Women’s Equality Day and the Civil Rights March

It was all over the news for days. Every pundit, every political talk show, every newspaper march-on-washington-widerunning big retrospective spreads. Op eds galore, and reminiscences of what it was like to march together toward equality.

Today, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, the day that commemorates passage of the 19th amendment to the US constitution, giving women the right to vote after a struggle that lasted over 70 years. A big deal, right?

Right. But that’s not what all the news was about. In fact, though President Obama issued a proclamation and a few columnists like the New York Times’ Gail Collins gave it a nod, hardly anyone is talking about Women’s Equality Day. At least not in consciousness-saturating ways that garner major media’s attention, as Saturday’s March on Washington commemorating the 50th anniversary of a similar Civil Rights march.

Yet the two anniversaries are rooted in common values about equality and justice for all. They share common adversaries and aspirations. Racism and sexism are joined at the head.

And as League of Women Voters president Elisabeth MacNamara’s article in the Huffington Post explains, both movements today share the challenge of maintaining the right to vote, earned with such toil and tears and even bloodshed.

Like many people who participated in the 1960′s Civil Rights Movement, I celebrate how far America has moved toward racial justice in the last 50 ‘years. I am grateful to the Civil Rights movement for calling our nation not just to fulfill its moral promise to African-Americans, but by its example of courage and activism inspiring the second wave women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and so much more.

I remember having an epiphany while volunteering for a multi-racial civil rights organization called the Panel of American Women, that if there were civil rights, then women must have them too. That awareness ignited my passion for women’s equality which has driven my career ever since.

But just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s galvanizing “I Have a Dream” speech thundered, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood,” (emphasis mine) and sisters were not mentioned, women have yet to rise to full equality when it comes to honoring women’s historical accomplishments and current voices.

And just as the commemorative March on Washington was a necessary reminder of how far we have yet to go to reach the full vision of the Civil Rights movement, so Women’s Equality Day is best celebrated by committing ourselves to breaking through the remaining barriers to full leadership parity for women.

Check out Take The Lead‘s two posts on The Movement blog calling attention to the auspicious anniversary.

The first is Susan Weiss Gross’s delightful personal story–the tractor being a perfect metaphor — of how she overcame her internal barriers to equality. The second comes from author and Ms Magazine founding editor Susan Braun Levine. Suzanne will be writing about “Empowerment Entrepreneurs” and how empowering each other is the latest development in women’s equality.

Read, enjoy, and then get to work along with Take The Lead, which I co-founded along Amy Litzenberger early this year,  in our 21st century movement to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their air and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.

As the March on Washington twitter hashtag exhorted us to do, “#MarchOn!”

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

Leadership Video: Is this dance a movement or mob?

YouTube Preview Image

I love the virtual universe. In the blink of a mouse you can connect with a wide range of people who share your narrow set of interests. Social media Big Names like Seth Godin call this “finding your tribe.”

Tahrir Squares showed what happens when a tribe becomes a movement.

My friend Leslie Grossman, co-founder with Andrea March of the Women’s Leadership Exchange (I wrote about WLE in No Excuses as an example of power tool #7 CREATE A MOVEMENT), introduced me virtually last week to self-described “social media capitalist” Michelle Price.  Michelle, Leslie told me, helped WLE set up their new online program, and I wanted to learn more about the process and technology. I felt little prickles of excitement about this convergence.

On first e-mail, Michelle and I realized we have a tribal kinship. I resonated with her love of the leading edges of technology and she won my heart by saying my book should be sitting on every woman’s desktop. We share a mutual interest in thought leadership.

So what does one do when you meet someone new these days? Peruse her website of course. I found it full of interesting, fun, and thought provoking stuff.

One post called “Thought Leadership: How to Start a Movement and Get Your First Follower in 3 Minutes” featured the captivating video above. So I replayed it. The second time I watched, I realized I had a completely different take than the filmmaker. Here’s Michelle’s intro to the video:

So what does a 3 minute video on dancing have to do with thought leadership, launching a movement and getting YOUR first follower? Watch this video – it’s a study in human sociology at the least. You’ll see the “light of insight” flip on when you do.

One Video, Two Takes

According to the video’s narrator (with my reactions in italics):

1. A leader–in this case a guy who starts doing a weird dance solo on a grassy lawn with lot of people looking on–has to have the guts to look ridiculous.

(True, people who start movement tend to be boundary breakers.)

2. You must be easy to follow.

(I’m starting to furrow my brow because this misses the point that movements form to accomplish things too difficult for one person to do alone.)

3. The first follower has a crucial role—to publicly show the others how to follow. Calling to his friends to join in “transforms a nut into a leader.” The leader embraces him as an equal so the movement seems like it isn’t about the leader any more.

(OK, that makes sense. I’m rarely the first but am often an early adopter. Something doesn’t feel right though. Trying to “seem like it’s not about the leader” sounds manipulative–a hierarchy without acknowledging it.)

4. The third person to come in validates the first two: “a turning point—now it’s not a lone nut and then two nuts.” Three is a crowd, the voice-over says as the dancing becomes more fevered. A crowd makes it news—a movement must be public. People follow the followers not the leader.

(I notice that the first six people who join the dance are all men who have been invited in, and it isn’t till the seventh dancer that the first woman joins. I don’t want to kneejerk, but this looks more like a bunch of men creating a tribe of people with an emotional affinity than a movement with a shared purpose that systematically builds a coalition to get many diverse people involved to do things they couldn’t accomplish alone.)

5. As more people get up to dance, there comes a tipping point where it’s no longer risky to participate.  Those who join the dance “won’t stand out, they won’t be ridiculed.” It actually becomes more risky not to participate because holdouts would be ridiculed for not joining.  The moral of the piece is summed up like this: “When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”

(Yes, yes, have the courage to stand up with the lone nut doing something great—but that’s not the same as creating a movement.)

The End of the Movement? (Or Did It Never Begin?)

By this time in the video, everyone is up, writhing together in one big dancing hive that makes me think of William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies, about schoolboys stranded on an island. They form a primitive culture that turns out none too kindly.

The dance ends, the paroxysm of togetherness is complete, everyone cheers.

And that is the end of this particular movement. Participants had a great experience, but then what? They have formed a tribe of people who share a momentary affinity to be sure. Nothing wrong with that. But that’s a mashup–a mob not a movement.

Now I realize what’s been bugging me about this video as a metaphor for leadership and starting a movement.

Instead of beginning with one person doing a weird thing, I think a movement is created when one person sees an injustice or problem and reaches out to another with the purpose of doing something about it. For example, the Civil Rights movement had many individual aha’s followed by people coalescing together. They had the courage to raise issues they believed needed to be addressed: to organize a sit-in and then to create a Freedom Ride that would eventually build to changing laws and minds. They know they are stronger together—they aren’t just being manipulated to join in the dance.  And they all share risks too.

Rosa Parks, for example, wasn’t just any woman who happened to get ticked off at being sent to the back of the bus. She had long been active in the NAACP and knew the ground had been well prepared to parlay her refusal to go to the back of the bus that day into a major bus boycott that would last for over a year. It certainly wasn’t easy for African Americans in the South to find other ways to get to work—that is if their employers didn’t fire them for participating in the boycott.

A movement might grow fast, as the video says, if leaders make it easy for others to join and invite them in as equals. And symbols and emotional connection are important elements. But the dance must have a shared purpose to be a movement. And as the group grows, leadership (which will come from many places) must create systematic ways to achieve its purpose or it will flail arms at the end like tired dancers who have enjoyed a catharsis with their tribe, but accomplished little else.

Tahrir Square would have been just another mob and its energies might quickly have turned destructive without that shared sense of purpose and dispersed leadership.

Then, to sustain itself, a movement has to move, to change when needed, to continue to focus its energy on its purpose in ways that meet people’s needs today and tomorrow.

Which of these two different perspectives one takes away from the nutty dancing guy metaphor in this video has profound implications for movements and for leaders.

I can’t wait to discuss this with my new tribemate Michelle when we have our first phone conversation later this week.  Meanwhile, watch the video a couple of times. It’s infinitely fascinating. What are your observations?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

What Movement Have You Started Today?

Civil Rights Activist Rosa Parks
Thanks to Shelby Knox for posting this on Facebook today:
On this date in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, AL, city bus. Her arrest sparked the bus boycott and her courage fueled the burgeoning Civil Right Movement. Parks once said, “I want to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free…so other people would also be free.” A beautiful goal, achieved by a revolutionary woman.

Parks helped to spark the Civil Rights Movement by this action. Over on my 9 Ways blog this week, I’m showing examples of No Excuses power tool #7: “create a movement”–with ways we can join together with others to do everything from planning Thanksgiving dinner to world-changing actions like Rosa Parks’.

Today is also World AIDS Day. It’s a good day to think about the amazing progress that has been made so that a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is not the death warrant is was when the disease was first identified in the 1980’s, thanks to the many people who started movements large and small to combat the disease.

What movement have you created, joined, or contributed to lately? What movement do you think needs creating?

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.