Skip to main content

How Change Happens

Over the weekend I watched the HBO movie Confirmation about the Clarance Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. It was painful to live through that period - and almost as painful to re-live it via this film. But the one benefit of hindsight is that we know what happened as a result of the ordeal Ms. Hill endured.
Her appearance became a catalyst for change. The following year was designated the "Year of the Woman" after women across the political spectrum ran for public office in record numbers. This was seen as a direct response to the treatment Hill received from the Senate, which was then 98 percent male...

And the spike in sexual harassment claims showed Hill was not alone. Hill's testimony helped other women identify the unwanted sexual advances they'd experienced. In 1992, the EEOC saw a 71 percent increase in sexual harassment claims, continuing throughout the decade and peaking in 2000 with 15,836 claims.
I doubt that Senator Patty Murray is the only one who responded this way:
Self-labeled as “the only preschool teacher in the United States Senate,” Murray claims she never wanted to get into national politics, but was moved to run by what she saw as blatant sexism in the Anita Hill hearings.
That story captures many of the elements for how change happens. Millions of women (and the men who care about them) were mobilized by watching an everyday injustice that often happened in secret get played out on national television for the whole world to see. It had a similar impact as video of Sheriff Bull Conor's dogs and water hoses and nightly pictures of the horror in Vietnam.

What is interesting about those examples is that none of them involved a POTUS (much less any other politician) leading the charge. As a matter of fact, most politicians don't sign on to change - much less have any success at it - until it is taken up by what Evert Rogers called the "late majority" in his theory about the "diffusion of innovation."

People like Harvey Milk and Rosa Parks were the innovators. Early adopters are the community organizers and activists who took action to highlight an issue - first garnering support from the early majority, and then finally reaching the late majority. That is the point at which politicians can take up the cause and push for change. As the saying goes, "when the people lead, the leaders will follow." That isn't a sign of cowardice, as some would claim, but the way things are supposed to work in a representative democracy.

Over the last few years I've reviewed most (not all) of Martin Luther King, Jr's speeches. What I have noticed is that not once does he direct his remarks to a president or any other politician. In other words, you never hear from him what is a common refrain in activist circles these days: "Tell Obama to ________." MLK always addressed himself to citizens - not politicians. He knew that's how change happens.

Some people were a bit aghast when Barack Obama said this during the 2008 election. It appeared as though he was comparing himself to Ronald Reagan.

But if you listen to what he's actually saying, he is validating that this is how change happens. His analysis is that Reagan changed the trajectory of our politics "because the country was ready for it." Obama dismisses himself as a "singular figure," and instead implies that the country is - once again - ready to change its trajectory. The seeds of that were visible when Democrats re-took the majority in the House in 2006. That was followed up by the election of Obama, along with (for a few months at least) a 60 vote majority in the Senate.

Of course, Republicans met that movement for change with fear-mongering, obstruction and gerrymandering of House districts following the 2010 election. Those tactics worked to not only halt progress, but to discourage people who eventually became cynical instead of hopeful about change.

But the overall principle still stands. It is not a POTUS who will lead change. Pressuring them to adopt the policies we want to see enacted is a byproduct of winning over the late majority to our cause. In other words, instead of sending a message to a politician, try talking to your co-worker or neighbor or family member. That's how change happens.


Popular posts from this blog

What Obama Learned as a Community Organizer

I recently ran across this article that Barack Obama wrote back in 1988 while he was still a community organizer. The closing paragraph speaks not only to what he learned during those years, but it is a great example of why so many people talk about his amazing talent as a writer. Just imagine what it would be like if we had a President who wrote about urban Americans like this :-)
In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for othe…

A Tale of Two Ground Games

I recently ran across two stories about what things look like on the ground in Southwestern Ohio - a state where the RCP polling average gives Hillary Clinton a 2.6 lead over Donald Trump.

The first comes from a blogger at Daily Kos with the screen name mt41w. He attended the opening of a field office in "deeply red" Mason.
The fact that Hillary’s ground game is focused, extremely competent, hard-working and ready to GOTV was plain with the opening of the Mason, Ohio office on Wednesday evening August 10th. This was one of seven offices “opening for business” Wednesday in Ohio...

Anyhow, the house was literally standing-room-only. In the room where I stood and sweated — the A/C was overwhelmed — I counted 35 people, including the Channel 12 CBS Local News crew and cameraman. And I was in the smaller of six rooms in this converted house on Mason’s Main Street. I could see more people outside on the porch and sidewalk unwilling or unable to brave the crowded rooms, so I’d take…

Ed Henry: Three Strikes and You're OUT

In yesterday's press conference President Obama tackled some extremely important issues: like the warmongering currently underway with Republicans.

But on a lighter note, I'm beginning to wonder if we shouldn't call these press conferences "Ed Henry Smackdowns." Does this Faux News reporter have any appreciation for the concept of "three strikes and you're out?"

As a refresher - here's strike one.

Strike two.

And yesterday's big swing and miss...strike three.

To switch metaphors, one has to wonder when the referee calls it for the great counter-puncher.