By Frank Blechman
Many, many times, I have been in “strategic planning” sessions in which someone has insisted that we had to pick one goal or one approach to that goal. Recognizing that time and other resources are limited, I have not always chosen to argue the point.
However, I have found over the years that forced choices are most often false choices.
For example, when I was working in the nuclear disarmament movement 40 years ago, a rich debate was going on about whether it was more important to work for change at the international, regional, national, local, or interpersonal level. Advocates made good cases for each approach, explaining not only why it was important, but why it had to come first; how it was a clear prerequisite for change at any other level. Each got totally frustrated with their inability to convince others to their point of view. (And of course, everyone was frustrated that despite having support from over 80% of Americans in polls, the national policies and war plans did not change.)
Forced choices are most often false choices.
It was clear to me then (and more clear to me now) that there was (and is) no right answer to this question. To reduce or eliminate weapons of global mass destruction, we need change at every level. Creative international agreements, new regional verification/enforcement structures, revised national policies, reconsidered local concepts of security, and new personal expectations were all needed. For any individual or group, the question, therefore, was more accurately stated as, “At what level can I/we be most effective?” It would be ideal if a great consultation and collaboration could assure everyone that all of the other parts were being covered and, therefore, that one individual part would be meaningful. Yet, even without that assurance or agreement, there was (and is) no downside to doing something rather than doing nothing.
Today, spurred by the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, a similar debate is going on about health care. Should efforts be devoted to international, continental, national, local, or personal levels? My answer is “Yes.” New resources and mechanisms are needed at each of these levels to better identify and respond to future global health threats. “Should the focus be on research, production, distribution, or acceptance of new tools?” The answer, again: “Yes.”
In civil and voting rights, some ask, “Do we need national legislation, state legislation, local policy enforcement, or mobilized citizens?” Again, the answer is “Yes.” We need all of these.
If we are going to have meaningful action at all of these levels, we need organizations of informed and mobilized advocates focused on change at each, and we need leaders equipped to lead at each level. We need communication and cooperation among these organizations, advocates, and leaders.
In each case, if we are going to have meaningful action at all of these levels, we need organizations of informed and mobilized advocates focused on change at each, and we need leaders equipped to lead at each level. We need communication and cooperation among these organizations, advocates, and leaders. We do not need competition. We certainly do not need to spend time debating where resources should go.
As always, any one of us will never have the resources to do it all. Yet, we can all do something. Something isn’t nothing. It all helps. It all adds up.