Black Lives Matter’s Leadership Dilemma

Black Lives Matter is an interesting social protest movement case study of leadership dilemmas. Co-founded in 2013 by three female organizers, BLM has no governing board, instead it coordinates with more than 150 organizations.

Laura Barrón-López of Politico” explains the decentralized structure in Why the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t want a singular leader”.

“Instead of a pyramid of different departments topped by a leader, there is coordination and a set of shared values spread across a decentralized structure that prizes local connections and fast mobilization in response to police violence. Over the last eight years, the movement has steadily built a modern infrastructure on top of decades-old social justice institutions like the Highlander Center.”

. . . local connections and fast mobilization in response to police violence. More specifically:

“When George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer was captured on film, hundreds of organizations and thousands of activists were ready to launch protests in their cities. They pushed policy with local legislators and police departments and rallied people who hadn’t previously engaged in BLM protests. . . .”

One of the most compelling arguments for a decentralized, horizontal, or flat structure:

“There is no chairperson or candidate calling the shots in private or serving as a public rallying point. With no singular person to attack in tweets, President Donald Trump instead directed his ire and threats of violence at mostly peaceful protesters.

‘In terms of strategy — and this is very real that we have to be honest about this — it makes it harder for those who are against us to do what they did in the ‘60s, which is to target one leader,’ said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, a voter engagement nonprofit.”

BLM activists prefer “leaderful” to leaderless. Is it working? In some ways, definitely.

Barrón-López:

“Activists in cities all over the country are trading notes through the network as they pressure local officials to explore new public safety options, from doing away with police in schools to slashing budgets or reimagining police departments entirely.

Meanwhile, other portions of the movement are organizing bigger national actions. Woodard Henderson, along with the SEIU, the Fight for $15 advocacy group and other unions, orchestrated a strike for Black lives on Monday, with thousands of workers in more than 25 cities walking off the job.”

“But,” Barrón-López notes, “other national policy pushes growing out of the movement have inspired dissension within it.”

For example:

“One of the most widely known policy plans to come out of the Black Lives Matter movement is the “8 Can’t Wait” proposals from the racial justice group Campaign Zero. The package is composed of “restrictive use of force policies” for local police departments — including banning chokeholds, mandating de-escalation and warning before shooting — which the group argued would decrease killings.

. . . the release of ‘8 Can’t Wait’ in early June was met with swift criticism from a number of activists who felt the proposals did not go far enough in a climate where calls to ‘defund the police’ were gaining wider acceptance. Within a week, Campaign Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett Cunningham announced her departure from the organization in response to the backlash. Campaign Zero issued an apology on its website, saying its campaign ‘unintentionally detracted from efforts of fellow organizers invested in paradigmatic shifts that are newly possible in this moment.'”

To add to the complexity:

“The ‘8 Can’t Wait’ package has also faced opposition from the other direction, though: In Atlanta, the city council passed the package after the killing of Rayshard Brooks by police in a Wendy’s parking lot. But Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — a Democratic vice presidential contender — vetoed the package, to the frustration of local activists.”

The New York Times reporting on Portland’s protests, “Cities in Bind as Turmoil Spreads Far Beyond Portland” makes me think more identifiable, individual leadership may be needed.

Again, some context. What are people protesting about in Portland?

“The latest catalyst was the deployment of federal law enforcement agents in Portland, Ore., whose militarized efforts to subdue protests around the federal courthouse have sparked mass demonstrations and nightly clashes there. They have also inspired new protests of solidarity in other cities, where people have expressed deep concern about the federal government exercising such extensive authority in a city that has made it clear it opposes the presence of federal agents.”

For example:

“In Oakland, what had been a peaceful protest led in part by a group of mothers proclaiming ‘Cops And Feds Off Our Streets’ devolved after dark as another set of protesters smashed windows at the county courthouse and lit a fire inside.”

The President is using images of nightly property damage and related violence to demean Democratic leaders and scare undecided voters.

Again, The Times:

“President Trump has seized on the scenes of national unrest — statues toppled and windows smashed — to build a law-and-order message for his re-election campaign, spending more than $26 million on television ads depicting a lawless dystopia of empty police stations and 911 answering services that he argues might be left in a nation headed by his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

. . . The situation has left city leaders, now watching the backlash unfold on their streets, outraged and caught in the middle. Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle said in an interview Sunday that the city is in the middle of a self-fulfilling prophecy, with protesters infuriated by the federal presence in Portland smashing windows and setting fires, the very images of ‘anarchy’ that the president has warned about.”

Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, has been even more blunt:

‘I’m furious that Oakland may have played right into Donald Trump’s twisted campaign strategy. Images of a vandalized downtown is exactly what he wants to whip up his base and to potentially justify sending in federal troops that will only incite more unrest.'”

Biden’s campaign team doesn’t appear too worried about this because they believe the police issue is “being treated by many voters as a distraction by Mr. Trump from his faltering coronavirus pandemic response and the struggling economy.”

Scott Jennings, a veteran Republican strategist sees it differently, “If there is a danger for Democrats generically, it is if the Republicans are able to define them as being on the side of the anarchists in Portland.”

The Times adds, “For city officials, the challenge is more immediate than the November election — it is bringing an end to nights of clashes on their streets.”

The most recent protests add urgency to the leadership challenges:

“The focus on the federal agents in Portland has frustrated some activists who see the pushback against their presence as a distraction from the racial injustices that had been the focus of protests in May and June.

In Portland on Saturday night . . . some participants urged the marchers not to forget earlier protests against local police.

‘It’s complicated, it’s chaotic, and it’s a little hard for us to stay focused. We need to stay focused. We cannot forget this is also about the Portland Police Bureau.’ Kinsey Smyth told the crowd. ‘This is not about destruction, this is about rebuilding.'”

Illustrating confirmation bias, conservatives focus on the most violent protestors convinced they are the majority. Their more general criticisms of protestors demonstrate a depressing lack of appreciation for our nation’s history. Do they prefer the masses blissful apathy because they benefit from it?

BLM is an important extension of the American tradition of taking to the streets to highlight the glaring gaps between our stated ideals about equal opportunity, level playing fields, and most people’s daily realities.

BLM activists have made a positive difference and will continue to; especially, I think, if they reconsider their “leaderful” idealism and consider more conventional forms of organization.

But I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.

 

 

 

 

Leaders Manage the Unknown

The New York Times is hopelessly old fashioned, still practicing fact-based investigative reporting and all.

Today’s lead article, He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus, was the work of six people.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when only the liberal “choir” will read it, which is too bad, because it’s incredibly restrained.

For example, this is not politicizing the pandemic.

“There were key turning points along the way, opportunities for Mr. Trump to get ahead of the virus rather than just chase it. There were internal debates that presented him with stark choices, and moments when he could have chosen to ask deeper questions and learn more. How he handled them may shape his re-election campaign. They will certainly shape his legacy.”

“Ask deeper questions,” when has Trump done that?

I listened to Scott Galloway interview Tim Armstrong on his podcast this week. Galloway asked him about leadership during crises. Armstrong talked about interviewing many top executives during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. He summarized their insights this way, “Managers manage the known and leaders manage the unknown.”

The President has not managed the known well and has shown no aptitude for the unknown. Governors, mayors, business leaders, epidemiologists, selfless healthcare workers, and other “essential” people have filled the void brilliantly, managing the known extremely well against all odds.

Armstrong was talking about commercial enterprises, but what about noncommercial ones? What about the common good? Who will manage 21st century unknowns related to public health, environmental degradation, and global poverty?

 

The Thing About Spelling

Some people equate spelling with morality. Good spellers, good people. The sheeps and goats in the New Testament? Good and bad spellers. Spelling’s importance is a topic capable of producing more heat than Adrian Peterson’s parenting, Scottish independence, and Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Parents worry incessantly that their children are destined to always be poor spellers. What kind of lives will they live? Will people whisper about us? Heaven help children with dyslexia.

This week the New York Times ran this lead front and center on their website, “A geneticist wins a prestigious Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation award and uses the spotlight to all for much wider genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancer.” Technically that’s a typo, but the Spelling Police don’t distinguish. The Spelling Police LOVE reading things like that. It gives them a purpose for being. And makes them feel superior. “Know that I am among those that can spell.” They despise any variance from what they deem to be “writing conventions”. Like when people start sentences with “And”.

Before determining if spelling is a life or death matter, we have to distinguish between drafts and final copies. Most of what we write and read, like electronic messages, are drafts. In fact, where does the constantly updating front page of the New York Times fall on that continuum? Irregardless, many would read that lead and think less of The Grey Lady. I would too if it happened with any regularity, but it doesn’t. Doesn’t matter, short of perfection, the Spelling Police pounce. If only they’d save their righteous indignation for final drafts.

Like teachers’ letters to parents. Nothing gets the Spelling Police more fired up than teachers’ letters to parents. Full. Riot. Gear. Misspell a word, lose your life right to teach my child ever again.

I’m not advocating for laissez faire (damn, got that right on the first try) creative spelling. Instead of seeing every spelling error as an opportunity to assert their spelling prowess, maybe the Spelling Police could take a second or two to consider whether the error is part of a larger pattern or not. If not, maybe you could try the impossible. Letting that one error on the third grade paper go, or the one in the newspaper, or heaven help us, the one in the parent letter.

Sometimes, okay, a lot of the times, I amaze myself—fore hundred and six words and not a single mispelling.

 

 

 

The Great Marriage Divide

The GalPal and I enjoyed a fun-filled 25th anniversary last Wednesday. We celebrated by bicycling the Burke-Gilman trail in Seattle, kayaked on Lake Union, took in the King Tut Exhibit, ate at the China Outpost as directed by the Principal, and swam in Lake Washington. More fun than a couple should be allowed to have in one day. Congratulations to my best friend for putting up with me for a quarter cent.

Speaking of marriage, sobering sociology compliments of the New York Times.

Primary point—Across Middle America, single motherhood has moved from an anomaly to a norm with head-turning speed.

Key excerpts:

The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.

But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans . . . are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women . . . are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides . . . . Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class — among women . . . who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree.

While many children of single mothers flourish (two of the last three presidents had mothers who were single during part of their childhood), a large body of research shows that they are more likely than similar children with married parents to experience childhood poverty, act up in class, become teenage parents and drop out of school.

Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist, warns that family structure increasingly consigns children to “diverging destinies.”

Whether and whom to marry are the most monumental of decisions, yet most people make them when they’re young and aren’t entirely sure about what they want to do for a living, or how to manage personal finances, or solve conflicts peacefully, or parent.

And through a steady stream of romantic comedies, Hollywood promotes the idea that love and marriage are equal parts physical and emotional. In nearly complete contrast, the New York Times journalists imply love and marriage is a practical partnership, one where two incomes and two parents are needed to successfully manage a household and reliably raise children with promising life prospects.

The stats are depressing and another reason I suppose to go to college. Of course though, finishing college and then marrying is no guarantee that anyone will make it twenty five years. That takes perseverance, commitment, bicycles, and kayaks.

The Burke-Gilman trail