Recent leadership gaffes in California have reminded me of the challenge of leadership in general--specifically LGBT leadership. What is it about our movement that seduces us to keep picking leaders that we are inevitably unhappy with?
In her July 28, Bilerico posting "Repeal Prop 8 Leadership Summit: The Expert Point of View" Karen Ocamb says about the leadership uneasiness in the California gay community, "The rivers could part and a charismatic general who meets everyone's leadership criteria could emerge carrying unlimited funds and access to the latest technology and voter data bases - and still we'd fight and hurl nasty invective at our LGBT enemy in public - and do it with a self-satisfied sneer."
I'm not taking a position on either 2010 or 2012, but on our conspicuously questionable commanders. Leadership is not easy, especially in our community, and I've been on both sides of the rotten tomatoes. Our community, however, is acutely sensitive to inadequacies because of our seeming lack of traction in the past four decades. Though many local laws have been attuned in our favor, and though public opinion swings our way, overall we're still stuck in 1969.
Several bloggers have asked "Where is our Martin Luther King?" But what if we've already had her, and driven her away with our impossible expectations and our unquenchable anger?
I don't think we have actually found-and-subsequently-turned-against our "Martin Luther King." We need leadership not from one great, charismatic demagogue, but quieter, uniting, behind-the-scenes direction. We need not one, but many leaders with the power to make us feel invited to buy into the plan as well as help create it.
We're too smart! We've too much experience! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a young, inexperienced 26 year old man fresh out of graduate school when he became the voice of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He had not worked on hundreds of campaigns and studied volumes of political science, but he was very familiar with his community, and he had a unique ability to connect with people of all backgrounds and make them feel a common bond with him. He valued the contribution that everyone can make.
In an interview with Karen Ocamb here on Bilerico, Eric Bauman, Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party and veteran political tactician, seemed to snub the zealous--albeit inexperienced--young activists because they disagree with predetermined strategy.
Having been in Bauman's shoes before as a frustrated leader, I can understand why it's maddening when the newbies--without acknowledging the practicalities--want to jump in and take over like the fogies are invisible nit-wits. Neither Bauman nor I, however, are going to be the gay community's Martin Luther King.
Dr. King welcomed innovation, delegated and took on a lot more than he could handle, but invited everyone in to take some of the brunt. Why can't we unify behind "multiple" strategies? Our true leaders will recognize all voices on the way to victory.
Back to California; money and strategy aside--and yes it will be much more difficult to raise cash for 2012 if we blow it and lose in 2010--we don't want to tell our young activists, "Hey, all of this passion and energy you have right now? Ignore it. Come back in 2012 a little more willing to take orders, and get out of my face." Whatever's done, don't squander the gusto the new activists have bottled up ready to unleash.
Across America, our leaders today--even our 'grassroots' leaders--are not enticing us to buy into the strategy at all, because they see no reason to offer us a stake of ownership. They 'know' what works, and we don't, and they want us to trust them but stay out of the way. If they do offer us ownership in the 'agenda,' it's on their benevolent terms--we can sit and watch and learn how it's really done. Familiarity breeds contempt--organizers need to stay above the fray--but exclusion also breeds contempt. They're feeling the hot breath of criticism getting a little too close.
Put my skills to work, please! Young activists are dying to be movers and shakers in this movement, and they have great skills to use--but they don't want to play the game. Everyone wants to be the next Harvey Milk! Leaders need to invite young activists to write their own roles in the movement, and define their own positions.
Leaders have to know when to stand their ground and say "No, that is not a strategy we will use," but they also need to know when--regardless of 'conventional wisdom'--to get everyone on board and to take a chance on new roads to victory.