Sunday, May 25, 2014

How A Movement Can Become A Political Force

The Elements Of Political Action

By: Kurt von Behrmann     

    I was jogging on a sunny day.  For some inexplicable reason my thoughts drifted to places far removed from where I was and what I was doing.  The place where my mental energies were headed address political issues.  Prior to leaving my home to go out and literally pound the pavement and the earth, my television was set to Free TV. The subject was something that escapes my memory.  Like some type of trigger, that particular broadcast made me think of political movements and just what made some successful, less than adequate or just total failures.

    In what now seems like a distant past, the Occupy Wallstreet movement was at one time a unifying force, if ever so briefly.  People from assorted spectrums of the political realm were brought together.  The force that created this unity cut across age, ethnicity and social economic divisions.  It was a force that was produced by outrage and hope.  The outrage was inequity.  The hope was that somehow people power alone could correct the imbalance. The damaged left by the banking debacle had created the fertile soil for outraged.  Everyone wanted to do something about it. The problem was that no one really know exactly what to do.

Marching To The Beat Of  A Public Drum

    Cynicism merged with apathy does not make for an enthused electorate.  The fall out from promises not kept, rhetoric that appeals to base emotions exclusively and a media machine that blends news with entertainment had left in its shadow a disillusioned populace.  Compounding the problem was a failing public school system, exorbitant college tuitions, a weak economy and jobs leaking to foreign soil, all of these things and more have created a highly disengaged America.  In the eyes of far too many political life and ideology were nebulous. The impact of the bigger decisions made by government and big business were seem as part of a unchangeable world.  Questioning and taking action were dwarfed by the more herculean task of living.  Survival becomes a dominant consideration when you have to spend all of your time figuring out how your going to make it from one day to the next.  Living pay day to pay day doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection.

    At a point when everything looked dim, at a place when too many confusing events were transpiring in an endless parade of terror, gloom and futility, the occupy movement arrived.  Unlike other movements of its time, this seemed to be the first that united students, business owners, the middle class, the struggling and people of political persuasions that had little in common united in some deeply felt shared interests.  Vets returning home could be seen leading protests against banks.  Public parks were alive with people and the very notion that things can change when enough people gather.  Like Camelot, it was a romantic, dream filled time when anything seemed possible.  Like those past times, this one was filled with faith in the idea of a noble future set against a very bleak present.

    Any system established long enough with enough force can become a considerable force to contend with at any time. Occupy Wallstreet as its participants believed was just that movement.  In many ways, it felt like the 60's revisited.  Joan Baez was singing songs of protest, people were literally taken to the streets and cities all over where growing their own Occupy movements.  It felt like a force was starting that was destined to grow. It felt like a force that would have an impact.

    A brief encounter with optimism can be followed by abrupt conclusions.  The movement that motivated the disenfranchised, the detached and the hopeful had faded like a balloon slowly leaking air.  It did not end with trumpets blaring.  The conclusion of this vital movement flickered and was gone almost as quickly as it arrived.  Now it feels like a small piece of history that could very well be forgotten.  Unlike Camelot, there were no glamorous heads of state to provided identity and focus.  The mystery movement that seemed to erupt from no where vanished into the pages of books and web sites to be forgotten. 

    Ultimately, Occupy Wallstreet failed in securing its place in the political arena. It elected no officials.  It did not change any policies.  What it did do was slightly annoy those that like the status quo. It did provide hope, but not enough to keep the momentum flowing.

    As my mind wandered off into reflections on the Occupy Movement, it detoured.  I thought about other movements that motivated people.  I thought about political parties that arose from small groups that eventually had the force to alter nations.  I thought about how the ineffectual became influential.   I thought about how the powerless become the powerful.

    In sharp contrast to the Tea Party, Occupy Wallstreet did not have the mighty force of organized officials, and the support of an economic powerhouse of a political party.  For all of their protestations of independence, the Tea Party was in reality a concentrated branch of the Republican Party designed to appeal to populist sentiments.  It was a classic case of the outsider thinly veiled as an insider.  What their God fearing flag waving contingent probably missed was that it was Ayn Rand, and not Jesus, who delineated the philosophical identity of this new branch of revolutionary conservatives.  Objectivism may not have been in the vocabulary of the Tea Party hoi poli. It certainly was in its leadership.
    Where Occupy Wallstreet had fallen short, their counterparts were not so weak. The Tea Party, with considerable economic support behind its “folksy” demeanor, had won elections. Washington would see an influx of “new blood” not sure of the mechanization of life inside the Belt Way.  Although green, naive and in far too many ways ill equipped for the duties that awaited them, they did win.   Now, the tides are shifting.  The winds  that propelled their sails are no longer as numerous.

    History is a great educator.  It takes no more than a little effort, along with a little insight, to figure out what is required to turn a disillusioned aggregate into a unified force.  The ingredients are easy enough to figure out. What is sometimes so alarming is that so many in the contemporary landscape have forgotten just what they are.

    The first thing any group needs is a message. It does no good to gather unless you have a platform formed.  Laying out your agenda ensures that when you make your appeal to the public you have figured out what the key issues are and your stance on them.  Having a full formed view on everything from economic theory to social stability provides answers for questions that will have to be answered at some point.  This is one of those times when the best prepared are the best equipped to handle the job. 

    Having a full formed agenda is a starting point. It is actually essential.  This document, or documents becomes the D.N.A. of your political group.  The importance of establishing a doctrine and a course of action cannot be underestimated.  It is truly the critical element that differentiates the hard core from the dilettantes.

    Immediately after the spinal column of the group has been committed to paper and formed the body of the group, the second phase is producing a message that defines the pressing issues that define the group.   In contemporary terms it comes down to the “sound bite.”  The message has to be succinct, to the point and easily understood.  The key message has to be one that solves the most pressing issues of the day.  It cannot ignore what are the concerns of the larger group.  It cannot be so esoteric that it becomes the domain of the few. Yet, it cannot be so simplistic as to seem simple minded.  The voice that gathers the group must be one that the group understands and can feel at ease supporting.  The winning issues that always work are those that address prosperity and equity.  No one is ever elected to office that fails to promise better times to come. In order for those better times to arrive, one has to supply what is needed.

    The key point message is critical.  It is also critical that it be brief.  It is best, as time has proven, to make three key points the body of your message.  Naturally, one can answer many concerns, but you must first frame the discussion with the key identifying features that define what the organization, group, or body wants to accomplish.  This is more difficult than it sounds. Everyone has his or her “pet” issues.  But, you must address the most pressing, the most important of the day woven into your identity and goals.

    Organization of crowds becomes another key feature.  You can start with an existing group and build from that point.  One can also grow your group using a core group of people that are dedicated to the group.  This is essential.  The core following is what generates the numbers needed to make an impact.  There are assorted ways to do this.  Social media, organizational groups, and again, an existing group that can be the back bone of your entire group.  One group that has proven time and time again to be a beginning point is the church.  Church groups can be the backbone of an organized, disciplined hard core work force motivated by faith and common ground.

    Part of organization demands actual meetings.  The web and all of its contents are excellent as tools, but people are social by nature.  Human beings are hard wired for interaction with each other.  There is unity and power in numbers.  Staging events invigorates individuals and provides the glue that holds all the parts into one well conceived whole.

    Supporters are integral to the scheme of things. Finding common ground with others not of your identity broadens the base.  If you encounter another group with similar goals, or at least one common point of interest, friendships can be established and a broader audience reached.  It never hurts to have friends.  The idea is to reach as many people as possible.  You alienate as few as possible.  Your doors are welcoming, not exclusionary.

    Last, but far from being least, a movement needs a leader.  Many may find it off putting to put someone in charge, but in order for a movement to become more than a social gathering, there has to be a leader.  This leader must be able to articulate goals and motivate others.  The leader, he or she, must embody the soul of the movement.  The leader of the group has to be absolutely convinced in the the goals of the movement.  While acting skills and presentation are part of the package, it means nothing if there is not sincere belief in the movement.  An audience can smell insincerity.  One can hide and deceive for a while, but not in a movement that is attempting to make serious change and has a vital message to convey, the fake and the fraudulent will never succeed.  Great leaders embody the movements that they head. 

    There is also the one indefinable element that elevates a person to leadership and that is charisma.  You can call it star power, call it what you will, it is that hard to define feature that makes some so compelling on a stage.  There are some gifted with the power to make others follow.  Eloquence, intelligence and a sense of the times are part of the equation.  But, that hard to define charisma is what transforms an individual into the centerpiece of a movement that aims to have a lasting impact.

    By nature human beings are visual.  Concepts and ideas are important. They are critical. But people as a general rule need something tangible to connect the theory into the real.  One of the reasons people pick up souvenirs is that they want a physical reminder of a sensation.  A moment in time is not concrete.  Memories alter fade and sometimes vanish.  However, a memento gives something fleeting a certain permanence.  Having something to hold, touch see and feel is important.

    No movement lacks a signature visual.  It can be as simple as a button. There is always something visual to see that gives a physical quality to the whole.   Banners, uniforms, parades and symbols are the mainstay of any political movement.  Rallies are the visual logos of politics. They are the essence of what people want, participation in an event larger than themselves.  Large scale gatherings with banners, symbols and large open spaces are the citadels of the public space. People power is potent.  When large numbers congregate, power is present.

    The machinery of politics are complex. They require specific elements in order to be successful.  Money is the life blood of politics.  The mind is the soul of politics.  The people are its body that holds the various parts together.  You cannot have one element in isolation.    They all must be present in order to work.  Let one part fail, and the others cease to be in good health.

    What usually precedes a new movement are past failures.  Let a political system fail to serve the needs of the people long enough while at the same time locked in conflict so intense that decision making and statesmanship seem like lost ideas, let these things happen and the seeds of strong discontent will grow into very tall trees.  When corruption, greed and economic repression increase, at some point everything will erupt. Chaos will follow.

    When leadership fails, incomes shrink and inflation becomes a constant, someone or something will come along to fill the leadership vacuum.  The smug and self important are so accustomed to not having their way that when the game changes, they are rendered null and void.

    It is difficult with any certainty to say what will be or what could be.


No comments: