Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Movement Inertia

Many recounting our successful defense and restoration of the Durham, North Carolina brand mistakenly assume as a community marketer that I would have had shoulder-to-shoulder support from other marketers here.

The fact is many were not my biggest fans and/or chose to only lend support behind the scenes. Some could never make the connection that the organization I led from 1989 through 2009 had the same responsibility for the community at large that they had for their individual organizations or corporations.

A few either actively worked against me or sold me out for personal gain when approached with win/lose proposals they could not resist. If having their regard (all were pleasant to my face) had been paramount, it is unlikely we would have ever succeeded.

What we did have was a social movement before there was social media. Thousands of individual Durham citizens, hundreds who we later anointed Durham Image Watchers, not only stood with us but proactively and publicly made our case.

All organizations that spearhead change are not so fortunate.

It isn't uncommon for an objective to be rendered inert by internal factions or splinter groups as we faced, often from those who should be shoulder-to-shoulder.

Just as often, groups and movements stall because supporters fall in love with the problem they are established to resolve so much that they can almost appear to seek to perpetuate it.

Here is another example.

The roots of the the women’s and antislavery movements are intertwined in the two or three decades prior to the Civil War. This was a time when U.S. Senator Willie P. Mangum from Durham was working on a series of failed compromises to save the Union.

Susan B. Anthony, who fought for both the women’s movement and to abolish slavery, and social reformer and escaped former slave Fredrick Douglass formed a friendship as early as the 1840s that is celebrated today with a statue in Rochester, New York.  There is also a bridge there affectionately known as the Freddie-Sue by many.

During the war the movements remained arm in arm and pushed for a Constitutional Amendment granting the right to vote regardless of race and gender.

But as emancipation became certain, it was Southern white women who drew the line at giving black women the right to vote.  Consequently,the two movements struggled behind the scenes with Anthony ultimately opposing ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment because it did not include women.

This strained the friendship between Anthony and Douglass but the controversy surrounding the schism traumatized the women’s movement for nearly 50 years. Its leaders - Anthony the exception - became more conservative as well as risk and conflict adverse.

In the wake of the political gridlock that resurfaced not long after the Civil War, the women's movement was left to soldier on.  It grew in popularity but was stymied internally over the decades by a fear of conflict.

Lacking an aggressive national strategy, the movement feared upsetting elected officials or even putting them on the spot. It settled for limited progress on a state by state level.  Many leaders often fell into activity traps such as speaking engagements and book tours.

That is until Alice Paul came along.

I remember when Paul died in 1977. Described by the small band who followed her lead as quiet and peaceful and almost mouse-like, Paul preferred to work behind the scenes.

She was strategic in the sense that she had no patience for what in my experience is about a third of every group that jumps from one activity trap to another needed to at least feel like they are getting something done but never solving the problem.

I think maybe they even begin to love the problem and the activity more than a solution.

Another third sits mute, while a third like Paul seize on a strategy. She gained her sensibilities as a Quaker and from time working in the women’s movement abroad.

Often more opposed than aided by others within the movement, Paul and a handful of others spearheaded the new, aggressive, national strategy that within eight years resulted in the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This quiet Quaker wasn’t afraid of conflict or confrontation and she really knew how to rock the boat.

She didn’t get the credit she deserved until many decades later because as often happens, that went to those who quickly penned the last chapter with themselves at the center. But Paul would have been heralded by Anthony who had died just before this last push.

She didn’t stop.  She authored the first version of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and lived long enough to see it passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification in 1972, the spring before I graduated from college.

Given just seven years for ratification, it was quickly ratified by 30 states including my native Idaho which later rescinded.  Alice Paul died before knowing the outcome, just as Susan B. Anthony had prior to the Nineteen Amendment.

In the end, the ERA fell three states short of ratification, not just due to opposition by some men but again by those who should have been shoulder to shoulder, conservative women, predominantly in the South.

All of this is to say that groups often create their own inertia. Those that break through won’t get active support from those expected based on knowledge.

Those who are strategic shouldn't expect a parade. Social movements rarely involve the active participation of those you think they should but often fail for that reason.

It takes decades for the real story to come out.

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