How to Make Change Happen
By Shaun King
I am going to switch it up today. Instead of giving you this week’s stories of horrible injustice, which Lord knows there is a long list of those stories to tell this week, I want us to have a serious conversation about how we make change happen in this country.
As I reflect back on the past three years, I think I can squeeze dozens of important lessons that I learned down to one essential lesson — which is this — awareness and action are not the same thing. Making people aware of our problems is important, vital work, but awareness of a problem and solving that problem are not the same.
We’ve mastered awareness, but what I’ve learned is that people in power are willing to be painfully aware of police brutality, painfully aware of white supremacy, painfully aware of a prison industrial complex, abundantly clear about inequality and bigotry and racism — and still do absolutely nothing about it.
Politicians and lawmakers are willing to watch us take us a knee, watch us march, watch us picket and protest — and wait us out. They are willing and prepared to outlast us — and, in most cases, to do absolutely nothing about the problems we highlight and amplify.
Don’t get me wrong. I love social media, and it is an important part of how we make change happen. But we can’t retweet ourselves out of our most serious problems. We can’t Facebook share our way out of our most serious challenges. It’s just not working.
So let me tell you the four things we need to make change happen.
They’re all important, but the first one is essential, and I’ve grown to believe a significant reason why we’re stuck is because we’ve failed at this step.
The first thing we need to make change happen is a well-crafted plan. What’s our plan for change? Do you know it? Where can I find it? Can you share it with me? Do your friends and family members know it?
Here’s what I’ve learned about why we need to craft and communicate careful plans:
Whatever our plans are to combat police brutality and reform the criminal justice system, people sure as hell don’t know them. I just spoke at UC Davis outside of Sacramento this week and when I travel and speak across the country, and ask people if they can tell me what the local plan is to combat injustice and police brutality in their town, they usually have no idea. Sometimes they can tell me a few heartbreaking stories of injustice, but it’s a rare day when I ask people what the plan is that they reply with an informed answer. I’m not criticizing them! I’m criticizing us. If the people aren’t aware of the basic plans for change, we’ve failed.
To be clear, our movement has diagnosed the problems, we’ve even proposed solutions, but we’ve done a bad job at informing people of how we get from where we are to where we need to be. And that’s a problem. Plans are only as effective as the ability for everyday people to repeat them back to you. The people don’t know our plans. They have not adopted them as their own. We won’t have change until we fix this.
Which leads me to the second thing we need — we need people. We need organized people who are on board with our well-crafted plans. What I’m finding is that even some of our most conscious, informed, woke men and women, have a desire for change, but aren’t really clear on what that means for them. We have to get to the point where our people and our plans are fully and completely merged. Too often, we rally people, and make them aware of problems, but fail to get them on board for well-crafted plans.
Yes, the more people you can have on board, the better, but I’m increasingly convinced that 50 organized people who are fully and completely on board for a well-crafted plan can get more done than 50,000 people who want change in an esoteric way, but have no real idea what that means for them.
You need a plan, you need people, and the third thing you need to make change happen is energy. Sometimes I use the word momentum. People have to be motivated and energized and prepared to fight for the change we want to see. People with momentum can get so much done. Momentum is easy to lose and almost impossible to fake. My theory on momentum is that the best way to produce it is through small, hard fought victories that lead to bigger battles, and bigger wins. Winning builds momentum. But here’s the thing — winning takes a well-crafted plan and an organized team. When we fight without those things we lose — which kills our energy and destroys any hopes for momentum.
And I’ll close with my final thought — it’s an important one — this modern movement, call it the Black Lives Matter Movement, or the movement to combat injustice, the movement for true equality in America — is one of the least funded movements in the history of movements. To win, we must be well-resourced. And here’s what I know — those who are mobilizing against us, be it police and prison unions, or prosecutor associations, or Trump and Sessions themselves– they are well funded — and they use that funding to lobby, organize, market, promote, fight laws, and do the hard work to make change happen. It just so happens that what they fight for (or against), quite successfully I must add, goes against the very values and ideas those of us in the justice community hold near and dear.
Let me close with this — we’re being out-organized and out-spent on the issues that matter the most. We’re losing on so many fronts not because losing is inevitable, not because we’re bound to lose, but because those who mean us harm have simply done a better job fighting for what they believe in. That’s a serious simplification of systemic injustice and inequality, but the root of it is true. The machines and mechanisms of injustice are well-crafted, well-oiled machines. To change them, we’ll have to be better — much better.