One million leaders

March 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

Tuesday was not my best day. I fumbled through a job interview in the afternoon, and my 14-year-old car’s transmission died.

One bright spot was seeing the following post online from Daily Kos’ own Paul Hogarth (with his permission):

I am not the same person I was 20 years ago—and after years of working on campaigns and building for progressive change have learned that politics is much, much harder than what the thrill of tonight’s victory may seem. I also have my doubts about a campaign like Bernie Sanders really making change in this country.

But tonight is a cautionary tale for people like me to not let your “wise skepticism” give way to cynical despair. Always keep the fire burning for young, idealistic causes—because progressive change requires people who demand the unreasonable.

We just need to remember that the impossible may take a while, and that—win or lose—a positive, idealistic campaign that brings new people into politics must figure out how to outlast an election.

Here’s a reality-check for Bernie supporters: Yes, he beat the odds tonight with Michigan. But Hillary’s landslide victory in Mississippi means that, on balance, the gap in delegates has likely widened.

So be happy tonight, celebrate. You deserve it. But figure out a way to make sure this victory lasts beyond the Michigan primary, and that even if Bernie fails to win the nomination you can channel that movement into a political infrastructure that will improve America.

Paul’s post is brilliant.

It bridges the gap between a couple of groups who may be currently aligned against each other. It doesn’t pit idealism vs. pragmatism. Instead, it says, “We need both.”

It brings people together rather than dividing them, and it immediately picked me up. I shared it with my small group of Bernie supporters to say, “Congratulations!” after the Michigan win—and also to remind us that even Bernie is saying this is bigger than him.

I think real change is going to take one million leaders. One million people like Paul who understand the game being played against us, and know how to bring people together from many tribes.

Here are a few thoughts on why this is so crucial, and what this might look like.

A hose-team leader instructs the team to relieve the nozzleman during a general quarters (GQ) drill aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (U.S. Navy/Wikimedia).

A hose-team leader instructs the team to relieve the nozzleman during a general quarters (GQ) drill aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (U.S. Navy/Wikimedia).

Why one million leaders?

The biggest fear of corporate special interests is that people will get together and vote in their common interest. That is, their biggest fear is democracy.

You can hear this in documents like the Powell memo where Lewis F. Powell wrote the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and framed democracy as an attack on the “enterprise system”:

We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

Powell advocated that corporate America, especially really big corporate America, take control of government.

They’ve found a divide-and-conquer strategy to be the most successful. If they can pit people against each other, they have a much greater chance of influencing government behind the scenes.

How is this done?

Pick a minority group and tell as many people as you can that this minority group is trying to destroy the country (somehow) or take something away from people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s gays, blacks, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, communists, the kids these days, atheists, liberals, or just lazy people so long as it’s some group the majority of Americans can be against.

Then, say something outrageous to start a fight. Here’s Ann Coulter talking about how to do this:

You must outrage the enemy. If the liberal you’re arguing with doesn’t become speechless with sputtering, impotent rage, you’re not doing it right. People don’t get angry when lies are told about them; they get angry when the truth is told about them. If you are not being called outrageous by liberals, you’re not being outrageous enough. Start with the maximum assertion about liberals and then push the envelope, because, as we know, their evil is incalculable.

Glenn Beck and other conservative pundits have talked about this strategy as well. So the craziness is calculated? Yep. You didn’t think conservatives were stupid, did you?

It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy. The idea is to disrupt communication and cooperation by turning any discussion into an emotional battle featuring two sides. The lies corporate pundits tell are designed to sidetrack arguments, provoke emotions, and create false divides.

The divide is false because if you’re able to get past the emotions and tribalism, you’ll almost always find that you have far more in common than you do differences.

What does a leader look like?

In a structured organization like a corporation, leaders are the people in charge. They set the direction that the organization or part of the organization is going to follow, and then work with subordinates in some type of command-and-control model.

In an academic organization, leaders are often the people who somehow have acquired the most knowledge. They hold professorships or some other position of academic authority and they broadcast this message out to students, who are people trying to learn. They tend to be followed because academia provides a certain structure and people are there to learn.

In the political world, none of this structure exists. People can and will choose to follow you for whatever reason they choose. People don’t have to agree with you or work with you if they don’t want to. You can have all the facts and figures in the world, but someone can, for any reason whatsoever, choose whether or not to work with you.

Most people I know like this less than they would like to admit.

Without further ado, here’s a clip from the movie We Were Soldiers that illustrates a couple of different styles of leadership. In a training exercise, two officers deal with a similar situation in two completely different ways.

The first officer notices that one of his men, Godboldt, is favoring his left foot. At a stopping point, he asks the soldier and all of the other men to take their boots off. Examining the soldier’s foot, he realizes it’s raw and blistered from chafing. He tells Godboldt to draw some fresh socks from supply and keep his feet dusted with powder to keep them dry.

He also tells the other soldiers to pair up and to similarly check each other’s feet. After identifying a solution, he made the team responsible for fixing it. He didn’t say he was going to solve it for them. He showed them how to solve it and enlisted their help in taking responsibility for the team.

Moore observes another officer leading his team up a hill. This officer also notices one of his men is falling behind. By contrast, this officer shouts at the soldier, “Why were you in the back? Goddamn it, why were you in the back?”

Both officers faced the situation of a soldier falling behind. The first leader saw his role as identifying the cause of the problem and working to fix it. He asked questions to figure out that the issue was chafing from wet shoes. After he identified the problem, he suggested a solution. He also communicated the solution to the rest of the team. He didn’t blame anyone and he accepted responsibility for helping out the entire team.

By comparison, the second officer blamed someone on his team for being weak without trying to understand if there was an issue. In the first situation, the officer made sure to focus on the problem and not the person. Accept the person, even when the person is struggling. I’ve heard this phrased as, “Love the person, hate the sin” in Christianity. Though I’m not Christian this is often good advice: Love the person, even if you disagree with them. Show and teach people how to improve in areas where you can help, and when you learn new things. In return, ask for help in areas where you see others are strong. This is how teams grow and become better.

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN12 - Mehmet C. Oz, Professor of Surgery and Vice-Chairman, Cardiovascular Services, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, USA, is seen during the session 'An Insight, An Idea with Mehmet Oz' at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum at the congress centre in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2012. Copyright by World Economic Forum by Michael Wuertenberg

Mehmet C. Oz, Professor of Surgery and Vice-Chairman, Cardiovascular Services, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, USA, is seen during the session ‘An Insight, An Idea with Mehmet Oz’ at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum at the congress centre in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2012. by Michael Wuertenberg

For example, I hang out in a lot of conservative forums. One thing I try to do from time to time is post about something that can help people out which has nothing to do with politics. Recently, for example, I posted about Dr. Oz because I’m working on a medical book and someone pointed me to an article showing that 50 percent of Dr. Oz’s advice was snake oil, not backed up by science. I shared it with the forum and said, “Hey, if you watch Dr. Oz, take what he says with a grain of salt.”

It has nothing to do with politics. I just thought it might help people. All people. Not my “team” or “side.”

I never hide my liberalness and am straight and direct to the point about everything. If I have an issue with someone, I have no problem talking to that person about it. I try to do this, however, in the spirit of helping that person. I never call anyone stupid and I try to always approach every conversation as I would with a friend. When someone posts something offensive to try to “liberal bait,” I’ll restate what I believe. If they don’t want to listen and want to play the baiting game, I’ll ask them what they believe instead. It takes time, but as a result, what I often end up hearing is, “I don’t like ‘liberals,’ but I like you.”

When it gets to the point where people like this are saying this about several people they know, that’s when we win. This is why I believe we’re going to need one million leaders. We need one million leaders who know how to bring people together to overcome the media advantage and divide-and-conquer strategies of corporate special interest groups.

A couple of examples

Folks here at Daily Kos aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement helped me understand BLM. At least as much as I can, as a white person.

Initially, I couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t talk about equality and why the phrase “black lives matter” was so important. People I know explained to me how important this was because what the black community was experiencing was only being experienced in the black community. Another way to say this is that “white lives matter” is taken for granted so it’s important as part of change to talk about how “black lives matter.”

In this equality movement, what’s important is to talk about the different experiences of being black and white in America—and what’s fundamentally wrong about the inequality. I’m sure others within the movement could say this better, but this is what I learned and how I help explain it to the predominantly white community I know.

The other thing that I do that I’ve found is really powerful with the people I know is instead of pointing a finger at them, I talk about my biases and racism. And I talk about how it’s not the end of the world, but rather something I have to work to overcome—and that it’s not that hard.

In this manner, the people I know don’t see me as an enemy but as someone trying to help, someone talking about his own personal struggle, and as someone who can talk a little bit about different perspectives. I try to bridge the gaps with the people I know.

A couple of folks here at Daily Kos saw a few early comments about BLM and talked to me about it. They didn’t accuse me of anything. They explained why it mattered to them and I started to see the importance of their chosen rallying cry. At least as much as I’m capable of. And I thought, here’s a group worth fighting alongside.

Another example is a police officer friend of mine here in Cincinnati who’s very vocal on social media. He talks about who he is and leads by example. When Officer Sonny Kim was shot and killed here in Cincinnati, Derek led the fund drive for his family that raised over $200,000. At the same time, I’ve seen him post about how important it is for police officers to be able to talk to people and to be able to resolve situations without violence. He is someone I look up to as a role model and strive to be more like.

He recently posted about his dad, and his dad’s comments about some of what’s going on in Cincinnati:

The city of Cincinnati is a “loved” city. Everyone loves Cincinnati, all across America. The City does not deserve to have constant nails driven into its cross. It is frustrating, it is demoralizing, it is dishonest, and undeserving. Thank god for those, even of the same party, let alone any conservative Republicans who may be lurking, who provide the watch-care necessary to prevent this Queen city from sinking into the adjoining River from whom the city adjoins.

His dad, a Baptist minister, is talking about the divides we so often see. While not Baptist myself, I see Derek and his father as uniters, as leaders within the community.

Derek Bauman and his dad, the Reverend Ron Bauman (with permission).

Derek Bauman and his dad, the Reverend Ron Bauman (with permission).

One million sounds like a lot but it’s really not

Because we don’t have a voice in the media or until we do, if a strategy is going to succeed, it’s going to have to be a distributed strategy. It will have to have many leaders. You may think this sounds impossible, but here’s some quick math that shows the power of social media.

Consider a strategy for creating leaders where each person convinces 20 people within his or her immediate circle to do something as simple as vote:

  • 1st round = 20 people
  • 2nd round = 400 people
  • 3rd round = 8,000 people
  • 4th round = 160,000 people
  • 5th round = 3,200,000 people
  • 6th round = 64,000,000 people

In a distributed strategy, each round develops a sizable number of leaders (from the previous round). At round 5, for example, 160,000 leaders exist from round 4.

So we can make excuses or we can realize that we’re six rounds away from reaching 64 million people.

Electing Bernie Sanders would be great. Even if we elect him though, it’s not going to change things overnight.

It’s only really going to change when there’s a social movement revolution that gets translated into some kind of political change. As Paul says, it’s going to change when “you can channel that movement into a political infrastructure that will improve America.”

A few thoughts about change

  1. Remember how change really happens (and that policy change is probably the last step)
  2. Pick up someone who’s down
  3. Talk to someone outside of your usual circles
  4. Help someone vote (or help them with something else)
  5. Get excited
  6. Tell some jokes (As Homer Simpson says, “Be more funny!”)
  7. Bring people together
  8. Talk about what you believe and come out of the closet as a liberal in a way that isn’t telling someone “You’re wrong!” Rather: Here’s what I believe.
  9. Think about what others are struggling with
  10. Fight with someone on something
  11. If we want a populist party, we need populists in the party (and we need to support them)
  12. If we always voted for the lesser of two evils and we always ran better people, we would always be moving in the direction of positive change
  13. Remember how people have helped you
  14. Work on ways you can lead

Every time I write about this subject I’m always accused of being nice. I look forward to these and other critiques once again :). If you’d like to accuse me of shilling for anyone in particular, I will refer you in advance to the The Little Book of Revolution where I said all of this well before primary season.

David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution: A Distributive Strategy for Democracy. Cross posted at Daily Kos