• Devon Kearney

    This injects useful nuance into the idea of a common agenda and how to build one, but I question whether even this stretched sense of commonality is useful in addressing complex problems. My years in the world of social justice nonprofits have taught me two things: first, there is no one clear path to a real social justice goal – often no clear path at all – and second, that the level of disagreement between different actors in a given field is often unmanageable. Thus, a range of groups may agree that X (entrenched poverty, say) is a problem they should address, but have vigorous and irreconcilable disagreement about the root causes and optimal strategies for addressing it.

    This inability to agree is often characterized as a defect of social justice movements, but increasingly it seems to me like a virtue. For complex, murky problems, broad consensus around a common agenda is often impossible. In such cases, competing agendas can be more important than common ones: a broad set of strong, diverse and even irreconcilable approaches will more likely find the optimal solution than a harmonized set that fits under one umbrella.

    At points in this process, as successful strategies emerge and others see and coalesce around them, and then common agendas become more important. But no problem is ever solved without the next one coming into view, and after opportunistic coalitions form and succeed in making a change (or don’t succeed even though the conditions seemed promising), new (and old) disagreements inevitably emerge among coalitions about what comes next. This is as it should be in a healthy social justice movement.

  • Regina Podhorin-Zilinski

    I think we have different definitions of a common agenda. I always expect that there will be a variety of strategies for impacting on a core problem. The strategies are not the common agenda – a common understanding of the problem is (reducing childhood obesity, eliminating homelessness and so on). I can’t imagine doing this work without diverse strategies aimed at a common agenda.