The most successful initiative to change the law and public perception in this country was the result of incrementalism — one of the most powerful ways to seek change.
Most people are aware that those seeking gay rights ran two very long term initiatives. One in schools, starting with how educators are educated. The other in the courts. Both have been successful in changing public perceptions, public policy and the law. Recently there have been some interviews about how the project was accomplished.
There is a good deal to be learned by any group seeking change in looking at what the gay rights group did, and in related matters.
I’ll start with a quote (From In Praise of Incrementalism):
I have lessons that I think any future movement can learn from the gay-rights movement, and they are as follows:
Put your own interest first. Do not take up every conceivable progressive issue that somebody in your movement thinks is interesting. At the beginning, new movements don’t have a lot of spare capital and they need to spend it on their issues and the things that will keep them together rather than fragment them. The gay movement did that.
Two, take the moral high ground. The AIDS epidemic forced the gay movement to take the moral high ground, and they did it beautifully and then they used it in the marriage fight perfectly.
And the third lesson is have weekly meetings. I am not convinced that social media is a substitute for the kind of social, deep rich social contacts that emerge from physical proximity to one another.
The next steps that Black Lives Matter can take are reasonable ones for them to take next, okay? The availability of technology in the form of video cameras and phone cameras empowers them to take bolder action than they would be able to take without the technology. So their next steps look about right to me. They’re bold, but they are in a sense incremental. I mean saying, “Don’t shoot me while I’ve got my hands in the air” does not strike me as a radical position.
They then have to move to much more profound issues like the organization of the police force and their training and the way that people use local taxes against communities of color like in Ferguson. Those are bigger bites, but it’s time I think for those to be addressed as well.
The next quote is from a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, Generous Orthodoxy. It comes from a man from a culture of peacemaking with years of experience in love and change.
“You have to respect the institution you’re trying to change and maintain a balance between loyalty and openness,” he said. “That is the hardest balance of all, but that’s the truest way to bring about transformation…
This point is so often underappreciated.
Without respect you lose credibility and you lose any chance to do anything but gratify your own pride. Hugh Nibley could say things with love that many still get attacked for saying because they lack that love and loyalty. Criticism without respect is bullying at best.
For more on Wenger, who was at the heart of the podcast, you can see the Mennonite News Page where they embrace their critic with pride.
He loves them and they love him. It is a matter of trust and love. And of proven patience, sacrifice, service and loyalty.
Any path to change has those two elements in it, if you want to be successful and care about change more than your own ego.
My final quote is from Moroni 7:
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Afternote: There are some people I really admire seeking changes in may places — and they are using all of these tools. This essay is not to be read as a criticism of any of them, but more to illustrate which tools work and which ones that do not.