The Election, and all that


Lift your arms in the air.

Tilt your head back.

I’ve found it’s nearly impossible not to feel better after you do those things.

Second. Name every president.

And don’t go looking on this from memory.

I would imagine few of you could…I cannot. We can hit upon the remarkable: Washington, Hamilton, Jackson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, etc…we kind of remember a Buchanan, a Zachary Taylor, a Millard Filmore. But, we’d be damned if we could note what these people did. Certainly they did something, but we don’t go about our day thinking we have some special power because of them.

Alright, let’s talk about power. Do we get our power from a president? More precisely, is who we are, our identities, values, beliefs, are they defined from a president? Of course, the answer is no, as famously said, not without our consent.

In history, there are times when politicians are the stars…when politicians make remarkable change. To be quite honest, though, these times are rarer than we’d like to think. We can name many others who were not politicians who had a bigger impact on our world than any president: a list of them would seem lectionary. The point is that many of these people faced a cause that seemed dire, a weight to large to lift, and, yet, they succeeded. And they did so without Twitter, Facebook and mobile telephones.

I would argue that we are now in the time in which the people can and will be the stars. A sad theory of change management suggests that people do not change or take action until it seems there is more danger in not changing or acting; for some of us, that time is now. Now is a time in which real change can occur, because so much seems at stake.

I love cooking, and programming (they have much in common), so I would like to start a series of discussion groups in which we talk about how that is possible. I have some ideas already on how this can be done (granted these are just my ideas, and could be wrong):

1.) Social media…did not work; neither did comeduy. For all the tweets, posts, jokes, and whatever else, over 40% of people who were eligible, did not vote (the number: 99,815,122; it goes without saying that even if a fraction of these people voted the outcome would have been far different). What does this say about our fascination with social media? I am afraid it says something we in tech don’t want to admit readily…the technologies we created aren’t working, and we need to create better systems for dialog, community and social change. It would not take a far leap to say that social media and current media are not making us more informed. I would guess that if we as individuals turn away from our fascination with popular news media, social media and comedy shows, and found new ways to be informed and communicate (or rediscover older ones), we would be better as individuals and a society.

2.) Anti-intellectualism is anti-American. A professor friend of mine warned me a while ago that anti-intellectualism is a big monster in our society: the idea that being informed or knowledgeable is a bad thing. The era of George W. Bush was rife with this attitude, and I would bet a lot of the people who were behind that movement will now attempt to manage our government. We need to put intellectualism on a pedestal..above celebrity, the admiration of money and wealth. Anti-intellecutalism leads to denial of climate change, for instance. Number 1 is tightly wrapped up in this: in a society that puts down knowledge it is far too easy to put out misinformation, and that will be believed over fact.

3.) Racism and intolerance are anti-American. We as a country have fought long and hard for the rights of non-white, non-straight is a defining moment of our evolution. How we lose it is by giving too much power to politicians. Politicians have goals of power, and most will do anything to get it. Dividing us helps many get power. For some of them, in their ideal world, the lines they have drawn will persist; in their dream world, those who disagree with them will even be divided and fight among themselves…there would be no surer way for them to keep their power. Their worst nightmare, then, is if we are united and informed.

4.) Acting out of fear and giving into fear holds us back. Violence is a zero-sum game, in which no one wins.

5.) Real connection is key. Reach out to people you know who feel threatened right now; call them, visit them, tell them you love them and support them. Writing a Facebook post or Tweet or something simply won’t cut it…that is probably more about you than about other people (and yes, I am guilty of that).

We now have no time to lose; none at all. We, collectively, are bigger than any politician…and they are well aware of it. It will take work…hard work. We have to act, go to community meetings, start community meetings, be present. Everything we do, even our work, can communicate love, respect and caring. When history writes about this time it could be noted an unremarkable president (with a staff of yes people who know very little) had to deal with a remarkable, innovative American society. It could be that what is written about will be about a woman, unknown before, who unified people under a great cause and ushered in a change so powerful that those fumbling at the top had no idea how to respond. Our American society is beautiful and diverse; we should not despair, we know that the long arc of history bends towards justice and equality, a sentiment expressed by a man (Martin Luther King, Jr.) who was no politician, but a citizen..the kind of citizen we all need to be.

These are some initial thoughts.