Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movements without "leaders"

David Seaton's News Links
The other day, a top American political consultant, Matthew Dowd, was visiting Madrid and was interviewed by the local "newspaper of reference", El PaĆ­s. When he was asked his opinion about Spain's "15th of May" citizen's movement, AKA, "The Spanish Revolution" or "Los Indignados", he dismissed them saying, "If they want to influence the system they must work from within, supporting a leader." In so saying, I think this consummate insider has revealed one of the keys to a political system which today seems much more in tune with lobbies and special interest groups than with the lives and concerns of its citizens and voters: a "caste apart"... precisely what los indignados are indignant about.
Are political leaders a solution?

A true political movement is about agreed goals, not about "leaders". Look at the American Civil Rights movement, a true citizen's movement if there ever was one. Martin Luther King was its voice, but the energy behind his voice was the energy of thousands of "Rosa Parks": black people, who had it very clear in their minds that they had had enough. Men and women, even children, who simply were not about to take any more shit.

Without those thousands upon thousands of "Rosa Parks", marchers and martyrs, and their firm decision not to back down even one step, Martin Luther King would have been no more than another fine example of the African-American community's legendary, evangelical pulpit artistry. The nobility of the movement he gave voice to washes away any controversies over personal frailties he may have had and enshrines him in American history. In short, Rosa Parks "created" Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Day and not vice-versa. 

Therefore a clear cause, with clear objectives, is the heart of a powerful movement: objectives which elicit the commitment of those who join it, and that combination of objectives and massive commitment calls forth clear "leadership" as needed. In short a healthy mass political movement is created first by the "followers" not by the "leaders".

Starting with the leader and then looking around for some objectives and then looking for followers is simply manipulative, no different really than selling any other product. You could even say that in a "leader-originated" movement, the leader's role is to take the "movement" out of the movement. Certainly there could be no greater contrast than between the Civil Rights Movement and the  marketing operation, cast as a "movement", that took Barack Obama to the White House. Contrast MLK's, "If man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live." with Obama's lawyerly, "change (you can believe in) ".

The proof of this is that, what should have been the crowning moment of the Civil Rights struggle, putting an African-American into the White House, after all the froth and self-congratulation, is turning out to be next to meaningless by any objective measure.

So Matthew Dowd is wrong. There is a surfeit of "leaders" today, politics is crawling with them, what are needed are people: masses of committed people, people who come together with clear objectives to change things and just like Rosa Parks, wont take no for an answer.

It would make me happy to think that anything as spontaneous and potentially fertile as Spain's "indignados" could spring to life in the USA... that would change not only the USA, it would change the entire world.

We live in hope. DS


bailey said...

Interesting article David, and yes, ideas vs leaders.

Rick Falkvinge, Max Keiser, these guys are men with ideas, Falvinge thru the Pirate Party in Sweden and Max Keiser thru financial info via Paris, Iran and Russian media.

You might want to check out their interview (Falkvinge/Keiser), I think I had something to do with their getting together. It's about the ideas of the future, copyright, basically the fight btwn the suits and hackers, btwn corporations and creativity. It's hard to understand these ideas, but its the new cycle that follows the 'green movement' of 40 yrs back. Whether or not you're a banker or inventor, you shouldn't just be able to sit back and earn money doing nothing, you need to give incentive to keep creating...well, it's complicated, open source is an example but this will spill into everything, gradually, then soon.

Good to see some action in Spain. Spain is unique. It has a 50% youth unemployment rate and when mio marito was down in Malta last week on business the Maltese stated they were inundated with Spanish kids with degrees, begging for work down South.

Spain's economy is pretty much based on real estate, banking on volume and getting those English to come down on buses...well, that's not going to happen anymore.

So, you have a problem, a major problem which is especially bad in Spain, far worse there than in Germany, Italy, France. In fact, one could argue the Irish haven't 'felt' the effects, hence their docile behavior. But the Greeks and the Spanish, well, Spain is a great worry and the people know it.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

The only "saving" grace is that about 25% of Spain's economy is off the books. So the real unemployment figures are substantively less than the official ones.