We all have specific desires that we want out of our political system, even if that desire is for everything to stay the same. The problem is getting our big, unwieldy system to move on our desires, particularly when there are people pushing in the opposite direction.
So how do we get progress?
It is a really boring answer, actually: we start by knowing the least we’ll accept.
Think about planning out a birthday party or big celebration. We’d love to have our own fireworks show, a live performance by our favorite musical artist and a safely secured bouncy castle (don’t even look at me if you don’t enjoy bouncy castles). But we probably can’t afford to do that for every birthday. To be honest, we might not be able to do that for any birthday. Even if you have the funds to do something spectacular, you might find that not everyone you want can attend, or some last minute logistical issues have gotten in the way. So how do you deal? You set a bar in your head of what will make the day worthwhile, even if you don’t get every last thing you wanted.
The same goes for getting progress in politics. Often you have big ideas about what the finished product will look like, but there are a lot of logistical nightmares, different people with different interests and frustrating negotiations to go through before that finished product might come to fruition. The key is to set a realistic, achievable step towards the ultimate progress you want to see.
Start by knowing your ideal outcome. What does progress look like when it has been achieved? Who is involved? How do we maintain the progress when it’s complete? Just as you’ll know what kind of cake you like, the music you love to listen to and who you definitely don’t want to invite to your dream birthday party, your political goals should have a clear sense of what could be involved and what definitely won’t be there. Have a sense of detail to make sure that you’re still moving along the right track towards what you desire and to convince others that your progress is the right progress.
Step back from that beautiful, somewhat detailed ideal, look at the present and ask: what is the first step from here to there?
For your glorious birthday party, it might be the guest list or budget. Once you know where your starting line is, the obstacles ahead become that much clearer. Remember that the first step won’t necessarily complete the whole idea you have in your head. Realizing that you only want fifteen guests at your party doesn’t finalize the actual party, but it makes choosing the venue, setting the schedule and organizing the budget a much easier task than if you hadn’t picked a number.
That starting step has to be achievable though. Even if the time scale is years (like the Civil Rights Movement) or weeks (getting agreement that the neighborhood needs an updated playground), you have to keep the big idea in mind while focusing on the steps in front of you. The plausibility is also going to create pressure for your elected officials. If you expect the world of a representative, they’re going to dismiss you. They can’t possibly achieve everything you’re asking of them. But if you have a specific, reasonable, achievable objective, then your elected official knows that they have to get that objective achieved in office or face your wrath and the anger of the electorate.
Once you know your vision, have your first step and see the plausible path to making it happen, you need one more thing to set your minimum for progress: a will of steel. Don’t back down from trying to make your vision reality. Partner with other dreamers who share or are inspired by your vision. Keep working to make that first step a reality. Keep talking to your elected officials and communities to let them know what your vision is and seek help for the future you want to create. Most of all, keep faith that even your minimum is enough to change the world. After all, a nice dinner with the people who matter most to you can be just as nice as a big party.