Ray Brescia

 

On his book The Future of Change: How Technology Shapes Social Revolutions

Cover Interview of February 10, 2021

Lastly

My hope is that advocates will learn not just from the examples of successful social change efforts from the past, but also the contemporary case studies I highlight. Advocates can learn how to use the technologies at their disposal today, as well as those that are likely to emerge in the future.

Think of examples like the #MeToo movement or the campaign for Marriage Equality. These efforts have stressed shared humanity and shared destiny. Successful coalitions such as these do not always consist of people or organizations that agree on everything or see the world in completely the same way. Instead, successful coalitions often come together around shared interests, even self-interest: Alexis de Tocqueville, that French observer of American life in the early 19th century, described this as self-interest “well understood”.

When this self-interest is blended across different groups, that is, when a movement experiences what the late Derrick Bell called an “interest convergence,” unlikely alliances can form. Bell argued that the victory in the decision in Brown v. Board of Education came about because the Civil Rights Movement shared the goal of dismantling the Jim Crow system with white elites. Civil rights advocates wanted to attack the system because of its impact on the African-American community. White elites saw that system as harming the American reputation abroad as the U.S. was locked in a cold war with the Soviet Union. This interest convergence ultimately led to the demise of the Jim Crow system.

What I try to do in the book is show other examples of groups forming coalitions in light of the shared interests of sometimes oppositional groups. In one case study, I describe the efforts of a union to raise the minimum wage for hotel workers in Long Beach, CA. The workers attracted allies among the small business community as well as local homeowners. Both of these groups wanted to see local workers earning more so that they would spend more in local shops, improving the quality of life for everyone. The workers and these other groups did not see eye-to-eye on every issue but the coalition they formed was so powerful, and it won a ballot referendum on the issue of hotel workers wages so convincingly, that it had union leaders wondering if they should have asked for an even higher wage than that they were able to secure through the referendum.

What this and other examples in the book show is that coalitions can be created among seemingly unlikely allies if leaders search for areas where interests may overlap, and leverage those overlapping interests to fight for real, lasting, and meaningful change. This book explores how to do that in today’s fast-moving media environment.