When I started Systems Change Consulting, nearly 3 years ago, my intention was to use the expertise I have acquired over my 30 year professional career to help those interested in progressive systems change accomplish their goals to make the world a better place, particularly for those with the greatest needs. While I have had a great deal of success in this endeavor, I have also noticed that while living in Wisconsin during the past 5 years, many progressives are simply shaking their heads in wonder at the ever accelerating regressive direction our state is heading, decimating many of our fundamental institutions, such as public schools, state and local government, and the University of Wisconsin, which were designed to allow as many people as possible to live healthy and sustainable lives.
Never before have I heard so many friends and colleagues consider leaving Wisconsin as they become convinced that resistance to the regressive laws and policies put in place over the past 5 years is futile. Perhaps, some wonder, that is the plan of those in power, to simply change the face of Wisconsin, by showing those who do not care for the direction our state is heading, the exit door.
While I have no easy answers, history suggests that there has never been a political party that has stayed in power forever. Indeed, the more the party in power acts like it will maintain its majority forever, the less likely it will stay in power, because over time, it will create disillusionment amongst enough of its supporters that the pendulum will swing in the other direction.
Wisconsin has long been a state of extreme ideologues. Shortly after World War 2, Wisconsin elected Sen. Joe McCarthy, who wreaked havoc on many lives with his anti-communist crusade, until he was finally discredited in 1954, and died at the young age of 48, in 1957, of hepatitis, which was widely assumed to have been caused or at least exacerbated by his alcohol abuse. This tragic chapter of American history, ironically, came on the heels of the progressive creation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
McCarthy’s death was followed by Wisconsin’s election of one of the greatest environmentalists of his era, Gaylord Nelson, who was first elected Governor in 1958, and then served as a U.S. Senator from 1963-1981, founding Earth Day in 1970.
Currently, Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators, Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, have been rated as the most ideologically split Senators of any state in the country. Sen. Johnson is running for re-election in 2016 against the progressive former Senator Russ Feingold.
This brief political history demonstrates that political power is in constant flux. Therefore, political engagement provides constant opportunities for change, despite the frequent frustration that lack of immediate success may bring.
How can progressives push back? Stick to the fundamentals of progressive systems change which a review of what I have written since starting Systems Change Consulting includes:
- Evaluating the Effectiveness of Advocacy to avoid repeating mistakes that end in failure;
- Focus on building community because progressive systems change cannot happen without community support;
- Provide moments of inspiration like we are witnessing in the marriage equality movement so that one does not give in to despair;
- Set clear and achievable goals and hold those responsible for achieving those goals accountable for both success and failure;
- Promote and build on ideas that work;
- Don’t Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good;
- Take Courage, because despair is the enemy of progress; and
- never forget that even when things are not going well, the Morning After, the Sun Still Rises.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.