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Policy Follows Politics and Politics Follows Culture

“When politics is too slow, change has to come from culture.”

– Al Gore

At GRS, we understand the policy follows politics and politics follows culture. On some of the most pressing issues of our time, like gun violence prevention, economic inequality, and climate change, a traditional political strategy on its own just isn’t enough to break through. Many Americans feel their real life concerns have become objects of partisan volley.

Time-honored actions — donate here, sign a petition, call your representative — feel flimsy in the face of intentional voter suppression, corporate dominance and powerful special interests. And issues that could unite us become objects of division, caricaturizing the “other” across political stripe, geography, socio-economic status, sex, gender, class, race, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation.

To make progress toward a more just and equitable society, we need to go upstream of politics and change the conventional wisdom about what is possible. 

Culture change campaigns are founded upon shared values, expressed in three ways.

Safe Harbors:

Culture change creates space and opportunity for a broad cross-section of communities and leaders to participate that traditional political action  does not.

Movement Building:

Culture is the combination of our beliefs, assumptions, and actions. By foregrounding how a particular issue is integral to our way of daily life and to taking care of our community, it becomes just what we do, part of who we are, individually and collectively. These shared beliefs are the foundation of movements for change.

Creating space for good policy that reflects real people’s values:

By changing the paradigm in which we all operate — and momentum that cannot be ignored by politicians — it becomes harder for anyone to argue against policy that reinforces that culture, regardless of their political party.

Sometimes, cultural change is the project. Other projects embed culture change as a method to tackle a particularly knotty issue within a broader challenge, such as the MacArthur Foundation’s Climate Solutions Big Bets, which used narrative change as a key objective. And at GRS, we continue to explore the utility of a culture-first approach in fresh areas of great need, such as the Key Performance Indicators of Black Power.

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