Participating in last week’s Equity Summit 2015 organized by PolicyLink was plenty inspiring. Three thousand people from so many backgrounds, with so many skills, with such a wide range of callings. It was moving, but not in a “Kumbaya” kind of a way. Because at its heart, this summit was about power; about who has it and what they do with it. About old power, amassed and horded by a small, miserly elite. And about new power, which flows like a current with a generosity, a pragmatism, and an urgency of a force surging to be unleashed by a new majority.
The new majority is one of many concepts at the summit that really stuck with me, one that has me thinking hard about implications for messaging and communications.
Panelist Steve Phillips, author of the new book Brown is the New White, put it this way: “You cannot understand politics in America unless you understand that this used to be a white country and it is no longer a white country.” He went on to urge participants to turn their back on the “tyranny of the white swing vote.” The myth of the middle, which historically consists of aging white men or “soccer moms,” the old Blue Dog Democrats and moderate Republicans which, if they haven’t already gone the way of the dodo, may have about as much of a future. Communities of color aligned with progressive whites already have the numbers for a base of power that should last for generations once it is channeled and activated.
And therein lies the challenge. Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s House Minority Leader, says Democrats generally lose statewide races by about 200,000 votes. There are 700,000 unregistered African Americans, Latinos, and Asians in the state. Do the math. It is an equation—it is not merely electoral. In the world of environmental advocacy, where Resource Media’s roots lie, the same power shift is waiting in the wings to great potential benefit for a more sustainable world. The pressing question, underlying all the Equity Summit’s optimism and drive, was how to realize this potential—or more urgently, actualize this imperative.
PolicyLink’s Equity Manifesto, released at the Summit, outlines a vision of this movement of movements.
“It begins by joining together, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond.
It embraces complexity as cause for collaboration, accepting that our fates are inextricable.
It recognizes local leaders as national leaders, nurturing the wisdom and creativity within every community as essential to solving the nation’s problems.
It demands honesty and forthrightness, calling out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic.
It strives for the power to realize our goals while summoning the grace to sustain them.
It requires that we understand the past, without being trapped in it; embrace the present, without being constrained by it; and look to the future, guided by the hopes and courage of those who have fought before and beside us.”
What’s still missing, according to many Summit panelists, is a narrative that connects across the many traditional barriers like race, income, age, and place that have long divided us. As speaker Manuel Pastor said in the opening plenary, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not galvanize generations of activists with his “I Have an Issue” speech. Yet this is exactly how so much social change work is framed. It would be presumptuous for me, a white male about to turn 60, to offer the narrative that breaks down these silos. However, I do know that uplifting and joining forces with this new majority is not just a moral obligation—it is a strategic imperative.
Sustainable oases in the midst of a desert of inequity are merely mirages.
For more details from the Equity Summit, check out Marla Wilson’s great summary on Storify.