Reporters are motivated to play up controversy, so I figure the reporter may have taken the quotes out of context. Based on what I read, I see Bloomberg increasing the polarization, taking sides, and missing his opportunity to lead.
As a leader, I think the opportunity is not to delve into what people are saying, except to make sure it’s legal and non-violent, but to support their right to speak, as long as they stay non-violent and legal. If you support that, you can come down hard if they become violent or illegal. Once you selectively enforce — sometimes they get evicted, sometimes not, police breaking laws don’t get punished, etc — it’s hard to get back.
He took their gasoline, seized their tents, then had hundreds of them arrested for disorderly conduct and other offenses.
And now, Mayor Bloomberg has turned to dismissing the Occupy Wall Street protesters as a disjointed mob without a clear message.
“This is not the Vietnam era when you had 400,000 people on the Mall saying ‘let’s get out of Vietnam,’” Bloomberg told MSNBC Tuesday. “This is more a frustration kind of protest. They were chanting, ‘We don’t know what we want, but we want it now.’”
Bloomberg then went on to to suggest that the protesters are also ill-informed.
“They don’t know how to fix this,” he said. “They want their government to fix it. They don’t even know what the problem is, much less how to fix it, but they know that things aren’t working well and you see that around the world.”
Taking issue with what they say embroils you in the debate. Right or wrong, that’s a disastrous strategy, especially for one of the richest people in the world, who made his money on Wall Street.
Effective leadership wouldn’t take sides. It would support communication, community, and processes people agree with. Yesterday’s post outlines a successful strategy. Saying “They don’t even know what the problem is, much less how to fix it” sinks you into debate instead of elevating you into leadership. The rest of the statement softens that clause, so the reporter may have distorted his message. Still, he didn’t actively lead.
The Mayor doesn’t have to lead. I’m not saying he’s wrong for not taking responsibility and supporting free speech instead of taking sides. He just has such an amazing opportunity to lead and improve his city — more opportunity than anybody else. To see him squander it by letting low-level police too-eager to arrest and mace people speak for the city is sad.
The article continues with him taking issue in the conversation
“Partly it’s technology that’s automating repetitive jobs,” he said. “Partly it’s globalization that lets labor move to the lowest salary place, the lowest cost of labor.
“Partly it is just we’ve been overspending all around the world, monies we don’t have, and now we’re going to have to pay the piper. So if you have to raise tuition in a school, the kids object to that, but somebody’s got to pay for the schools. If we have to stop some of the services, we just can’t afford them anymore, so it is a general frustration and it comes out in many ways.”
Covering these points opens him to more criticism. When I observed the protests, accountability in banking and finance dominated their message. These quotes make him seem out of touch. When protesters sense he doesn’t understand, they will likely want to speak louder and create more confrontation.
I hope he changes his strategy before the situation elevates. Yesterday’s post shows how.
By the way, the second link was to an article on Keith Olberman calling Bloomberg to task for following in a centuries-long tradition in the United States of political leaders who, by coming down hard on protests, legitimized and elevated them.
While I think Olberman’s fury and insults diminished the strength of his message — calmness or more contained emotion would have engaged me more, but maybe that’s just me — he reinforced the counterproductivity of Bloomberg’s strategy, or lack thereof.