In her book, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987–1993, Sarah Schulman outlines the struggle that brought the AIDS epidemic into public focus in a way that positively transformed the cultural and governmental response to this disease and its victims. Her narrative is based on interviews with ACT UP members and her her own participation in the movement.

One key to success of the ACT UP movement, according to Schulman, was determining and disseminating an understanding of actionable things-to-do so that people outside of the active center of the movement could find a way to engage from where they were. Making change happen, according to Schulman, is not based solely on activating a strong base to act together cohesively. Rather, it is identifying and reaching out with actions that non-core members can engage with; actions that despite being seemingly small contributions to the overall goal, can be implemented on a massive scale by the large majority of sympathizers who are not part of the active core of the movement.

Individuals do not make change, it’s the collective. The way change happens in the US is through coalition. In order to be in communication or coalition with people who are different you need to practice a kind of radical democracy that is rooted in a creativity of thought and action so that people can respond from a place that makes sense to them, they’re not forced into homogeneity, and that we stand together when we can and have as much simultaneity of response as possible. And that I think is something that I hope will be helpful for people who are trying to build change today.

—Sarah Schulman, from an interview about her book on Ezra Klein’s NY Times podcast, June 22, 2021 [timestamp 01:00:12]

In the approach to public arena problem-solving showcased in the immersive art and technology exhibit The Unsolvable Project, we imagine the list of things-to-do depicted on the surface of a sphere, each a contributing solution to the overall goal, and each occupying a patch of the surface like farms on the surface of the earth. The creativity of thought and action mentioned by Schulman is what is required to expand that sphere from the core of the movement where it is centered, into the community. The surface of this sphere touches all the member of the community, in the best of worlds, in a way that each member can find things to do that meet them where they are, “from a place that makes sense to them.” This collection is constructed in a scientific way, with a definite process, and using available data in way that we can have confidence that any patch on the surface, if someone can engage with it and work towards implementing it, will move the needle in the direction that the community wants to see progress in.

I give this concept of expanding a sphere of solutions into the community a name:

The Solutions Engagement Surface.

Kevin