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  • Writer's picturePhilip J Connolly

Tipping points for a mass movement

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

Tipping point theory tells us how small differences can make a new reality or break an old one. Malcom Gladwell in his book "The Tipping Point" provides examples of how new trends begin or how diseases or crimewaves escalate when a small difference is introduced, it may be a entirely new factor or the crossing of a threshold for an already existing factor. Sometimes these thresholds may be discernible or tangible such as when the loss of a Government majority means the Government has to change its policies but often they are seemingly invisible factors such as consumer confidence, yet it too can mean the inescapable need for new policy. I shall apply tipping point theory to the creation of a mass movement that serves the interests of disabled people or those with a long-term health condition. My hypothesis is this, "Instead of an organic incremental movement for change we can synthesise an overnight success." In the following sections I consider what the X factors are to introduce them. Some will be emotional, some spiritual and many will be intellectual but like the sales theory "Transactional Analysis" these factors will need blending to achieve mass market penetration.

Disability is continuously studies for its differences but a mass movement will require common experiences. In the film "On the waterfront" Marlon Brando laments the loss of a fixed boxing match with the words, "I could have been a contender". I suspect this story of thwarted ambition would resonate with many people with disabilities. I say "with disabilities" because 95% of all disability is acquired so most people have a memory of the time when they didn't have a disability and thus have come to think of themselves as people with disabilities. They think of themselves as the same person they were before but now they have a disability. Another common experience will be the unreserved support of someone else usually a spouse or close family member - the person who went to all your medical appointments with you. Having someone who knows how you are without asking is superseded only by someone who knows what your support needs are and can organise them. Millions can recall one or both of these experiences even if too many of the same millions feel that they have never been trusted or understood. The first ingredient for a mass movement are both positive and negative common experiences and capitalising on insights from our common language.

All human beings need affirmation. Their presence needs acknowledging, their contribution thanked, their service valued. I go to a "Dance for Parkinsons" class and I often ponder why it is so uplifting. The answer has nothing to do with my own dancing but everything to do with with the acknowledgement I get back from the other dancers. Do I really need to be clapped for strutting through an archway of fellow dancers. You bet! Is there any difference in feeling between clapping or being clapped? No. The second ingredient is affirmation.

Mass movements arise from good and bad political imperatives. They are generally born from the first and grow with the second. At present there is the threat of further cuts to the welfare budget as the chancellor seeks to recoup the public finances spent on responding to the pandemic and there is the promise of a Government mandate to cut the disability employment gap plus any remaining vigour from "levelling up." The issue of imperatives leads to the question of timing. Mass movements can grow rapidly from seemingly single incidents: Black Lives Matter from the death of George floyd, the overthrow of Ceaucescu from the persecution of the priest Laszlo Tokes, are but two examples of many others. However the reality is that similar incidents had been taking place over many years. These crimes and their injustices were taken up as the American Civil Rights movement demonstrated by a new mix of leaders. The leadership of Dr Martin Luther KIng and the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Council was successful because organisations dedicated to representation amongst the trade unions, the military, student groups and elsewhere already existed and had produced effective and experienced leaders like Philip A Randulph. Dr King understood the anaesthetising effect of the phrase "We need to be ready" and circumvented it with the phrase "Now is the time." He knew that being ready relegated equality to a future that seldom came but was always coming. The future is often made by those who don't wait for someone else to make it.

Dr King was a follower of Gandhi. Gandhi seized the high ground of the moral imperative with his promotion of Satyagraha or truth-force. Dr King in turn made the American dream impossible without it also being the black citizen's dream too. In a similar way we the disabled are currently living outside of the British sense of fair play. Take the Work Capability Assessment for example. We are assessed for benefits by the WCA but it doesn't ask if we have any qualifications or whether we have ever worked. Its criteria called descriptors have never been proven as being a fair assessment of the ability to work nor has the evidence base for them ever been published. I was a dissenting member of the 2008 DWP internal review that drew them up but I was never given any evidence for them. Disabled people want fair play, in a country that codified thg rules of most sports, a sporting chance would be good.

So after affirmation, political relevance, the moral imperative, timing, leadership, salience, what else? Well the good news is that many of these factors are in our control or are unfortunately already present in our current politics. We cannot make ourselves the missing ingredient. We need to show up and join the ranks of those who advocate for us. We need not worry if we are ready or not. We only need to add to the two affirmations in our social model locker 1) we are not responsible for having a disability and there is a collective response. We need to add 1) that what we cannot escape we must shape and 2) we have the resilience required to prevail. The Disability Resilience Network is an additional choice and a route to unity. Take it, don't leave it. Join us.

The Disability Resilience Network wishes you all a Happy New Year and invites you to become a member via the form at

Send us your X factors.

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