A movement moves. It has impact. To remain alive it must do something. It has the capacity, or lacking capacity, is developing the capacity to make a difference in matters that are important to it. Some movements make a difference. Some are simply ineffectual to the point they eventually become irrelevant.
There are many ways to make a difference and political impact is only one. Most movements though that concern themselves with human or civil rights seek to make some kind of political impact and this post concerns itself with the CSX community as a movement trying to make a political impact. I think it is more than that though and anything I say is tempered by the fact that there is much more to it than I address below.
For the last couple of years it seems that all discussions begin and end with the Murphy Bill. After basically self destructing two years in a row a Murphy Bill has passed the House. It is absent some of the worst features of the first bill but still is a problem on multiple counts. There is another bill coming through the Senate absent some of the worst language and provisions of the Murphy Bill. While the Senate bill is not an A or an award winner it is not the Murphy Bill and for most people I know the thought seems to be of we can’t get what we want let’s do what we can to avoid what we know we don’t want. The message from most people seems to be pass the Senate bill with no Murphy amendments.
The scorecard, particularly recently, has not been super great. Advocacy is a competitive struggle and results have not always been as hoped. There is little doubt we had some real effect in getting some of the more noxious provisions of the original Murphy Bill removed. Our objections to the final bill were largely unheard and poorly understood. The final tally was 422-2. Plainly the narrative we used seemed to have little credibility or leverage with the House at large when it came to voting on the final bill.
The series run recently by the Boston Globe on “mental illness” lends further fuel to the fear that the narrative of the CSX community is floundering on a wider stage. The idea that the system frequently injures the people it claims to serve, that the process of the mental health system is part of the problem seems to be poorly understood and little accepted by people who have not experienced it as a personal reality.
In fact the people from the Treatment Advocacy Center, the Murphy Bill folks and anyone who tries to advocate for coercion as a central tenet has tried to make a caricature of the CSX argument a kind of boogeyman. They tend to label anyone who disagrees with them as “anti – psychiatry” and say these people don’t care about people in genuine distress and their arguments are proof they are not for people getting the help they really need.
So where do we stand?
Do we have a movement? I hear people talk about “the movement” all the time. For some people the question has become is it real or is it wishful thinking? Are we or can we become a difference that makes a difference?
Here is what I think a movement, any movement, needs in order to prosper, grow and make anywhere close to the impact it hopes to make.
None of these things need to be a result of some kind of formal process, but the extent to which they exist and operate, I think, at least in part, define the chances that the movement will be persist and make progress towards the goals it holds dear. None of these things are either or. They are all a matter of degree and they may ebb and flow depending on the circumstances. As you read these consider “the movement.
There should be a consensus about the ethics of being a movement. There should be an ethics of what it means to be part of the same effort that includes first and foremost how we are to treat each other. Movements that lack that become cannibalistic and dissolve into competing factions that over time come to believe that the people who supposedly are about same thing you are about, the people who care about addressing the issues you care about are in fact the real enemy. Movements that cannot tolerate disagreement without attacking those disagreeing usually end up with some kind of demand that its followers hold to some kind of true belief. In the end the movement implodes and becomes irrelevant to any impact on the goals it was originally formed around.
Sometimes just watching it seems that we are plagued with factions that all believe they have the truth. Someone told me that the conflict was because there was not one movement but really seven movements. I told that to a friend and his response has stuck with me. “Any movement that is really 7 movements in terms of impact is no movement.” More than once I have heard this movement described as “circular firing squad.” “We make a lot of noise but we are better at shooting each other than anything else.” Perhaps I am misperceiving but my impression is that a lot of people share this concern.
The movement should be about something important enough that the people in it place their conflicts and disagreements with others below it. The most important thing about any movement is what connects people. What brings them together? There should be a momentum towards cohesion. Barring other issues and other problems I think you could make the argument that the more cohesive a movement the more likely it is to be effective. I am not saying people need to stop arguing or expressing their differences. I am saying they must accept them and differences cannot be deal breakers that make any united action impossible.
People should feel like the movement “has something for them.” Their should be some sense that their involvement, their identity as part of the movement means something to them. It isn’t what the movement demands or takes from their lives but what it adds. The movement should represent an opportunity they don’t want to miss. It should be safe and not a threat. The movement should in a sense confirm their worth and not threaten it. It should have a perceived chance of success in achieving the things important to it.
People should feel like they have something to give to the movement that matters. They must feel like they contribute, that what they do matters. They need to feel more than spectators. They must feel like the movement is better for them being there. The movement should give the clear message that what they think, how they feel and what they do is significant and important.
The movement should have a set of shared principles, values, and ideas that define the identity of that movement. To the extent that is not true it is noise and volume. People who can’t stand together don’t normally stand for much that matters.
The movement should have a plan or vision. It should have something it is doing to accomplish something that it thinks is worth doing. Otherwise it comes across to others that they are simply complainers with no real idea how to make things better.
The movement should have a way to measure how it is doing. If there is not a clearly shared measure of what constitutes success it is hard to persist through hard times. It is important to know the difference between battles and wars and know that battles lost do not mean wars lost. How do we know how we are doing? Do we have a common measure that most people buy into?
The movement should have a way to welcome, educate, and involve new people into it. If it doesn’t it tends to die from lack of energy. Few people come to believe they are doing all the work and it eventually just gets very fatiguing and people back off for their own preservation. Movements that impact things grow. Those that don’t die.
The movement should have a sense of its natural and possible allies. Movements live and die often based on what they do in coalition with others that do not accept or value exactly what they value. More people have more impact. More points of concern have more impact. A wider base of support is better than a smaller base of support. Few groups will have the impact they desire without being in coalition with someone. All movements have “deal breakers”, things that they feel make them unable to be in coalition with other groups or interests. The nature of those “deal breakers” often define the stability of any coalition we may have with others. If your movement is small sometimes coalitions make the difference in being successful or not.
A movement should have the ability to change when the circumstances that gave birth to it have in some way changed. It is a narrow balance between preserving the historical truths that have given birth to you and changing to meet the current realities you are struggling with. Both are important. If you lose your history in a sense you lose your “soul.” If you ignore current realities you become a rerun only important and relevant to you.
I have been involved in several “movements” in my life. I am involved with more than one right now. Some made a difference and some in the end made very little. Some of the dimensions discussed above are strengths for this movement. Some are not. And some are even glaring weaknesses. I don’t think any of them give themselves to easy or pat answers. But some issues I hope we address.
One way to look at advocacy is to see it as an attempt to grow the capacity to make a difference about things that you value. It is not always simply a matter of how hard you try or how much you care. A lot of passionate and committed movements never make the impact they want. Somebody wins and somebody loses and the task is to develop the capacity to win.
I think we can make a difference in many ways and in many ways we have. I think we need to continue to make a difference. I have a lot of concerns right now. Most people I know do. I also think unfortunately we also have the ability to implode and become more of an irrelevant curiosity than anything and that would be a monumental tragedy.
There are a lot of different ways to assess how we are doing. This post doesn’t begin to address them all. Looking back through this there are things that I think might make some people mad. I apologize if that is you. There is nothing meant in here to be a personal attack. More than anything my hope has been to ask questions that I hope might spur further conversation.
The stakes are great. My hope is that we rise to the occasion to make the kind of difference so many people need for us to be.
As always thanks for listening and considering the points made. I really appreciate it and hope it has been well spent time for you.