Occupy Wall Street and leadership, part 1: the context

November 22, 2011 by Joshua
in Blog, Freedom, Leadership

This series of posts will present easy, low-risk-of-error, high-chance-of-success actions that would-be leaders can do. As always in this blog, it begins with context and an overview of the relevant principles as I see them.

So far, the movement has revealed a stunning lack of leadership all around.

People ask who is leading the movement. Great question, but the protesters are only one place lacking leadership. While most people point out the protesters’ lack of leadership, I am more stunned by two other cases of absent leadership: the government’s response and the changes to the financial system that prompted the protests in the first place.

The protesters can at least point out they never expected the movement to resonate so strongly — an undeniable sign of popular global support. The government can make no such claim.

Elected leaders have said and done virtually nothing while the voice of the police has overwhelmed nearly all other communication from the government. In New York City, for example, the Mayor has said little. But the police were not elected. Their job is to maintain order and follow their boss, the Mayor’s, orders. Protect citizens’ right to free speech ranks relatively low on their priorities, well below maintaining order.

I live by

Don’t look for blame but take responsibility to improve things to the extent you can.

How things got this way interests me only to the extent it helps show how to improve things. In this case, a cursory look at the current situation reveals the position of New York City Mayor is in the main position to act.

Let’s look at the context: who is leading the situation they are protesting? The lack of leadership goes back before the September protests.

The country has moved significantly for decades, but not through thoughtful, well-directed, inclusive leadership in a process everyone understands and feels a part of. Instead, self-interested would-be bit players pushed for little bits here and there, which collectively added to seismic changes. I’m speaking of changes to the banking playing field that allowed too-big-to-fail banks, lack of oversight, and so forth.

Decades of small pushes led to major changes that many people feel led to instability, increasing financial crisis, increasing disparity of wealth, feelings of helplessness, and so on. Many people feel excluded from a process that hurt them and see no way to rectify the situation but to participate in a movement amplifying their voice, no matter how unclear its leadership or demands.

Mayor Bloomberg is in a prime position to lead. Though the protesters are asking for national level changes, they are acting locally. The Governor and President are too far removed from city-level civic action. Involving state police or the military would be overkill.

That’s not to say national leaders like the President and Congress have no opportunity to lead in this national-level discussion. I am surprised at how impotently they have responded, or not. In any case, I see the Mayor of New York City as the position with the best opportunity to lead and direct the public conversation.

In the other direction, the police — unelected and charged with maintaining order, not interpreting and understanding the higher-level dialog — don’t have the visionary scope to lead either.

The result is that the leaderless Occupy Wall Street movement has behaved reactively toward a leaderless laissez-faire banking movement, provoking a leaderless police reaction.

Tomorrow: if only Mayor Bloomberg seized the opportunity.

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1 response to “Occupy Wall Street and leadership, part 1: the context

  1. Pingback: Occupy Disney » Joshua Spodek

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