Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
Congressman Keith Ellison
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Cornel West and Tavis Smiley
While I might not take exception to EVERY name on that list, I wonder if you have the same reaction I did to seeing it...its about the top 20 celebrity progressives in the US. To put it bluntly, these are mostly the Kim Kardashian's of the left.
When I think of progressive leaders, I think about people who actually get something done...those who, ripple by ripple, change the world. They identify a problem (or problems), roll up their sleeves, and do the dirty work of making things better. AND they do it in the spirit of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called "service."
Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
Another way of making the distinction between celebrity and leadership comes from Al Giodano when he talks about activism vs organizing.
Activism is the practice of preaching to the choir, rallying the already converted, and trying to convince other "activists" to do your work for you (say, call your Congressman, or write your Senator for or against a piece of legislation)...
Activism seeks media attention through protests and other means, errantly thinking it will draw others to its cause by doing so. This dominant tendency in "activism" becomes a circular, self-reinforcing, self-marginalizing, chest-thumping, bureaucratic and anally-retentive activity and a big waste of time with little impact on the issues or policies it seeks to change or defend.
Organizing is something completely different: It is based on attainable and quantifiable goals (be they small, as in, "put a stop sign in the neighborhood," or be they large, as occurred last year: elect an underdog as president of the United States). Here's a simple yardstick by which to measure: If it doesn't involve knocking on doors, making phone calls or otherwise proactively communicating with people demographically different than you, it's not organizing. If it doesn't involve face-to-face building of relationships, teams, chains of command, and, day-by-day, clear goals to measure its progress and effectiveness, it's not organizing. If it happens only on the Internet, that's not organizing either.
Its also what Tim Wise was talking about when he said this:
Meanwhile, at what point do you stop being so concerned about whether a presidential candidate is pushing the issues Paul raises (so many of which do need raising and attention), and realize what every actual leftist in history has realized, but which apparently some liberals and progressives don’t: namely, that the real battles are in the streets, and in the neighborhoods, and in movement activism? It isn’t a president, whether his name is Ron Paul or Barack Obama who gets good things done. It is us, demanding change and threatening to literally shut the system down (whether we mean Wall Street, the Port of Oakland, the Wisconsin state capitol, Columbia University, a Woolworth’s lunch counter, or the Montgomery, Alabama bus system) who force presidents and lawmakers to bend to the public will.
In short, if you’re still disappointed in Barack Obama, it’s only because you never understood whose job it was to produce change in the first place.
Or Van Jones (one of those on the list that I consider a real leader) when he said this:
And as the years went on, I learned that angry rhetoric might feel good to people like me, but it didn't make a difference in the neighborhoods I was trying to move forward. I learned that education and real opportunity is what makes a real difference. Protest signs are important - they can't stop a bullet. Nothing stops a bullet like a job. That's what I learned working in the toughest communities in our country.
Teddy Roosavelt talked about it this way years ago:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
And just the other day, BooMan suggested that until progressives grapple with this, we'll continue in our defeatism.
...progressives need to act like they are the natural leaders of this country again. But we can't do that because we have too much distrust of power. We're so busy standing on the outside critiquing the Establishment that no one is going to hand us the keys to become the Establishment. And too many liberals don't want that responsibility because it would tarnish their purity.
Rather than simply critique power, leadership is about stepping up to own some. That means understanding the difference between the power of dominance and the power of partnership. It also means having to give up your position of purity to get your hands dirty in the work of the world as it is - not simply as you want it to be.
The trouble with lists like the one in the New Statesman is that those kind of leaders don't generally gain celebrity...they're too busy out there getting things done.