Policy and CommunityMay 25, 2010 Leave a comment
My recent post on the limits of policy elicited a very good conversation. One of the things that became evident is that in some settings people are so focused on their personal development and their community life that they pay little attention to the issues of the day. In other settings people are so focused on the fight for justice through policy change that they pay little attention to their own well being or to the hard work of building community.
While I have no data at my fingertips, I would venture to hypothesize that many of the people that are focused on structural change share an analysis that pays lots of attention to issues of equity, power and inclusion. I also suspect that many of the people focused on personal development and community life come into their focus from a well meaning but privileged perspective.
The answer seems easy on the surface – we need to focus on both – and it’s absolutely true. But it is so much easier said than done! One side might be so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems our society faces and so stumped by the intractability of our political system that an inward and small scale focus might seem like the only possibility. The structural side might have little patience for it might label as indulgent, it might prefer the measurability of a policy victory and it might keep a historical lens that upholds the forward motion of progressive public policy in our context.
Personally, I have little faith in the capacity of the state to make real change happen – even if it has made significant change possible during some of the most important moments in our history. However, I do believe we have to pay attention to policy. I don’t think self-development and a focus on community in the Northeast will do much to affect the policy of apartheid that has been put forward in Arizona. But I still think the state follows, I think it is most important to actually change the hearts and minds of people in such a way that popular sentiment actually shifts and that it shifts in such a way that the state will not dare to ignore it.
This type of transformation, the social transformation that makes good policy possible and bad policy impossible, is itself rooted in a transformative (as opposed to self-indulgent) experience of community. Solid human connections among people who dare to have the difficult conversations – the conversations that change us – are at the root of the sort of change that does not ignore the state, but wields it.