If you like to study social dynamics from interesting sources, you may want to check out Asset Based Community Development. The Center in my home town, Fresno, CA, invited me to a community wide conference on Asset Based Community Development (ABCD for short). This is a well established program taught around the country to all kinds of communities organizing to create change. It isn’t Independent Living, but I found some interesting parallels, and some great quotes, like the title above, used by Ron Dwyer-Voss during the presentation.

I was especially interested in something called the Citizen Power Progression.  This is a ladder or hierarchy, with the labels “victim” and “client” at the bottom. In my mind these correlated with people who receive services, but aren’t involved in the life of the disability community. These are people we might be “helping” – and if they remain those who are “helped”, they may not exercise their voice, their power. Change may happen here, but on a more limited scale than the next levels.

The next rung is “Advisor”. This made me think of the different models for peer support around the country. People with disabilities sharing with each other, mentoring as people come into their own confidence and power. It is on the right track, but doesn’t really acknowledge full power.

“Advocate” is the next, essential level. We must speak out for the things needed in our community, against injustice. As we all know, advocacy can be powerful — but it is not always successful, and not always at the level true consumer control.  If you think about the community you serve, and about the staff and board makeup, don’t look just at the numbers. Look at whether or not people from the disability community are in control or are only clients (consumers), advisors or advocates.

Because real power is in the hands of those who produce the vision, who make the change happen, are the ones with community power.  Real change happens when our people are in positions of power — not just testifying to the Transportation Committee, but serving on the committee. Not only advising but acting.

Another quote – “Institutions (Organizations) can lead by stepping back.”  I challenge you to take a long look at your center and whether your board has become insulated from those you serve. Can the center itself lead by stepping back and urging more people to do what needs to happen? Your center as an organization can convene groups, facilitate action, provide resources for change, partner with others…but if the desired action is something the citizens (consumers) can do for themselves, don’t displace their power.

More next week as we talk about asset mapping.

“Helping people displaces their power.”

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