Posts Tagged ‘vote’

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Why Protest?

2008.November.17

I know a lot of people who attended Proposition 8 protests last weekend. Time will tell how effective they were, but I think it would be helpful to remember what could or could not be accomplished by them.

No protests outside of California (and arguably, not even there) were going to undo the initiative there, and certainly not directly. It’s not like the legislature can renege a public initiative based on out-of-state rally turnout. The first goal of protesters, I think, should be to show solidarity with Californian activists and encourage them for what will be a prolonged fight. Events like Saturday’s protests increase connections, brainstorming, and a sense of community, and you can be sure new plans emerged from the day.

Secondly, U.S. protesters may have been flexing their numbers in each locality, reminding their lawmakers that the issue is not dead and (depending on the state) either discouraging lawmakers from passing similar initiatives or standing in defiance of initiatives that had already passed. A distant third possibility I can’t overlook is the gathering of information. Information is just as important for political movements as it is for marketers and militaries; if and when nationwide action is needed, Saturday provided an excellent dry run AND sizable contact lists.

Compare this with the Iraq War protests in 2002 and 2003; the threat of an invasion of Iraq triggered the largest international protest ever, with one European city alone surpassing 3 million in attendance. The cities with the highest attendance were those participating in the invasion coalition and many supporting nations have reduced their participation since – but none pulled out immediately after the protests. As for the US, despite several huge rallies in Washington and other major US cities, the protests did not seem to slow the march toward war.

A colleague of mine is of the opinion that the Vietnam War might have actually ended a little sooner if protests in that era had not been so fractious and antagonizing. He is a trainer of activists and has always stressed that when the goal is to be seen and convince a national audience that you have the moral high ground, your message must be simple and consistent and your messengers must be perfectly behaved.

Of course the most effective use of rallies and protests in US history came during the Civil Rights Era, but they did not come overnight. Marches during the 60’s were only the latest steps in a long, gradual climb dating back to Rosa Parks’ bus defiance in 1955. Direct actions from sit-ins and boycotts helped spark outrage because of the violence police often used against nonviolent protesters. Doing the right thing wasn’t enough reason for many Americans until they saw the consequences on their TVs. While it would be a bit much to say organizers wished for the violence, they did plan for it rather than planning around it. In contrast, violence and suppression at marches over the last ten years or so have been much more sporadic and less extreme.

In the 60’s, boycotts were very effective locally – but again, it didn’t happen overnight. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted just over twelve months – no small duration for a service many people counted upon daily.

With Prop 8, there is discussion of boycott as well, but so far nothing definitive. Individual merchants have been targeted, but the scope of corporate power has altered the landscape of business since the 60’s. While a handful of household names will stick their necks out to support progress, none will allow themselves to be caught opposing it.

So would you boycott a particular company, large or small, over the politics of its founder, even if those politics are not directly related to the business at hand? Here’s a nice, juicy, complicated example:

Although the extent of the support has at times been overstated, the founder and CEO of Curves International (one Gary Heavin, with some credit also given to his wife Diane) is an outspoken ally and financial supporter of pro-life organizations. Yet his company has provided a service, helping women to live healthier lives and even develop camaraderie along the way. Kind of sticky, isn’t it? Is he all evil? All good? Somewhere in-between?

OK, so most men are off the hook on the boycott question, because most of the gyms are women-only, but here’s a further complication to keep you involved: Curves is allied with General Mills to produce cereal bars and possibly other food products bearing the Curves name.

If you are a pro-choice voter, how would/does this color your business with Curves and/or General Mills?

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Don’t Take It Personally

2008.November.3

Campaign work is not for the faint of heart.

Most politicos grow a pretty thick skin to it. When, with stinging eyes, I told our campaign manager today about Barack Obama’s grandmother passing away, he commiserated for about two seconds before saying, “I hate to admit it, but this will probably help him.” He’s great at this stuff, and has all the callouses he needs to go from one campaign to the next in quick succession.

Me, I get by through mitigated intensity. I made sure my contract said I would only be working part time, knowing that it would reach full time and beyond by late October, because it is important to me to maintain an equally intense personal life. I can spare a few weeks without much rest at the height of the campaign, but I couldn’t function at that level for months or years. Wednesday morning, win or lose, I wake up free of obligations.

The wheel-greaser of our office is young; this is her first political campaign and her first job out of college. She often has it the hardest, because while she is the least prepared for the barbs and arrows of campaigning, she receives them most often and most directly. Today, it was a bullying phone call blaming her for something that was 99% likely to not be her fault or even the fault of anyone at our campaign.

I believe she has great potential as a campaigner, if that’s what she really wants. She’s passionate and hard-working, but the unspoken third component one needs is balance. Either you learn to build the walls, like the campaign manager, or you learn to control the spigot, like me. To paraphrase an aphorism, you can give all of your energy some of the time, or you can give some of your energy all of the time, but you can’t give all of your energy all of the time.

But you don’t have to work on a campaign to give too much, and we would all do well to remember that (and remind our friends).

I’ve been the guy who checks the latest polls four times a day, whose office brings in lunch to talk about the election on the day after, then who goes home and talks about it with roommates and family members and friends near and far. Whatever energy you have left on Election Day gets squandered on whining when you lose.

If you follow local elections the way you should, you have a high chance that at least one of your votes is going toward a loss, but I’m not broaching the topic of burnout because I think my guy is going to lose. Like any unnatural high, there will always be a crash after an election, whether or not your candidate wins. You’ve had this siphon of energy and thought you’ve been feeding on a daily basis for weeks, months, years, and suddenly it’s not there any longer.

If your candidate loses, you wonder if it was worth the effort, and feel alienated from your fellow citizens, who voted another way. If your candidate wins, you lose an outlet just when things peaked. If you’ve just given a little, you find yourself wondering whether it was enough – was your sliver of dedication enough to claim credit or too little to avoid blame? If you give everything, you’re left to wonder what is left for yourself as your candidate fades away or forges ahead (and, I don’t know, starts picking a Cabinet).

Politics is both personal and impersonal. We are expected to vote for the candidate most like us, the one we want as a pal, the one who has our best interests at heart. Yet we will likely never meet the candidates or receive a more personal thak you than an email blast with our names pasted in at the top, and it is easy to find your power insignificant when your vote is literally one of millions. The candidate who wins with your vote could not have done it without you and people like you, but does that make it your victory?

Yes and no. You could just as easily ask, could your vote have mattered as much if the candidate had been less charismatic, knowledgeable, or effective at campaigning? Don’t you owe them a little thanks for helping you breathe a little easier over the next two, four, or six years?

The way to keep perspective is to distinguish what is the act of the individual and what is the act of the group. The individual registered to vote, conducted research, possibly volunteered, and cast a ballot. Of these things, the individual can take pride in him or herself. But it was the group that turned out in record numbers, the group that launched a movement, and the group (even if not all of it) that elected the victor. For these things, the individual must take pride in his or her community.

It is with one’s community that victory, defeat, and progress itself must be measured, acknowledged, and learned from (and if you can’t learn from a victory, defeat will find you soon enough). That community doesn’t evaporate after November 5th. Like a long courtship that has reached marriage, that’s when the real work begins.

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