There are few rants that get me to really pumped up. Even fewer that cause me to shake my fist with agreement. Few articles that I print and make my staff read. This is one.
Zack stands behind the idea that movements are smart. His experience is rich and he is really good at banging out some of the failures and opportunities for social change.
Because of our perception of this dumbing-down of the people, we focus more and more intensively on "consciousness raising" and "leadership development" -- to the exclusion of working with leaders who are already plenty conscious and already amazing leaders. We've been shrinking down our expectations until they're practically non-existent. We been doing this for decades.
To start to get out of this trap, we've just got to open our minds to the possibility that the people are just as radical as they were when millions took part in sit-down strikes and the Unemployed Councils. We've got to recognize the possibility that the wisest, boldest leaders have been consciously refusing to participate in our campaigns because our goals have been too modest and our strategies shaky as hell.
His piece begs a shift in organizing strategy and our leadership. However, the shift in strategy needs a corresponding shift in the infrastructure to support change. We will not change things until we stop measuring and evaluating by the same matrix as before. Zack has put together a better riff on this people leadership and respect for the masses than I have in the past but it is an underpinning theme of network-centric advocacy. It is also a theme i believe strongly in....
Mead warned that "If we let our generals and our statesmen involve us in international threats and reprisals which fail to bring out the strengths in our character--we may lose" The strength of our movement is not in the centralized organization but in the small bands of activists that sit in each neighborhood. Our movement marches lock-step with American doctrine to centralize power and control. We seek to build bigger and stronger organizations to fight for progressive policy. The promise of network-centric advocacy is that it focuses on reinforcing casual connectors to issues of social concern. Network-centric advocacy puts everything on the shoulders of the small thoughtful groups and fosters their leadership and clout. Small groups can change the world, our challenge is to help without getting in the way. "
We are in a renaissance of personality history. We are gobbling up biographies of Jack Welsh, John Adams,Rudy Giuliani and every other man figure that has found themselves in front of the juggernaut of public unity. Our society (our largest social network) will create leaders to fill our needs and visions. We will increase the reward to those willing to speak our language and serve our needs. We will help them overcome the adversity they face. We will offer a resolve they could not muster on their own.
Zack drives it home from his organizing experience ...
the leadership of a group is not a static list. In campaigns, if you're open to the possibility, you find that leadership is something that pops up in the most unexpected people at the most unexpected times. I remember one day when the whole future of a campaign relied on one worker reading a statement confidently and clearly to the boss in front of an assembly of workers. So who did we choose? Of course, the most confident and articulate worker on the organizing committee. When the time came, he froze and couldn't open his mouth. He stood there with the paper shaking in his hands. The woman standing next to him took the paper from his hands and read it just as clearly and confidently as could be. What was shocking about this was that, while very respected for being a hard worker with seniority, she was known for anything but her way with words or confidence in front of other people.Ultimately, we need to connect the dots that leadership takes place in a context. A context that the family living room and factory floor creates is different than the context that currently shapes the "leadership" on a national scale. Taking over talking points on a stage is very different from swapping out leadership of NRDC or the Party. Why is it so different? Because leadership on a national scale is about control of resources (money, people, brands, intellectual property) and resources right now are governed by very old and dysfunctional laws and history. Being a boss of an organization means decades of work, ass kissing, political maneuvering, positioning, family ties and maybe even a history of success or successful spin. It is our structure that sets the context for leadership. It is our structures that set reasonable "measures".
Hopefully, Zack will follow up with a bit of thinking on the role of structure in picking leadership and experiment with ideas and proposals that loosen the barriers to bottoms up leadership taking shape. There is more here than blaming good hearted organizers that went to college. I would push Zack's summary a bit more.."
But it's clear that the progressive movement overall is still suffering from a lack of trust and faith in The People. Take a leap of faith, trust The People, and I guarantee that as long as you combine that with good organizing, you won't be disappointed."
Good organizing flows from the ends you want to achieve. As long as the organizing goals are set by the organizational leadership that employee the organizers and the resources poured out are from spigots controlled by traditional leaders then you will run into structural and governance systems that are set up to lack trust and prevent leaps of faith.
There is an old saying about the idea that soldiers talk about fights, captains talk about battles and machinery and generals talk about logistics. The movement, our street organizers, our media, and our message sharpers seem to miss the focus on logistics entirely. We need to build the network power of a distributed base.