Together, We Make Social Policy Change Happen

We live in an individualistic society. And we believe that people are individually and personally responsible for their own fate. We enact our laws that way. We create our social policy that way.

–Richard Price, Unnatural Causes: Not Just A Paycheck

The frame of the self-determining individual creates divisiveness in our society in a sense that we are too busy with our lives and trying to take matters into our own hands. It isolates us from our fellow citizens to a considerable degree. We have forgotten to look to our peers for support; we have forgotten that coming together only makes us as strong as any political or corporate entity; we have forgotten that we can stop the government, large corporations and the 1% who control both from towering over us and taking away our economic freedom; we have forgotten the power of community organizing, the power of collaboration.

When the wealthiest have rigged the system to enhance their own power and wealth at the expense of everyone else and the government actively facilitates such concentration of wealth through tax breaks or bailouts for large corporations and the banks, the 99% were asleep until the Occupy Wall Street movement because we believed that nobody but ourselves were responsible for our own destiny.

We Americans, as individualists, by and large either hope the government completely stays out of our way or are oblivious of how the government and large corporations work in conjunction to take advantage of those at the bottom to benefit those atop. Laws are enacted and social policies are created in favor of the rich, but the majority of Americans feel too small to address or to battle inequalities since we take actions solitarily, unaware of the enormous influences collective action may very well generate.

Eric Mann, Director of Labor Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, CA, comments: “Organization is everything . . . You are up against a far more powerful enemy.” This is especially true in the situation of Bus Riders Union against L.A. government as it is in a larger context where we have to collectively work on equity and social justice for the greater good. Even though we do organize at times, our ability to work with other organizations to achieve a mutual goal is rather limited.

Community organizer George Goehl argues, “If we are serious about changing the country and changing who our economy serves, and what values are underneath it, we have got to come together in much bigger ways than we have before . . . There was a long history in the field of community organizing of different organizations actually not collaborating, actually kind of running down their own paths, building their own power, but not building a movement,” which Mann refers to be as ineffective as attempting to kill an elephant with flea bites. Chances to change how the system works and to improve health conditions are slim to none.

All associated departments must build alliances with as well as seek assistance from one another to make it happen, to inform and educate everybody in our local communities so that tragedies would be minimized.

Amongst an illustrative list of ways to advance health equity, improving social inclusion is one of the many areas we could work on that would make our organized effort more influential. Strengthen democratic decision making, community organizations and opportunities for civic engagement; strengthen labor, education, community development and family welfare policies that reduce inequality and social stratification; strengthen laws against discrimination and segregation; promote local hiring and benefit agreements and reduce geographic barriers to opportunity; remove barriers to health care, social services and affordable housing.

The success of Bus Riders Union in L.A. demonstrates how collaboration and cooperation are crucial for individuals and a myriad of existing organizations to accomplish their objectives for better health and better future for all Americans.

This article was written by Mildred D. Li, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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