Winds of Change Newsletter, May 2007 See sidebar for table of contents
The Power of Community in Motion
This just-released book by Jennifer Milewski reports on findings from New York Universitys six-year study of the leadership practices of awardees of the Ford Foundations Leadership for a Changing World program, which recognized organizations with impressive real-world successes in fighting some of the toughest social justice battles in the U.S. In 2001, OVECs Janet Keating, Laura Forman, and Dianne Bady were selected, out of over three thousand nominees, in the first group of 20 awardees. Excerpts from the book follow:
The seven drivers of quantum leadership
FACE THE WIND AND BEND WITHOUT BREAKING
Being the Change You Wish to See To change the world is, in some sense, to begin to address the differences between the world as it is and the world as it could be. Confronting this difference can be stark and overwhelming; how does one begin?
Respecting the Chaos and Allowing Order to Emerge
When the need for change seems urgent and the case for action is
agonizingly clear and pressing, any setback, any piece of doubt or
uncertainty, can seem unbearable. A human response in the face of such
confusion is to try to sweep away uncertainly, to try to control or
otherwise eradicate the chaos.
Sometimes the needed response is not to stand rigidly but to bend with the wind to acknowledge the uncertainty and to move, not against it, but through and beyond it.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalitions Dianne Bady, Janet Keating and Laura Forman (who died suddenly in 2001) fight mining-related environmental depredations such as mountaintop removal in West Virginia.
Often pitted against overwhelmingly powerful opponents and very steep odds, Dianne speaks about embracing the inherent chaos of some of OVECs work:
"We are often thrown into totally unexpected circumstances that we dont know how to deal with. Our carefully developed plans can become suddenly irrelevant by a new development on the part of the coal industry or the local, state or federal governments capitulation to coals demands. This not knowing is very difficult to deal with.
"Over the years, Janet and Laura and I together realized that part and parcel of our work was this total disruption of our plans and our subsequent not knowing what to do next. We learned together that in these situations, we needed to rely on pure spiritual trust. We developed the idea that sometimes we just walk through a fog, and that IS the way its supposed to be, its not just a total disruption of our work it IS our work."
Dianne elaborates on the very real-world gains that can result from this mystical-sounding embracing of chaos.
"Our basic style of leadership is to provide the spaces for concerned people to get together, share their anger, and work through the darkness to come up with plans. Often this means dealing with chaos. Everybody may have a different idea. Six people may talk at once. Some may disagree with others. But if we keep talking through the chaos, treating each other with care and respect, sooner or later a plan emerges.
"Sometimes magical things happen. We see shy and unlikely people speaking with an eloquence that makes our skin tingle, or successfully taking a leadership role that seems beyond their past experiences. And often, we somehow attract the right people and resources, just when we need them.
"I trust that the chaos will eventually turn into some workable plans. I trust that sometimes well get help in totally unexpected ways. I trust that when we screw something up, well learn from it. When I fall, I trust that there will be others there to help pick me up."
"And I even trust that if we fail completely at getting a specific win or gain, that the very act of our cooperative resistance sends positive ripples through our corner of the cosmos."
Feeling the Pain and Anger Inherent in Organizing Working for social change can be heartbreaking. To maintain the strong community ties that give quantum leadership its strength, leaders have to be at peace with the works demands and periodic grief. When disappointments arise, leaders must hold fast in the face of pain and discomfort by recognizing that the disappointments and disagreements are unavoidable, and taking the necessary care of themselves and their community.
Dianne Bady of OVEC addresses the forces that can act on community activists to heighten tension and exacerbate interpersonal conflict, and the need to deal with such inherent realities head-on by institutionalizing ways that participants can take care of themselves and one another in the face of conflict.
"Our members are often in the trenches getting bombs thrown at them. These situations make interpersonal relationships a huge potential problem, as highly stressed people are usually not at their best in constructively dealing with inevitable disagreements... I cant overemphasize the importance to OVEC of our focus on dealing with conflicts as they arise, before they explode into big problems conflicts within our group, within the community, with coalition partners."