Al Etmanski’s speaking notes from the FCSSBC Social Policy Forum
The political announcement in Tuesday’s budget to increase spending for children in care occurred in large part because FOR THE LAST 15 – 20 YEARS:
- You spoke up IN DEFENSE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA’S children and families
- You worked with public service and political allies to prevent further cuts
- You developed new resources with your ingenuity and enterprise
- You worked inside systems w/o acknowledgement
It happened BECAUSE You didn’t turn your back when Children, Youth, Women, Families WERE NOT SEEN AS a political or economic priority even though your professionalism was often under attack.
Thank you for standing firm against what Pope France calls the “globalization of indifference”. Thank you for your leadership. And for taking on what must often feel like a thankless task.
You must feel this is the way it will always be. But it’s not. THE CULTURAL AND POLITICAL WINDS ARE CHANGING.
BOB DYLAN once sang – You DON’T HAVE TO BE A WEATHERMAN TO KNOW WHICH WAY WINDS ARE BLOWING. The winds are blowing in favour of Justice AND equality again.
One of the first signs was the election of the current Mayor of New york Bill de Blasio on a campaign to address homelessness, poverty and racial injustice. Bill de Blasio was an underdog unlike any New York mayor in recent memory – a staunch progressive, a crusader against income inequality and for affordable housing – very different from former Mayor Bloomberg.
The next wind to blow was the appearance of Pope Frances on the world stage. Here are a few of things he has said: “Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’ If a computer breaks it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal.” “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
And speaking to youth recently, he asked them to become revolutionaries, “I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.”
Within the last year the Ford Foundation redesigned their whole grantmaking to focus on the 5 key drivers of inequity. I think you would find them very familiar. Here in Canada the Maytree Foundation is leading a campaign to enshrine economic and social rights for our most vulnerable in our Charter.
Here is another strong wind that ‘s blowing around the world – a guaranteed annual income. Finland is implementing it. I Canada the idea is picking up credibility after a 40-year hiatus from the remarkable Dauphin Manitoba demonstration. The Globe and Mail wrote a favourable editorial last weekend. I also detect justice and equity as the ‘juice’ behind our newly elected government and the surprising strength of Bernie Saunders’ campaign.
If you factor out the political and religion elements of these winds of change they all have in common a challenge to the “iron rule of economy,” i.e. that we must first take care of the economy before we take care of each other.
What they mean to you and me is that the time is right in British Columbia for a transformative Vision. YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO TREAD WATER. You can regain your historical role AS ADVOCATES FOR THE BOLDEST RENDITION OF THE WORLD WE WANT FOR OUR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES. INSTEAD OF being under a cloud you can show us what is beyond the horizon. INSTEAD OF Playing defense YOU CAN regain the offence. INSTEAD OF Playing catch up you can take the lead.
We are at a Crossroads in BC. Your SACRED TASK is changing. You can now be bolder than you’ve ever been. Here’s the thing: YOU CAN’T DO IT ALONE. Furthermore, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You SIMPLY NEED TO THINK AND ACT LIKE A MOVEMENT.
Movements do 3 things much better than other organizational forms such as committees, task forces, partnerships, non-profits, sectors, government, coalitions and FEDERATIONS. THEY change culture – THOSE DEEPLY ROOTED HABITS attitudes and beliefs THAT KEEP THINGS THE WAY THEY ARE. They do it in three ways:
ONE – Movements provide a vehicle for collaborating and co-operating across sectors, organizational boundaries, social and economic strata, origins, backgrounds and jurisdictions. They are the ultimate inclusive container, encompassing the full assortment of actors AND ACTIONS required for transformative change.
TWO – Movements shift the boundaries of what is socially acceptable and expected. They provide a climate for new ideas. Movements create the favourable political conditions for the combination of legislative change, resource allocation, policy shifts, new stories and new behaviours you are looking for. THEY Embolden Politicians. The recent Paris Climate Agreement would not have happened without a global, grassroots climate movement. This movement of movements was DELIBERATELY CULTIVATED FOR THE Failed COPENHAGEN climate TALKS but proved its effectiveness in Paris. INCIDENTALLY one of the chief organizers was JASON MOGUS who lives on SALTSPRING.
THREE – Movements don’t just open our minds, they touch our hearts. University of Victoria’s BUDD HALL suggests that movements are evolving from simply describing the world we want, to giving us the experience of what this new world would resemble using the power of dance, drama, ritual, ceremony, poetry and humour. Movements, he says, are increasingly “about flow, networking, connectivity, immediacy, creativity and an immediate sensual intimacy.”
The arts and social movements make a good marriage because they’re both iconoclastic, set up by their very nature to challenge sacred cows. They lend movements compelling symbols and images that are more meaningful and hopeful than slogans and clichés.
You don’t need to start a new movement. Simply support the one(s) you are already part of. For example, the poverty reduction/anti-poverty movements comprise welfare reform, minimum wage, fair wage and guaranteed annual income advocates. Chances are high they could find a common agenda with folks addressing underemployment, unemployment, homelessness, food sovereignty, agri-business, urban gardening, social isolation, addiction, AND TREATMENT OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH, to name a few.
NOTE: The FCSSBC isn’t a movement, it’s a federation. If you are a member you have your organizational objectives and Federation objectives. You also have movement objectives. Your movement objectives will support your organizational and federation objectives. Here are 8 questions to help you think and act like a movement.
- Which movements are you already part of?
- Who are the key players and actors in these movements?
- How can these movements help you achieve your organizational mission?
- How would you describe your movement objectives?
- What actions can you take to support the movements you are already part of?
- Which movement players could you align with?
- Are you welcoming and supporting disruptive, frontline, grassroots individuals and groups?
- What about artists, painters, dancers, poets, sculptors, singers, storytellers…?
By setting aside time and resources for movement thinking and acting, we give greater lift to our collective aspirations. There are no shortcuts. Only when people come together in large numbers do we get the world we want. There is one important qualification to movement thinking and acting. MOVEMENTS IN CANADA MAY BE DIFFERENT from THOSE IN THE UNITED STATES BECAUSE THEY MAKE ROOM FOR GOVERNMENT.
YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD THE EXPRESSION THAT GOVERNMENT SEEMS PARALYSED? THERE IS A CERTAIN SENSE IN WHICH THAT IS TRUE. Off the top of my head, I CAN THINK OF AT LEAST FOUR SPINAL CORD INJURIES of Government.
- SHORT ATTENTION SPAN – FOCUS ON IMMEDIATE
- RISK ADVERSE
- EXCESSIVE FOCUS on ACCOUNTABILITY, TRANSPARENCY and PRIVACY CONSIDERATIONS
- LIMITED POLICY and RESEARCH CAPACITY. MOST GOVERNMENT POLICY SHOPS HAVE CLOSED DOWN OR ARE SUBSTANTIALLY UNDERSTAFFED. THEY NO LONGER are as up to date on emerging problems and TRENDS as we think they are.
ALL these ‘spinal cord’ injuries TAKE THEIR TOLL. IF A FRIEND WAS PARALYSED – YOU WOULD MAKE ACCOMMODATION TO ENSURE THEY PERFORMED AT THEIR PEAK. THAT’S WHY A NEW BREED OF ADVOCATES HAVE EMERGED – Solution-based Advocates.
Solution-based advocates want to do more than oppose government or focus unduly on what’s not working. They’re tired of reacting, and they work hard to cultivate a proactive mindset. Their focus is on workable solutions. These folks haven’t gone soft, parking their issues until government gets its act together. Neither are they naive. They are prudent however. They want results, just like everyone else, but they take government’s limitations into consideration. They have two objectives:
- To propose solutions and
- To enhance government’s capacity to make better decisions.
While pursuing their issue proponents of solution-based advocacy seek to improve relationships among all the players, to attract new allies and to build a base for addressing the next set of challenges.
Former prime minister Joe Clark calls the symbiotic relationship between civil society and government a marriage between imagination and mandate. What non-governmental organizations don’t have, he says, is “the authority to change the rules . . . Non-state organizations often have the imagination which the world needs, but only states and governments have the mandate and power to change laws and regulations and obligations.”
You know the expression necessity is the mother of invention. I’d like to propose a friendly amendment – If necessity is the mother of invention then love is the other parent. Passionate amateurs are inspired by love and motivated by necessity. Someone or something they care about is vulnerable, under siege or in trouble, and they have no choice but to respond.
Passionate amateurs don’t quit. They can’t quit. They are prepared to pour their life’s energy into resolving a challenge. Their commitment is freely given, beyond the boundaries of job descriptions, office hours, strategic plans, funding, fashion and political priorities. They are on the front lines, spotting and dealing with injustice years and sometimes decades before the issue seeps into the consciousness of our institutions.
You are all passionate amateurs – wherever you work in the ecosystem surrounding our children youth and families. Your actions are expressions of the heart.
Whatever role we play, our effectiveness improves when we fall in love with the issue – its mystery, its brokenness and its contradictions. Without that love, we are more likely to walk away from a challenge; to blame others, or to get distracted by a search for more technology and techniques.
The necessity to do something is usually clear. We have more than enough studies, reports, projections and statistics about what is wrong, horrible and not working. We now need to envelop our challenges with love. To tap into what people care deeply about. To rally the lovesick. Why? Because it’s 2016.