Building a larger us:
five questions for change-makers
by Alex Evans

Tell us what you think

This guide is intended to ask questions, not to try to provide neat answers – and above all, to help create space for lots of us to ask these questions. The more of us there are who are asking them, the more chance we have of finding answers!

So please let us know your thoughts: what does the guide get right, what does it get wrong, and what’s missing?

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General Comments

  1. Comment: Tim Dutton, June 29, 2022

    My friend, Joseph, cares about many of the same things I do. He yearns for, reads about, and works for social justice, equity and progressive values and change. And Joseph wants nothing to do with those who want otherwise. His contempt is built on countless experiences and a palpable fatigue that saddens and freezes him. I know more than one Joseph, whether they are burnt-out or seduced by mutual radicalization. Building a Larger US, Guide for Change-Makers locates Joseph, and it locates me and the work that lies ahead.

    The grounding in historical pendulum swings offered up a reminder that the current political environment presents an opportunity to consider questions that center empathy. I found myself drawn to consider, even while reading the Guide for Change-Makers, what motivates those who are drawn to nationalism and authoritarianism.

    Each idea and example is well researched with links to dozens of resources from thought leaders that underscore the concepts and promise to unlock more understanding. This makes the Guide itself a living document.

    So often the gravity of the issues, the overwhelming volume of supporting data and the painful stories can lead to a sense of futility and dread and maybe despondency. The Building a Larger US, Guide for Change-Makers, while explicitly addressing the tragedy of inequities, discouraging climate realities and the rigidity of entrenched systems, identifies practical and helpful examples from around the world that are both reminders of one’s agency and are uplifting and hopeful.

  2. Comment: Anthea Lawson, July 7, 2022

    Larger Us’s new report starts with the provocation that if we do ‘them and us’ politics, our attempts to make things better can end up making them worse, despite our good intentions. Changemakers don’t like to think about this… but we need to.

    As campaigners we’re taught to identify who the ‘bad guy’ is, and focus attention and anger on them. It’s good for recruiting support, and it makes it easier to get our stories in the press and trending on social media. Everyone likes doing down the bad guys.

    But Larger Us is asking a vital question: ‘What about the people who disagree with us, the people whose views we find infuriating or oppressive, the people who seek to frustrate our hopes and ideals at every turn? Should we see them as part of ‘us’?

    If we play the ‘them and us’ game, Larger Us is suggesting, we risk winning the battle but losing the war, by fuelling polarisation along the way. And even if we defeat ‘them’ in a ‘them and us’ game, we’re vulnerable to the next pendulum swing. I’m not sure about that bit of the argument. I think the pendulum swings anyway. As the late Labour MP Tony Benn said, we have to fight for our rights every generation.

    The really compelling thing for changemakers to think about, here, is the feedback loops between our state of mind and the state of the world. Through the feelings that we evoke with our communications we can contribute to more breakdown and polarisation… or to something more generative.

    Of course there are reasons for not worrying about the other side’s views. Plenty of effective campaigners – Larger Us quotes some of them – would say we’re not getting it right if we’re not annoying our opponents.

    I do find this hard. I’ve written about how the ‘activist’ mentality creates resistance as soon as we speak, and how we need to loosen our attachment to the identity of it. I stand by that. But also: I still want to resist the bad stuff! And just now, in a moment of downtime on social media, I saw the facilitator and philosopher of changemaking, adrienne maree brown (who is also, by the way, an excellent poster of memes) share a quote from the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. ‘We must always take sides,’ he said. ‘Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’

    This helped clarify my ongoing discomfort around this question. We think that to not provoke our opponent is to not oppose our opponent. But these aren’t the same thing. We do want to oppose them. We will resist their worldview. But we need to do so in a different way, that doesn’t do their work for them.

    There aren’t easy answers in this report, because it’s envisaging nothing less than a complete rethink of how we fight for change. But it’s got all the right questions, and I’ll keep coming back to them.

    Anthea Lawson, author of The Entangled Activist: Learning to recognise the master’s tools (Perspectiva Press)

Why do we need to become a larger us?


How can we create belonging?

  1. Comment: Jon Alexander and Oliver Holtaway, New Citizenship Project, June 16, 2022

    Human beings are collaborative, caring and creative. Great things happen when they can contribute ideas, energy and voice to what matters to them. We call this the Citizen Story, in contrast to the more transactional Consumer Story: the shift from making choices individually to shaping them together. It’s a story that’s flowering everywhere, from British mums organising against climate change, to local people building community wealth in cities like Cleveland and Preston, to Taiwan’s “fast, fair and fun” participatory democracy.

    We all want to belong, and crave opportunities to shape the communities and societies we belong to. – and this act of collective shaping can serve as the very foundation of that belonging. By rooting belonging in the inclusive questions of “Do you care about this too? Shall we work together?”, we can build a more expansive, “Larger Us” sense of belonging.

    In doing so, we must never pretend that what divides us is all in our heads. The power asymmetries that rub against Larger Us belonging are real – materially, objectively, structurally – and have been systematically and often deliberately produced and reproduced over centuries. No wonder they also serve as a potent basis on which to say, “I belong”. Much would be lost if we seek to downplay this in our hasty pursuit of a work-in-progress universalism.

    What Larger Us offers us, however, is a way to engage not just across these divides, but with them. The thinking and tools in this report give us a foothold from which we might collectively unpick, challenge, repair and revitalise the very foundations of our belonging. For those who feel called to this work, we hope it will offer the support needed to hold courageous conversations, tap into the power of encounter, and create opportunities for collective imagining, mutual recognition and deliberative action, to help us all to belong differently, and better.

    This has profound implications for change-making organisations. Viewed through this lens, it’s no longer their task to rally people behind their banner and act as a battering ram for change. Instead, it’s to use their resources to inspire and cultivate collective agency – the full breadth of people’s talents, passion and ideas – towards a shared mission, and so build those foundations. Beyond using financial and symbolic resources, it also calls on them to use their convening power. This means drawing on their webs of relationships, shared heritages of theory and practice, and deep wells of experience, in order to bring people together into inclusive and equitable conversations about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we go next.

    This is how change-making organisations can become platforms for participation, and therefore wellsprings for Larger Us belonging. The institutions that grasp this opportunity will become the campfires around which we can explore one of the most pressing questions of the 21st century: “On what basis shall we, together, belong?”

  2. Comment: Iona Lawrence, June 22, 2022

    Really enjoyed reading this section in particular! It weaves together so many of the things I think about and chat to friends and family about. As much as the stuff I work on.

    Meaningful time together has been systematically displaced by fast and shallow connection. We network and transact as never before but being well connected is not the same as connecting well. As this section so rightly point to this leaves us cut out and cut off from one another and is having devastating impacts on our health, communities, politics and much more.

    A key approach to transforming loneliness and disconnection into belonging is to go back to basics and tend to our relationships. Simple, ordinary human relationships. It is through good relationships in all aspects of our common life that we can foster common understanding, hold space for healthy conflict and create the foundations for purpose, solidarity, shared action and belonging.

    Good relationships look very different for different people and in different contexts of course. Whether they’re the deep, close, thick ties to spouses, friends or families, or the thinner ties that connect us to something bigger than ourselves, our communities and tribes. Yet across them all, good relationships elicit some core emotional reactions: I belong, I feel safe, cared for, supported, understood, purposeful, respected, valued, seen, loved. In short: our thick and thin bonds with one another help us through thick and thin.

    Whilst on the face of it good, meaningful, healthy relationships might seem like simple, common sense, they are often regarded as the “added extra”. We even have a phrase for it. We talk about the teacher or the care worker or the receptionist who ‘goes the extra mile’. One key to a world where everyone can experience belonging is to place relationships as the first mile, not just the extra mile.

    This transformation will be both incredibly complex and incredibly simple to bring about. There are many incredible people, organisations and communities experimenting with how to do it in everything from health and social care to communities to businesses and beyond. It’s to them we need to turn to in order to find out way back to each other and into a brighter future where belonging is experienced by everyone.


How can we bridge divides?


How can we appeal to love not fear?


How can we help people navigate loss and trauma?


How can we tell stories that bring people together?

  1. Comment: Ruth Taylor, June 24, 2022

    I love that there is a whole section of this report dedicated to storytelling! So often storytelling in considered the responsibility of folks working directly in communications roles, but as you wonderfully point out that’s not the case – all of us are storytellers, whether we recognise it or not. We each have our own stories to tell, as well as opportunities to feed in to the creation of the collective stories that come to define our shared sense of reality.

    Academics Brad Allenby and Joel Garreau, in an article on what they term ‘weaponised narrative’, write that “humans are pattern-seeking storytelling animals. We cannot endure an absence of meaning. Rather than look up at the distribution of lights in the night sky and deal with randomness, we will eagerly connect those dots and adorn them with the most elaborate – even poetic – tales of heroes and princesses and bears and dippers. We have a hard-wired need for myth. Narrative is basic to what it means to be human.” Once we as changemakers perceive the significance of story and narrative in how individual human beings – and, indeed, whole societies – come to make sense of themselves and their relationships with one another and the greater-than-human world, we are compelled to consider our work through a storytelling lens. Is our work unintentionally leading to the strengthening of harmful cultural stories and narratives that ultimately lead to increased division? How can we develop our work in the service of building salience for new stories and narratives, which provide opportunities for alternative ways of seeing the world in which we live?

    No story exists in a vacuum. Any piece of communication or activity our organisation or movement produces goes out into a world filled with stories – some complementary and others not so. We need to consider how we, as one voice in a rich ecosystem of change efforts, can add to the chorus of stories and importantly, what deep underlying message we want to reinforce. By speaking to a narrative of a ‘larger us’ instead of a ‘them and us’, we’re able to help foster a greater sense of interconnection and shared purpose, in order to open up new spaces for reflection and dialogue.



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