July 18, 2024

beyond tinkerbell

the branches and leaves of a tree in front of a cloudy blue sky
the branches of a tree reach towards the sky. before it started growing, the tree published a “letter to the community” about its plans to listen, learn, and grow in the coming years. only the birds bothered to read it.

Think about some of the ways we want to change the world. Some of my dreams are audacious reimaginings of the unjust systems that surround me. Many people in the social justice arena want to make the world a better place even while it’s a terrible one. We need big plans to overturn or rewrite entire systems of injustice. The sheer scale of these sprawling plans can be overwhelming.

It would be nice if having dreams was enough to make them come true. Instead, we have to act. How does one begin the journey towards the world we imagine? Sometimes all we can do is start with the most important next step.

As individuals, this is easy to figure out. Need to move cross-country? Make a list of everything you need to do. Does packing seem like too much to handle? Break it down by room or into smaller parts of your home. Would you rather sit on your kitchen floor and cry than try to pack up everything you cook with (this is me)? Start with the pots and pans you never use but can’t bear to lose. By then it’s not about packing the house as it is just clearing everything out of one single kitchen cabinet. The most important next step is something easy to do that still makes a dent in your ultimate goal.

In an organization, sometimes even on a large team, it can be hard to see all the moving pieces. This is also true in coalitions of many organizations or community-led groups. The most important next step might not be so easy to see. What can we do instead?

finding the next step

Think about all the possibilities that lie before you. Ask yourselves these questions:

  1. What’s our goal? Who or what are we doing this for?
  2. What could we be doing to help? What skills or resources can we bring to the fight?
  3. What’s within our scope?
  4. What do we need help with?

Explore answers that feel vague or amorphous. This is our chance to envision the world we want. If we already have an action in mind, how would that help us achieve the goal we want? How easy is it to draw a line from our action to our goals?

Depending on the group, you may all have different visions or goals. How do your visions intersect or overlap with each other? Are there joint actions you could take, such as a research study or awareness campaign, that would help you both?

Once you’ve narrowed down your ideas, take a pause before you act. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How would this step get us closer to our goals? In what way? How?
  2. Who else shares our goals? How do our actions benefit, interfere, or overlap with what they’re doing?
  3. How easy is it for us to explain our proposed action to someone else?
  4. Can we start immediately? If not, what step or steps do we have to take first?

who decides?

Decision-makers tend to gloss over the question about who gets to decide. They have the power, or they’re in the right room, so they should do it. Why should we limit our progress based on the priority and capacity of people in power? Who has the power to decide what step is most important? Who decides what step is next?

In a coalition or group, talk about it. What steps are possible from where we are right now? Why should we choose one over another? Who would we be centering if we took this step? What might the world look like when we’re done?

wishes aren’t horses

Aspirations are important! Having an end goal helps us and others know what we’re moving towards. If we ever want those fantasies to become a reality, we have to take steps to see them through. Tinkerbell’s life was sustained by clapping, but that’s not enough for the real change we seek.

If we could believe our way into a solution, we would already have finished. Instead, we have to act. We can start today with one important step.

photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space