces that allow the enabling and disruption of affordances. Such worlds can be used to engage in the task of creating a new future for PWD. Building a World for social justice is an expansion of the possibility space that PWD created when we embraced the civil rights advocacy paradigm. It represents the possibilities we have learned from the strengths and weaknesses of civil rights advocacy.
Today, we tend to use change narratives only linearly to illustrate a value or a policy failure of the system, not to formulate an entirely new way to go forward.
But, if we are to remake this world in a way that supports personal autonomy, social inclusion, and freedom of choice, we will have to simultaneously make our own lives much larger than they’ve been before.