What Does Systemic Change Look Like?

What Does Systemic Change Look Like?

And would you know it if you saw it?


In the Jewish scriptures in the book of Isaiah there is a passage that talks about not despising the beginning of small things, where God says, "See I am doing a new thing here -- do you not perceive it?" As if to ask, would you recognize the beginning of systemic change if you saw it? What does systemic change look like? 

In his book "It's Not Enough to Be Angry" Willie Baptist talks about the need for organizers to study, to strategize, to be smarter and more nimble than their larger and better funded opponents -- that no dumb force has ever defeated a smart force in the history of the world.

Over the last two days, I've seen the culmination of United Workers' efforts after the year of reconnaissance, annual assembly, and the gathering of various committees to map out plans for the coming year. United Workers met to present those plans, to lay out their vision for 2024 and beyond, and you know what? In the opinion of this participant, it might actually work! If somebody was going to do what we're trying to do, which is, you know, nothing major -- to end poverty -- I can't think of a better way to do it. 

This is coming from someone who has been trying to get out of United Workers since I joined. Mind you, that's not a reflection on them. I grew up with chronic abuse and I'm wary of joining any organization like this. My name is Mike Hughes from Western Maryland. I'm autistic and my wife has heart failure and we have struggled to pay our bills for the last 20 years. Over that same time, I've watched America turn more and more into a white Christian nationalist hellscape, all while the poor and working class fight for scraps. Their poverty is a chain around their necks, pulling them into an early grave. And if they live in Baltimore and their family can't afford to collect their body, that grave will be in a potter's field. Whatever's left of them, that is, after their bodies have literally been sold for parts (no, I'm not making that up.) 

It's a shame but not a surprise and somebody has to do something about it. What would that look like? Do we march in the streets? Sure that has its place. I mean, that's why I'm here in United Workers, coming here by way of the Poor People's Campaign, after seeing Reverend Barber on TV during the George Floyd uprising.

Marches and rallies make an impact but there has to be follow-up and, more importantly, there has to be infrastructure. There have to be people in place who you can call, who will listen to your story and give you friendship and hope and a place to release your economic and societal trauma -- a place to take that fireball of hurt and frustration and transform it into positive life-giving energy, or can we even dare to say: true power. Because when the masses of the poor and working class realize who they really are, everything is going to change.


Mike Hughes, United Workers Member from Hagerstown, MD