What Are Leaders For?

 By Dennis Loo

As an example of the kind of leadership I'm advocating for in this post, see this video of Stephanie Tang of World Can't Wait addressing the San Francisco marchers/rally on March 20, 2010.
 
In any group or society there must always be leadership. Even in groups as small as two, leadership is exercised, even if that leadership role falls to a different person on a case-by-case basis. Leadership is as necessary as a head being attached to your body is necessary. You might be kept alive by artificial means if you don't have a functioning brain, but you wouldn’t really be viable.
 
Thus, whenever anyone speaks of what a group is doing or not doing and blames “the people” or the public for some policy or practice, the question must be asked, who is providing leadership to this group, because people don’t move according to a nebulous group whim that cannot be physically located as to its source.
 
The objection might be raised here that in a democracy (by which people almost always mean a very specific and truncated form of the meaning of “democracy,” a representative democracy in which people vote for their public officials) the people vote in their officials, and therefore whatever those officials do or don’t do is ultimately the responsibility of the people. Thus, the people are to blame in any case. If the leaders do bad things and the people don’t remove or sanction these leaders, then the people are tacitly approving of their leaders’ actions.
 
This objection, however, fails to take into account that other leaders are needed for the people to act who object to what their existing leaders are doing. These other leaders must focus, organize, and lead the fight of the people who want to oust the existing leaders that they object to.  If such leaders don’t come forward, then the mass sentiment among the people cannot find real expression and certainly won’t be able to accomplish anything. It doesn’t matter how widespread that public sentiment actually is or how intensely it is felt.
 
If there aren’t leaders to lead that sentiment to give it concrete expression and effect change based on it, then that public sentiment will remain latent and only evident to those perceptive enough to recognize its signs in embryo.
 
Leadership is always and everywhere critical.
 
Where are these other leaders to come from?
 
During the Bush/Cheney years the people that the majority of Americans looked to for leadership were the other leaders in Congress, in the mass media, the Judiciary, and other opinion-makers and decision-makers. Most of the people looked to the Democratic Party as the other leaders to deal with the disastrous policies of Bush and Cheney. As a result of that view, the public voted in the Democrats in a landslide in the 2006 elections. They followed that up with voting in an even larger Democratic majority in Congress and brought Obama into the White House. They thought that this would do it, that these other leaders would do what needed to be done.
 
Of course, these other leaders – the “change” and “hope” president and his party - did not do this, are not doing this, and are not going to do this. This was all, by the way, entirely predictable since during the eight years of Bush and Cheney the Democrats could have put a stop to it all by filibuster (when they didn’t have a majority) and by moving forward with impeachment. They didn’t do this. This meant that they were ok with these egregious policies because when they had a chance and the moral and legal responsibility to stop it and expose it they demurred.
 
Even when they got the majority they continued to fund the wars and occupations and refused to stop and have even gone further along the wrong path that Bush and Cheney blazed – torture, rendition, annihilating habeas corpus, massive, warrantless surveillance, etc., and now the Enemy Belligerents Bill introduced, bipartisanly, by John McCain and Joe Lieberman, which would give the president the power to order the military to arrest and indefinitely detain, without trial and without recourse to court supervision and review, without Miranda rights, anyone, including American citizens, in this war OF terror.
 
What, then, are the people to do? New leaders must come forward from the mass movements of the people. For that is what must be done, even as millions of people in the U.S. tried to avoid this step and/or believed that such steps weren’t necessary by supporting Obama. Obama isn’t that guy. And he never was going to be that guy.
 
An independent movement of the people is what must happen. Many people are waking up to this fact. There is a stirring in the land that we can see in demonstrations among students, teachers, people from all walks of life in actions against the privatization of education, in the new Coffee Party movement, in the actions to defend women’s right to choose, the anti-war movement, the anti-torture movement, the fight against Wall Street and the Plutocrats, and so on.
 
There is no other path if you are serious about real change. There is no other solution if you’re not satisfied by merely making a show of doing something but are really ok if things don’t actually change.
 
The idea that electing new faces into office and that relying on the existing channels of power and authority will do what must be done has been shown to be wrong now and in the past. If you study history, you will see that begging and pleading with the powers that be to be reasonable has been demonstrated to be wrong over and over again. History also has shown us repeatedly that when the people do move as an independent force, that great things can happen. The labor movement of the 1930s, the women’s movement of the 1960s, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the revolutionary movements that overthrew colonial/imperialist regimes…
 
New leaders must step forward. And the leaders who have already stepped forward like Cindy Sheehan and Debra Sweet (of World Can’t Wait) and vets who resisted their orders to carry out these atrocious wars of Empire like Matthis Chiroux must be popularized and supported. Defiant voices such as Sunsara Taylor’s must be supported and popularized. Youth organizers such as Emma Kaplan of the We Are Not Your Soldiers Tour must be supported and popularized. The groups they are leaders in like Peace of the Action, War Criminals Watch, World Can’t Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War must grow in size and people must give their support, including their financial support, and by joining these group themselves.
 
The people must act and take the stage of history.
 
Will you be one of those who will help to lead the others?
 
You don’t even need to be someone who has ever led anyone. You become a leader when you take that first step and dare to stand out.