Many long-time leaders in the senior and disability community sought to find a new and more effective way to make San Francisco a world class city when it comes to including seniors and persons with disabilities as full contributing members. Sure, part of what is needed is having appropriate services and support. But asking the question “what services do you need?” really limits the response, tends to fragment the community in the way services are fragmented, and keeps the focus on need, not on the whole person and that person’s capacity for friendship, participation and responsibility as a full member of society.
So when we began asking the question “what do you need for a good life?” the responses were ones that resonate with us all, regardless of age, background, disability, and economic class. A universal set of values helps unify our work.
Campaigns imply movement, growth, and inclusion. Campaign leaders look out for and respond to opportunities, to changing conditions. Campaigns build on existing social and political relationships and evolve new ones. They are a means to involve new people, develop leaders, and raise public awareness. They thrive on hard work, creativity, commitment. They celebrate victories and build life-long friendships. As we approach our ten year anniversary, we have grown into a grass-roots organization with a long term plan for sustainability.
Living in community is the opposite of being isolated and alone. Too many people in San Francisco live lives of isolation and loneliness. Others, though connected through work and friendships, are looking for ways to contribute, to have richer, more meaningful lives, to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked a similar question. “How can a small group of committed citizens change the world?” Her reply: “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And those of us involved in social change tend to agree. If one small group can make change, imagine what would happen if you have 20, 30, even 40 small groups of committed citizens who share common values related to creating a better life, regardless of age or disability. And what if you provide ways for them to help, support, and empower each other? What if those of us who have knowledge and experience with advocacy and organizing are part of these networks and use what we know and the relationships we have to work for change?
Put another way, we are using our social capital to help one another. The recent Dignity Fund campaign provided an example of how the power of social networks and the techniques of community organizing helped win support for the Dignity Fund, Proposition I on the November 2016 ballot. Friends communicated with friends, mobilized each other, and together brought about an important change.
Yes, but in a way that puts the concerns facing those seniors and persons with disabilities that we care about front and center. By creating an intentional community with a senior or person with a disability at the heart, we begin to see and experience the world as they do. In a way, their goals become our goals. We gain a new appreciation for the struggles we may soon face and we are inspired by the courage and resilience that we see. Most of all, we begin to understand how important it is to be a part of communities where everyone is valued and everyone is called to contribute.