Thursday, November 15, 2007

on Protest and Advocacy...

We recently had a conversation on the AARoundtable (a Yahoo E-discussion group) during which the question was asked: "When will we as a community stop talking and start doing?" Almost rhetorical, it illustrated a degree of frustration with the fact that despite the presence and activity of Black Leaders and Organizations, we still seem to be sliding backwards into more hostile waters. The current resurgence of overt racism and prejudice embodied in the hanging of nooses, miscarriages of justice in the Genarlow Wilson and Jena 6 cases, and heinous acts of violence as with Megan Williams and the Dunbar Village assault made the question all the more poignant.

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Reflecting on that question brought to mind a situation from my own life that I believe to be instructive in this matter. You see, I was once deemed a gifted child. I was blessed with a better than average visual memory thereby allowing me to mentally picture and review text and documents I had previously viewed. Because of this, I was an excellent test-taker despite the fact that I never studied. It was therefore ironic that my strength created my weakness. I did just enough to pass. I never did much homework; I'd just do well on tests and quizzes and hope that I'd average out to a passing grade. But now as a grown man, I'm still saddled with a deficiency in that I never developed any study habits or skills.
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When I look at us as a community, we seem to have a strength related weakness as well. In a society where we had little real 'power', we developed a powerful and persuasive rhetoric which was designed to influence those in power to act on our behalf. We spoke, and change happened. We didn't actually 'author' the change, we didn't 'rewrite' the laws, 'appropriate' the funds, 'build' the facilities, or 'remake' the rules... We spoke; and our speech motivated others to take the practical steps involved in making change. We often mobilized through marches and protests, but even these are forms of 'speech' and 'expression'. We'd gather, march, preach, demand, and chant, and then... go home. We'd then trust that the necessary action steps, (mundane, un-emotional, and tedious) would be faithfully handled by others.
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Our earlier successes in 'speaking truth to power' have left us saddled with a deficiency. We as a community haven't developed the necessary tools or habits for change-making. We continue on in our tradition of 'speaking' the change, then waiting to see it materialize. It seems that we as a community still believe that if we speak to an forcefully to an issue, the 'righteousness' of our position will magically make a change occur. We believe that things will change for the better, simply because we've 'explained' why they should.
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Real change requires real power (The power to decree, to write policy, to create procedure, to allocate funds, to hire and fire, and/or to greenlight projects). If we don't have power than we should make it a priority to acquire power, and in the interim we should use leverage (Leverage to motivate change not because of emotion or sympathy, but because of the prospect of material consequence). If we don't have leverage we should make it a priority to gain some leverage, and in the interim we should use influence (Again this is influence not based on sympathy or emotion, but rather on our ability to 'transfer' our world-view and/or perspective to others and have them internalize those views as their own). If we don't have influence we should make it a priority to build and increase our influence and in the interim we're left with pressure/speech, both of which are dependant upon emotion and sympathy.
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To develop a community of change-agents will require a movement of sorts. This is largely uncharted territory for us and it doesn't look or feel like the activism we've become accustomed to. This will require a new type and method of activism. And it is precisely for that reason, I don't believe the way forward will initially be traveled en mass. I believe that those who are so motivated have to work deliberately to develop the skills and capacity to make change, and we have to demonstrate those skills as we go (kind of like a community OJT). Gradually, I believe, as laws are rewritten, policies amended, and institutions changed, we can and will develop the momentum to truly reinvent the movement. Hopefully then, the question will have answered itself...

KM

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Jung/Myers Briggs

INTJ - "Mastermind". Introverted intellectual with a preference for finding certainty. A builder of systems and the applier of theoretical models. 2.1% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs/MBTI)

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