Politics vs. Politicians

What is the most effective way to bring about change: through politics, or through politicians? Yes, there is a difference.

When I say politics, I mean focused conversation that results in action. When I say politicians, I mean an individual or individuals whose personality or personalities propel people to act. When thinking about bettering everybody’s lives collectively, these are basically the two ways to do it. Which is best?

The need for a charismatic leader to inspire action is especially prevalent when dealing with non-majority groups/movements. However, relying on this often results in change that not sustainable once this person is no longer in power (due to stepping down, removal, assassination, etc.). This would not be the case if leaders would set up reasonable succession plans, but that is another topic for another day.

Making policy the foundation and not a person has the potential to be a more sustainable movement. The challenge with this approach is that something has to get it started. It is unbelievably difficult to organize people around an issue, no matter how compelling, without a mouthpiece or poster child.

Black folks, and other groups around the world fighting for change, have always had to ask themselves this question. Both have had varying levels of success in different situations at different times for different reasons.

I see a hybrid approach that begins with a charismatic leader (e.g. Brandon) observing a need and beginning to start conversations around that issue. As people converse and realize that they have collective common interests, it is the people at large who should drive the solution brainstorming process, settling on their best courses of action. The people then can funnel their viewpoints through the leader, who must be willing to forgo their own ego for the sake of the group.

Is that even possible? I sure hope so because I see it as the only sustainable path to change on a large scale. This is true because everybody is not going to be that leader. But, everybody is able to participate in a movement. It’s up to us to find what we care about and where we fit.

Do we care enough to do this to give this a shot? Yes, but it’s hard. Maybe if we take some baby steps, we can all start to get closer to this vision.

One Love. One II.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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