Local Issues

The Civil Society Horse Race

A friend of mine recently posted a survey on her blog about whether unions and civil society communicate effectively. I know I butchered her point, but my general answer is no. We don’t communicate well with those we want to make our points to, which is a completely different problem to what I think might be really plaguing us – we aren’t communicating effectively with ourselves.

I speak as a representative of an NGO, and as an individual activist, when I say that even when more than one group wants the exact same thing, we have no idea of what we want and how we can all get it as a group. So what should look like a well-oiled campaign with support and well-thought-out action between multiple stakeholders ends up looking like…


Activism work is a team sport. There is no way on earth that anyone can get what they want all on thier own, no matter how influential they are or how much they make sense to people. But even I have to admit, there’s a certain thrill from getting something done yourself. I think every organization, even NGO’s especially NGOs, want to know that they were the trendsetter that made the evening news. That they were the group that pulled in thousands of supporters or successfully lobbied for a change in legislation, when the going was tough and the odds weren’t in their favor. We secretly all want to be the motley handful of rebels that sacked the castle on our own with nothing but some dull swords and a dream.

But dull swords don’t sack castles. At least not a few dull swords.

For instance, the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation is a government lobbying organization. We try to pay keen attention to the laws of our nation and region as they pertain to the LGBT community, applaud the good ones and seek out how to fix the bad ones. When we reach out to our community, it’s about helping them be aware of the law and get them involved in helping us change them. We also understand that we don’t have the resources to counsel those discovering their sexuality, or those suffering abuse and bullying because of their sexualities. But groups are emerging for that. We need to inform those we reach out to about those groups, and they need to tell those that they counsel or create support structures for that there’s a group that wants to give them rights and needs their help to do it.

I think if anything in civil society is to work, we need to stop running in front of each other and figure out exactly how we can all get to our respective finish lines at the exact same time, and how maybe a little push can carry some other groups ahead of the pack and more able to help others. If we’re going to sack the castle, we need more men, that are better suited to different problems but have the exact same goal in mind. So let’s think less horse race, and more…football match, I guess.


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