by Damita Brown
According to Mike Carberry, only critical mass advocacy can make significant and lasting changes in the way we address the economic disparity that leads to homelessness, unemployment, and lack of access to basic services. Too often the awareness and willingness to act does not gain broad-based public support that translates into election issues. As a result, accountability among elected officials does not materialize and policy agendas remain stagnant and unresponsive to the push for change. Carberry, a Johnson County supervisor, invites us to focus more the “strength in numbers” brand of advocacy. This strategy that is not new, but is it undervalued among local community organizations and agencies?
At the heart of Carberry’s view is a brand of optimism and confidence that holds both the political process and the actors themselves blameless. Indeed, he is not lamenting a lack of awareness or compassion among voters or elected officials. That is not missing. Instead, he is suggesting that what is needed is a return to the dynamic politics of politics. These are the politics that are driven by strong advocacy, that can lead to undeniable accountability, and that translate into viable and lasting policy change. And a very basic level, it boils down to math.
Say there’s 25 people in the community working on homelessness on a regular basis and another 25 people that are working on affordable housing and then in this other silo there’s 25 people working on hunger and another 25 people working on transportation and another 25 people working on health care, you know free medical clinic, free dental (care). There might be a little bit of cross over but there’s 125 people right there. What if they all worked on these issues together? They … need help, they need numbers, they need to build political strength by having that number of people reach more of a critical mass, with 100 people their voices are amplified 4 times...That’s a voice that has to be reckoned with.
In Carberry’s view, separate groups working on separate but related issues limit impact because they are working in silos which have the self-defeating burdens of poor communication, isolation and lack of collaboration.
“I’m not suggesting we start a new organization per se, it’s more of a coalition than an organization. Different groups present—here’s what we’re working on now, here’s what we’ve accomplished, and here are issues that are coming up. Here’s where we could use help…. It’s a round table discussion. I don’t think we need to start an entirely new organization, a new 501c3. You sit at a round table not a long table. You sit at a round table where everybody is equal and every ones shares.”
Carberry wants to see coalition-based advocacy brought to bear the concerns that are impacting our community. Advocacy works best when there is a basic understanding of the key obstacles. What gets in the way of affordable housing? What keeps groups in holding patterns around the same issues for decades without making formidable change? These issues become the elephants in the room that lack the political currency needed to be reckoned with accordingly. Coalition-based advocacy grows out of recognition of these kinds of dynamics and obstacles.
We need each other in order to be effective. As simple as that sounds, we still have work to do in Carberry’s words “to drill holes in the sides of those silos” so we can hear each other, so we can turn isolated issues in to election issues. Elected officials cannot take our support for granted if we are holding their feet to the fire and making sure they remember who put them in office and why.