Okay, now we understand the situation. What can be done?
As I wrote yesterday, people don’t want to protest. They want their voices heard and to understand and agree with the process they’re talking about.
The opportunity for the Mayor of New York City is to follow a three-fold path
- Support the right to speak freely in his city
- Recognize the need for order and non-violence
- Support the city’s great tradition of active participation in politics
First, acknowledge protesters’ right to free speech…
Stating clearly there are multiple issues at play, only one of which is law and order in the street will lose him no support. Another issue is law and order in finance. Most importantly, as Mayor, simply acknowledging citizens want to speak and part of his job is to protect that right will gain him support from protesters and their supporters.
while simultaneously acknowledging the limitations.
If at the same time he clearly states he has to maintain order among everyone, protesters and police alike, he can gain begrudging respect from all.
Looking the other way for a few weeks while people stay in a park is not supporting their right. He appears not to know what’s going on. Both the occupiers and police broke the law.
Promote a fair process…
I suggest he start by publicly, clearly, and consistently state that he supports them speaking as long as they remain non-violent and don’t break the law. Any statement of enforcing the law with respect to occupiers should apply to all equally. If occupiers, the police break, or he breaks the law, he should hold all equally accountable for their actions.
As long as he supports everyone’s right to speak non-violently and legally, he can come down harder if they break the law or act violently.
with severe consequences to anyone who breaks it, equally applied.
If he doesn’t apply the law in a way that appears equal, he will seem to use it selectively, which is to say breaking it, to take sides. If he takes sides, he will become a lightning rod. I believe he understands this risk, which motivates him staying mostly on the sideline without clear statements except to support the police.
Promote New York City and its vibrant culture.
He can help his constituencies by publicly and popularly stating that New York City, the greatest city in the world, boasts vibrant public discourse and always has. As long as the protesters speak non-violently and legally, he should support their right to speak and New York City’s great culture.
He can even vocally disagree with what they say. In fact such disagreement while supporting their rights would add to his credibility.
The coup de grâce:
Here’s the big step that will win him support among the occupiers, reduce their need to protest, and thereby reduce the need for police.
promote communicating between protesters and appropriate decision makers…
He can go a step further and support appropriate decision-makers listening to what his constituents say. He doesn’t have to attempt to influence the outcome, only that the voice of New York City — his people — helps the nation and people should listen to it.
He can say the people in his city don’t want to disrupt traffic, they want to feel heard and ask why people who could listen and do something don’t.
He can call out for people who can take responsibility to improve our financial system — not just banks who want to improve their profits — to come out of the woodwork and take responsibility.
Putting people in touch helps everyone. Or at least calling out the people who aren’t responding and forcing New York City residents to deal with civic space being occupied and paying for extra police force.
while giving each enough rope to succeed or hang themselves.
A leader needs only to lead the horse to water, not make it drink. He succeeds when others can do what they want. For the protesters, that means getting to talk to people who can make a difference (not just to protest — if you believe they want just to protest, you are helping polarize the situation. Try this exercise). In this sense, the threshold for success for the Mayor of New York is low.
Many sides have intelligent people who together might reach mutually beneficial solutions. The Mayor would come out shining if all that happened was communication. Likewise, many sides have fools. Giving fools a chance to look like fools will dissipate their support.
Some fools seek to promote discord. That his message has severe consequences enables him to weed those people out if they act up within the city.
Depolarize the dialog and decrease the stakes.
He can decrease the stakes by calling the dialog healthy and normal. Depolarizing the dialog will reduce support from the wings and facilitate communication among those closest and most reasonable.
I don’t think it would be too jaded to promote people from outside the city to come visit New York to see what’s going on, as long as they remain legal and non-violent, and I’m pretty critical about such things. The protesters may speak out against Wall Street, and affect national issues. The content of what they say nonviolently shouldn’t concern him. As a third-term Mayor, he can support his constituents.
This stance gives him justification to come down hard in cases of non-violence. It supports the richness of the city and promotes New York’s cultural heritage
Potential problems with this plan have ready solutions.
Some might see potential problems to the above comprehensive suggestions. I see in each potential problem opportunity for more effective leadership.
Some might think it could hurt his chances for future office. Acting with authenticity, showing his emotion while keeping it controlled, combined with strong support for the Constitution and city will turn this would-be problem into an asset.
Some might think it allows chances of violence. Supporting non-violent speech in word and deed gives him yet greater leeway to come down against violence.
Some will dislike not blindly supporting police, but some will support more. Strongly supporting non-violent, legal free expression will allow him to support cops more.
Banks and finance could come down hard on him for affecting their profits. Following bankers’ advice hasn’t helped much so far. They don’t have much popular support now. He can diffuse their threat by stating he knows it could happen from the start and point out the potential loss to his net worth. Also, he should point out that the economy and faith in government, seriously damaged, are not the same as bank profits. Their market caps may decrease, but they won’t stop banking, so the system will still work. History suggests something like restoring Glass Steagall will benefit the economy.
Pro-NYC, pro-peaceful legal expression, benign disinterest to non-violent, legal expression.
The above may seem simple, but it’s just a blog post. The ideas within can be fleshed out to a full, comprehensive plan. Mr. Mayor, just give me a call.
Next: what he is doing instead