Saturday, October 21, 2017
The Upstander

The Resistance Needs Followers More Than It Needs Leaders

Alexander Wood March 28, 2017 Opinion Comments Off on The Resistance Needs Followers More Than It Needs Leaders
Follow the leader

New York City suffers from an embarrassment of talent. If you live here, and come up with a good idea – for a business, a movie, an app – chances are someone has not only already thought of it, but implemented and franchised it too.

The same holds true for the Anti-Trump resistance. After the initial eruption of dissent, concerned New Yorkers, sometimes in their ones and twos, sometimes in their dozens or hundreds, came together to launch their own fronts in the political war triggered by the 45th President’s inauguration.

Thanks to the advent of slick blogging platforms like WordPress and Squarespace, and freemium email marketing services like MailChimp, these activist start-ups could launch overnight with a professional gloss. Facebook and Twitter got the word out, and soon the newsfeeds of politicos across the five boroughs were flooded with campaigns and movements, all flashily-branded and full of promise – even those clearly backed by only a handful of people.

New York became the Silicon Valley of political innovation. Indeed Big Apple activists put the tech wunderkinds of the West Coast to shame with their commitment to a hyper-capitalistic growth model, the only difference being that profits were switched for people – more specifically, faithful adherents.

The problem is, it soon became clear that groups were forming with overlapping aims, or the same aims – hell, sometimes almost the same names. What came first? Rise and Resist or Rally + Rise? Take Action NYC or The Resistance Calendar? What are the differences between them?

Fortunately a diverse city like New York, with a population of 8.4 million across 304 square miles, can accommodate a de facto “market” in political activism. A wannabe demonstrator in Staten Island would not be well served if his nearest Indivisible group were in Queens, after all.

However if NYC’s political start-up culture were to truly develop along capitalist lines, then smaller groups would have soon been absorbed by larger ones, and those with greater market penetration would have led to the winding down of those on the fringes. It’s hard to tell whether this has been going on in practice, but my casual observations suggest that it has not – though some partnership have emerged: for example between Rally + Rise and You Matter.

This isn’t a problem in and of itself. Companies survive quite happily selling the same goods and products side by side, as long as demand persists, and in the Trump era there is no shortage of demand for political change – which is what all these groups are offering.

Sure, there may be duplication of efforts going forward, and the multiplicity of organizations makes it harder for any one to grab the concentrated attention of the media, not to mention local and national politicians, but who cares? You need an army to take down a President.

No, the problem arises when there are more people wanting to lead, rather than serve, a movement. I’ve written before about how, within organizations, this can be debilitating – using Occupy as an example. Across movements too, it can stifle, rather than stimulate, political action. Ordinary citizens wanting to muck in get confused as to what groups can best deliver the actions they want to support and find themselves attending meeting after interminable planning meeting rather than hitting the streets. That was my experience in the early months of the resistance, at least.

To increase the velocity of dissent, groups with mutual objectives should team up, rather than compete for activists. Indivisible has achieved this to some extent, with a brand, internal organization, and communications strategy that has blown other nascent networks out of the water. Naturally, mergers and acquisitions challenge the leaders of smaller groups to cede power and subsume the identity of their own organizations into a greater whole. It’s a tough thing to ask anybody who built something from scratch to let it go – but for the good of the greater resistance, it’s the course of action that makes the most sense.

The resistance has an abundance of leaders. What it really needs now is more followers.


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