Movement Building Lessons from the Couch

We think a lot about leadership at Third Space Studio: the kind of leadership that’s about mobilizing other people to tackle the tough challenges, the challenges that require our willingness to change our own mindsets and behaviors if we are to find a solution. We’ve noticed that there are lots of opportunities to learn about leadership from the experiences all around us.  

The essay below is Meredith’s reflections from her observations of the Women’s March. When we agree with the content of an experience – and certainly when we disagree – there are opportunities to deepen our own leadership abilities and take the lessons to our own venues.

On January 21, 2017, I sat on my couch as millions of people around the world marched in the streets to proclaim women’s rights are human rights to the new President of the United States. I had intended to march in the streets of Raleigh, the capital of my home state, but was deterred by a strained ligament in my knee. The knee injury a result of an attempted split when I slid on a pencil left on the floor while I worked on my poster to proclaim “our power is love”.

From the perch of the couch, I had a different perspective than my usual one in the midst of street level action. As I watched the live stream of the rally from the mall in Washington, D.C., patterns began to emerge. Here are three worth noting because they carry lessons as we move forward.

Michael Moore was going on and on telling the crowd how to take action. Telling us to call our elected officials, run for office, form a posse. Had he not noticed that women were leading the way on these forms of political action? He clearly had not read my Facebook feed filled with women reporting on their daily calls to the Senate or the House, the reports from Pantsuit Nation of new relationships formed, or the encouragement to run for public office from Rise Together and Lillian’s List.  As the minutes dragged on, Ashley Judd, called to him from the other side of the stage and cut him off. She did not say, “excuse me”, she broke into a fierce and provocative poem about being a nasty woman that she learned from nineteen year old from Tennessee. 

Lesson 1: Do not wait your turn while the privileged tell you what you already know. Claim the microphone and tell your truth. If you have power, give voice to the truth of others.

Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood, and daughter of the Governor Ann Richards took the stage in a magenta suit. She reminded me of many Southern women who have held elected office: colorful and tightly coifed. And then she surprised me. After telling us that Planned Parenthood would keep fighting for access to reproductive health care, she turned the mike and, I assume, some of her time over to Kierra Johnson, executive director of United for Reproductive and Gender Equity, an organization of young women who are black and brown. Kierra wore a t-shirt with the word “abortion” emblazoned across it multiple times. She spoke with fire about the same issues I expected to hear from Cecile. In her simple action, Cecile showed us that she is truly committed to access for all women.

Lesson 2: A movement is not a voice of one; it is a voice of many. A movement builds credibility in the halls of power and it makes room for the voices from the marginalized edges. If you have power, make room for others with your actions.

Over and over again, the white women who spoke approached the podium alone. They glanced at their notes for reminders of their tightly constructed language. The women of color more often than not approached the mike without notes yet surrounded by a posse of other women. Their language emanated from their hearts and their bellies not their heads. Grounded by the spirits of those around them, not by the carefully constructed thoughts of their own brains, they moved me on an emotional level.

Lesson 3: Leadership is a spiritual not an intellectual act. Weave circles and call on each other. Proclaim the deep knowing that is in our hearts and our spirits. If you are privileged, learn from the practices of others.

We launched the worldwide movement that we need yesterday. It felt new and different. It requires a different kind of leadership from all us. I learned three lessons of what is needed from the perch of my couch. For those that experienced the Women’s March from the streets, I am sure that there are other important lessons.

What I know for sure is that as we move forward from the momentum of millions marching, we cannot return to our couches or our devices. The Women’s March must be an turning point, not a pinnacle. We can no longer believe that our duly elected officials will take care of us or that they even have the capacity to take care of us. Solutions to the profound challenges of today’s world may not be found, or at least may not be born, in the halls of Congress or even state legislatures. Lasting and real solutions require the hearts, the minds, and the engagement of all of us. Let’s move.