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How NOT To Make Public Policy Change Happen

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I’ve written a lot about my perspective around making social change — much of which is informed by my nineteen year former career as a community organizer. You can see a collection of these posts at The Best Posts & Articles On Building Influence & Creating Change.

Two recent articles bring me to this topic again today.

The first one appeared in The New York Times yesterday talking about the ongoing battle in Louisiana about Common Core Standards.

This is what one of the advocates for retaining Common Core in the state said:

“We have a saying,” Mr. Campbell added: “No permanent friends. No permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.”

No, no, no….

That is indeed the original quotation, though there is some dispute who actually said it at least one-hundred-fifty-years ago.

However, veteran organizers know that the legendary Saul Alinsky (see The Best Sites To Learn About Saul Alinsky) modified it to say:

There are no permanent allies, no permanent enemies — only changing self-interests

Notice the two significant changes:

* “friends” is changed to “allies” — friends are for private life where there is unconditional love present. “Allies” is for public life, where reciprocity is the currency.

* “no permanent interests” is changed to “only changing self-interests” — Living in a world of permanent self-interests make the possibilities of change and compromise more remote. We are all changing all the time, as is the world. If we live in a world of permanent interests then, for example, we live in one where, in the face of what’s happening in Ferguson right now, we progressive school reformers would only continue to  talk about Common Core and NCLB Waivers without modifying our present actions. We should have a small number of key principles we won’t compromise, but it becomes a huge problem when we turn so many of our beliefs into them.

The other related article that is making the rounds is from Commentary and is titled Why We Dehumanize Political Opponents.

We certainly need to be aware of different perspectives, but effective social change requires polarization.

Name-calling that’s done outside of the context of a well-organized political strategy is inappropriate, ineffective and counter-productive. But, within that context, it’s an important tactic. I wish the author of the piece in Commentary had recognized that reality at the same time he talked about how we should be nicer to each other.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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