I recently attended the 19th Dealing with Difference Institute Conference on the campus of Western Illinois University in Macomb, IL, where I was invited to speak on “Contemporary Social Justice Movements” with an emphasis on the Occupy Movement. After my presentation I was approached by two individuals who live in the same town as I do, to which they said, “We saw your name on the program, and we asked our local activist since they know everyone; however they did not know you”.
This line of logic is very common among political and activism circles and it is a kind of simple statement that brings up two issues. First, it speaks to the kind of tunnel vision many organizations and certain individuals have when it comes to advancing an agenda or growing an organization. Finally, it highlights the fact that a community relies on certain individuals when it comes to speaking out on issues and seeking approval as a way to check out an individual or organization.
A great example was back in 2009 when a black man was slain in Rockford, IL. Many local activists on the ground were voicing their concern for the town's violence for a number of years. The local Rainbow/PUSH Coalition invited Reverend Jesse Jackson to come speak on the issue of bringing justice to the city of Rockford. Rev. Jackson received high praises from the media and residents, as if it was the first time people heard about the issue from anyone.
Organizations and individuals often have tunnel vision when it comes to advancing an agenda, or growing an organization's membership, meaning they do not seek out what resources are already out there. I personally have heard of organizations that have bluntly told other organizations they appreciate their offering, however they were doing fine. Knowing and using your resources is important and this concept may apply both within and outside an organization. Many agendas could advance if organizations understood and collaborated with one another.
We live in a polarized environment, especially politically. Everyone is worried about who aligns themselves with who, and what their views are. They should instead be wondering and seeking out whoever is willing to help and collaborate with them. Political operatives and activists, far too often, push away those who want to help because they do not fit into their vision. But it shouldn't be their vision, it should be our vision, especially when it comes to improving the quality of life in our nation.