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Five Ways to Change the System from Within

We all have something about the world we want to see changed in our lifetimes. Here's how you can go about doing it, starting today.

Editor's Note: In a recent interview with Big Think, Richard Tafel, founder of the Log Cabin Republicans and The Public Squared gave us his advice for transforming the system: create a super PAC for the people, by the people. Challenge intractable elected officials. Shake things up. Ensure that Congress people have incentives to work together.

"I fundamentally believe in the system," Tafel said. "I think everybody has a role and I’ve certainly seen the role of activists and agitators on the outside. But to really change the world, I believe you have to change the rules. And the rules are what we agree on as a society and that’s usually what we call Public Policy. We can scream and yell and be on the outside, but until we change the rules we don’t really change the system."

"I’ve seen environmentalists changing policies right now in the Amazon. And they’re working with government, they’re working with activists, they’re working with environmentalists, for example, in those places. And they’re actually having more luck in places that we in the past would have thought we would have to export our democracy to working with their government. And the same rules essentially apply in the strategies working with them than we’re actually having here in the United States working with our dysfunctional extreme system. 

"The rules of changing systems are global, because they’re really about people and how you change people, and you can apply the same principles around the world."

Tafel's five steps for changing the system from within:

1. Find a focus. Tafel is fond of referring to the "trim tab, the little rudder on a boat that when you change it can change a whole system. " The first question activists should ask themselves is, what one rule could we change that would change the whole system?

2. Embrace the status quo. Sometimes. A little bit. It's a paradox, he admits, but "insider" status and connections will help you get things done.

3. Ask the system how it can be changed. "Very often, I’ll go right to the bureaucrat and say I want to change this system, how would I do it, and they give me a strategy I would have never come up with in my most wild fantasies. Talk to these people and they can do it."

4. Appeal to the "better angels" of those in power. "Every success that I’ve had in changing a system is at some point I’ve said to somebody look, you know this is the right thing to do and this is why you’re really here and could you help me.  It’s not going to help you politically, it’s not going to get you any votes, it’s not going to get you any money, but you as a person, will you help me in changing this thing.  And invariably people really rise up to do that."

5. Be tenacious. This is something we all struggle with, non-profits as well as individuals, but it's the most important thing you can do. Get an idea, figure out your strategy, and hold on to your vision.

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