Generating ideas, connections, and action

Yes we can! ....But how? *

* the election-specific responses are the personal opinions of Deborah Meehan and not of the Leadership Learning Community or The Tides Center (the 501c3 charity, which is by definition non-partisan). I found myself completely swept up in the election fervor this year. It was contagious and I know where I caught it, my daughters! I was curious, hopeful and undecided over a year ago when my daughter talked me into attending an Obama rally in San Francisco. I was immediately hooked.

I wouldn’t be the first person to say that Obama was an amazing speaker and while that was quite inspiring, what really grabbed me was his message of hope and his reminder that it was not up to him but all of us. Okay, I watched the “Yes We Can Video” at least a dozen times. For as long as I can remember, I have longed in my soul for a candidate who would actually expect the best of us and call us to our better selves . . . our unselfish selves with a concern for the well being of others in this country and around the globe . I was deeply heartened to see a massive response to Obama’s message of hope after eight years of fear- based politics. Since the elections, my happiness threshold is just a little bit higher . . . every day seems a little bit better, well to be more precise, hopeful! Of course I am happy that Obama won, and I am elated that at least the majority (and we should not forget that it’s a slim majority) of people in this country responded to a challenge that we can do better as a country and nation and must cross many lines of difference to deliver on this promise.
This election has a great deal to teach all of us, and especially those of us who believe in leadership and change. I began working on this election in my off-time in my living room with a computer in my lap and cell phone in hand. I was able to call other voters when I found myself with 15 minutes here or there. I have never given to a national election campaign before because I never felt that what I could afford to contribute could matter in how things played out. I found myself on numerous occasions responding to the $25 ask, and not doubting that my $25 could connect with the contributions of thousands of other small donors to actually make a difference. By the time the election neared, I was eager to connect more personally with other supporters and on my vacation went with my daughters to do GOTV (Get Out The Vote) in the swing state of Virginia where I was born. The day we arrived, in one small office of many throughout the state, we were part of a team of 200 volunteers that canvassed over 3,000 homes in one afternoon! The day before the election we attended Obama’s last rally on the campaign trail. The event, announced two days before, drew over 100,000 people who stood in packed fairgrounds, waiting until 10:30 PM on Monday night for Obama to arrive. So what does this all have to do with leadership? A lot of people have suggested that despite the “yes, we can message” a lot of people will expect “super hero” feats from Obama. Others have expressed concern about how the extraordinary levels of campaign mobilization can possibly be sustained. Beyond these doubts lies an incredible opportunity. Everyone, Democrat and Republican has talked about how well-organized the Obama campaign was and its innovative use of social technology. Leadership programs interested in how to connect and mobilize their graduates are paying attention, and we do have much to learn on this front. At the same time, its important to remember that social media is a tool and provided the vehicle for organization not the impetus for organization. We need to pay attention to what it was that mobilized and engaged people. The power of the campaign, which in many ways became a social movement for change, was the vision of a better future that resonated across many differences including geography, age, race, and class. In this respect, the campaign was a call to leadership. Many of the people I have spoken with since the election want to remain involved. I took 20 minutes during an extremely busy time to respond to a post election Obama survey about what’s next. So while there will be people looking for a savior, the campaign has also democratized leadership by asking us to step up. We may need to rethink our ideas about how to enhance and support emergent leadership on a different scale and how to support the self-organizing of activists. Of course, it’s not possible to talk about the election without also talking about leadership and race. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime! When LLC has conducted focus groups on the question of why there are not more people of color in leadership, we consistently heard that the dominant popular model of individual-oriented leadership often renders invisible the leadership of people who exercise leadership aligned with different cultural traditions . . . leadership that may be more collective or values-based in nature. While we are far from addressing questions of institutional racism in this country, we have also taken a huge step forward in expanding current thinking about what leadership is supposed to look like. So this election has a lot to do with leadership and we hope it will spark some lively conversation and innovations. We are excited about how to pursue these questions through Creating Space this year. We are interested in your ideas and questions post election, as we enter a serious recession with grave consequences for our work and our communities. I have decided not to be on the Creating Space design team this year because I am excited about the self-organizing strategies being developed by the creative leadership of the CSIX design team to engage all of us in preparations for Creating Space and our work together beyond . Please share your ideas in the comments about the implications of recent events and the questions most on your mind with each other and with the design team. Together we can answer the “how.” * the election-specific responses are the personal opinions of Deborah Meehan and not of the Leadership Learning Community or The Tides Center (the 501c3 charity, which is by definition non-partisan).