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Why Pragmatic Activism

Updated: Jan 20

Pragmatic Activism represents the culmination of nearly two decades of relentless dedication to transforming lives in my community. During my diverse career journey as a community organizer, political operative, congressional staffer, campaign manager, professor, trainer, and business owner, I've noticed three major issues that foster apathy and cynicism in our society:

Most activists are actually reactivists!

Since the tragic murder of George Floyd, the call to protest against oppressive systems has gained immense popularity. Society is more attuned than ever to the pressing challenges we face. However, being tuned in doesn't necessarily translate to taking ownership and engaging in the sustained effort required to change the very systems that make decisions on our behalf.

A noticeable decline occurs when we ask individuals to transition their energy from protest to long-term commitments like attending government meetings, boosting voter turnout, donating to crucial causes, and generally undertaking the work necessary for lasting change. Instead of overhauling racist systems, we often witness symbolic gestures such as new national holidays rather than substantial transformations in the criminal justice system or policing.

This observation isn't limited to progressive issues, as we've seen little sustained activity after January 6th, 2021, aside from legislative changes in areas like abortion and the perpetuation of culture wars, especially in southern states. It appears that people tend to channel their anger into activism rather than viewing it as a long-term effort to ensure their protests lead to the desired changes.

Our reliance on best practices can drown out innovative principles.

Throughout my years of working with various organizations, I've noticed a significant dependence on best practices. The typical approach to addressing food insecurity is by supplying healthy foods, tackling homelessness by providing shelter, and enhancing child welfare through more programs. These are proven methods employed by most organizations and are indeed valuable initiatives. However, they often position the organization as merely "transforming society through food, housing, programming," and so on.

Nonetheless, history has yet to witness a completely equitable society. To truly transform any community, we must explore different approaches and innovate our methods. This could involve addressing zoning laws in areas with potential for more affordable housing or working to increase community demand for healthy foods instead of relying solely on supply to solve food insecurity.

Furthermore, collaborating with the business community, known for its tendency to innovate, can yield valuable insights. In essence, we need to reduce our dependence on established ways of doing things and look forward to new possibilities. We must also embrace perspectives that we aren't accustomed to hearing.

Modern Day Idealism and Identity Politics foster tribalism, which undermines collective responsibility.

Words like individualism, freedom, privacy, achievement, and justice, along with many others, can carry different meanings for different people. Today, it often seems that our practice of these ideals revolves more around "me" than a true commitment to the source of the value. However, this doesn't deter individuals from accusing others of not living up to vague standards of freedom or other ideals.

Similarly, identity, whether it's based on race, ethnicity, gender, abilities, age, religion, or other demographic and social factors, can mean different things to different people. However, emphasizing identity and values can create a tribalistic environment that detracts from the idea that we are all in this together.

These dynamics create a landscape where nonprofits compete for funding within their specific issue areas, businesses prioritize self-interest and incentives before advocating for change, philanthropy seeks transformative outcomes on a tight budget, and activists often provoke resentment, anger, and frustration, which are not the foundations of strong alliances and collaborations.

Ultimately, if we cannot agree on the "why" of change, we may find common ground in the "how" change occurs. This is precisely why I've introduced Pragmatic Activism, a social approach designed to guide people in their long-term commitment to social good. In the following journal, podcasts, and workshops, we'll delve deeper into the principles of Pragmatic Activism. I invite you to stay tuned to learn more!

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