The light snow was enough to turn the the minimal Martin Luther King Day evening commute into a traffic jam, so I sat in the car listening to reports of inauguration day. At lunch time, I watched President Obama's speech with coworkers who spend a lot of time focused on effective communications. It seemed like the pundits had heard a different speech, but perhaps that reflects the different frameworks we heard it from.
On the news, people talked about the speech in terms of the political conflicts of the day. Did President Obama extend enough of an olive branch to get us past the next debt ceiling deliberation or fiscal cliff folly? Will he be able to make headway on the legislative agenda implied in his speech? It all seemed so transactional, so petty, so caught in the moment.
I listened to it from a broader perspective, where did it fit on the arc of history, from the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech? I've often bewailed the lack of great speeches in modern day politics. Perhaps it is because of the focus on the soundbite and the immediate win. This speech did not have those flaws, or, as it seems some modern day pundits believe, those essential elements.
It fit well with the inauguration poem; 'One Today'. The poem, like the inaugural address was not part of some transactional moment, but instead took its appropriate place on the arc of history. As I watched Richard Blanco and thought of Chief Justice Roberts, I thought that Blanco had the loftier seat. Inauguration poems are something to remember, to savor, much more than so many of the Supreme Court decisions.
I remember the inauguration of a college president I attended. The inaugural poet was Denise Levertov, and her words have stuck with me for decades. I remember reading a story about about a farmwife heading to the county fair, and only seeing the quilts. For me, I'll remember the wordcraft. Later, I shall spend time reading Blanco's poems. Bu now, bedtime approaches. I'm tired, but still I must pause to practice putting words together and praise those who have do so, so eloquently.
For Allen Ginsberg and Aaron Swartz
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.
The angry fix they sought was far different from that of Ginsberg's friends.
These hipsters were typing something other than 'starry dynamo' into the search engines.
They were Google mapping the seats of power at midday, not the negro streets at dawn.
They were fighting a in new revolution, a revolution that would take their life and liberty.
A junkie with a knife can be scary. He'll take the cash in your pockets and rush off for his fix,
leaving you shaken as you walk home. But a hacker with a mission, now that is dangerous.
He will shake the very means of production and distribution, the economy you depend upon
to get that cash into your pockets.
It's all well and good when they take down an Arab dictator.
It's tolerable when they change the news media and political process, as long as it can be co-opted by the press and politicians.
But when they start threatening the profitability of the legal and academic presses in the greatest democracy of the world, they must be hounded, driven underground, labeled hacker and felon, until they kill themselves.
When I was running for State Representative, I commented that people were a hundred times more likely to develop cancer than they were to run for state legislature. On the other hand, candidates were more likely to relapse and become candidates again.
Well, this afternoon, I was asked if I would consider running for Zoning Board of Appeals - Alternate. I hadn't planned on running again so soon, but it is important to have contested elections. Ideally, zoning issues should be handled by the Town Planning and Zoning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals should see little activity. On top of that, the regular members of the Zoning Board of Appeals should handle most of the issues and the need for actions by alternates should be even more rare.
That said, this is another chance to get people to think about the social contract. We live in community. What we do affects the people around us. We need to find a balance between our own rights and the rights of our neighbors. We need to find a balance between our rights and our responsibilities.
So, I'm starting new campaign, I'm finding another opportunity to talk with the people of Woodbridge about our community. I hope you'll join me.
Yesterday, as I wrote about institutionalized racism in America, I asked the question, "Is there something we should be learning from Sandy Hook or the death of Aaron Swartz?" Perhaps part of the answer is that we are in the midst of a digital revolution, and sometimes heroes die during revolutions.
Typically, people talk about the digital revolution the way they talk about the industrial revolution, moving from one mode of production and distribution to another. Yet with any revolution, there is upheaval. There are winners and there are losers. Are we seeking to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible? What happens to the losers? How do they fight to avoid losing any privileges they had prior to the revolution?
I think these are all important questions to ask as we think about Aaron Swartz, for it seems that much of what he fought for was to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible. How do we make information as accessible to all people as possible?
If we look at PACER or JSTOR, we see similar patterns. There were means of production and distribution that made sense in the time of the printing press. Much of the information in court papers and academic journals was produced using taxpayer money and should be available to everyone for little more than the cost of production. Prior to the digital revolution, there was one cost structure for producing and distribution information in systems like PACER or via JSTOR. As the cost of production and distribution of electronic reports plummeted, some people were benefiting from the cost differences and others were being left out.
The prosecution of Aaron Swartz was an effort by the losers in the digital revolution to cling to power. The idea of Aaron Swartz as the epitome of the digital native, confronting U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, an up and coming political figure defending the status quo as the epitome of the digital immigrant is a compelling narrative.
And, it has played out in the digital political battlegrounds. The online petition site, We The People, set up by the Obama Administration, has a petition calling for the removal of United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. In the first three days it received over thirty thousand signatures, more than the threshold of twenty-five thousand signatures necessary for the administration to consider it.
The battle continues on, online. This afternoon, the Boston Globe ran the article, Reports: U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s husband attacks Swartz family on Twitter.
The article shows images of tweets, alleged to be from the husband of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, where he goes after some of the thought leaders in the digital revolution such as Mitch Kapor and Dan Gillmor. Yes, the battle lines have been drawn and President Obama is caught right in the middle.
Meanwhile, another blog post says, OK, But Can We Also Fire Lanny Breuer?. Perhaps U.S. Attorney Ortiz was just an ambitious foot soldier caught in the cross fire. Perhaps the General that needs to be taken out is the Department of Justice's Criminal Division head, Lanny Breuer.
We are seeing Congressional approval rates plummet, the approval rating of the Supreme Court slip, and one has to wonder what happens to the approval ratings of the Justice Department as the Swartz affair just adds more damage to a tarnished agency.
Yes, we are in the midst of a digital revolution. It is about changes in the modes of production and distribution, but it is shaking up power structures and real people, good people, are getting hurt in the cross fire.
Every month, I head up to Hartford for a CT Health Foundation Health Leadership Fellows Program meeting and I come away with lots of new questions to think about. A couple key ideas that I've personally been focusing on is being more intentional in my actions and more focused on the impact they are having. At the same time, I'm focusing on being more public about what I am thinking and feeling and the questions this brings up. It is interesting to see how these ideas interact.
This month, we spent some time talking about leadership goals we have and skills we want to work on. There seems to be something very powerful about this, and perhaps it is a good question to start every day with. What leadership skills are you going to practice today? What new discovery will you make?
It reminds me of a section from Winnie the Pooh which is quote in the Tao of Pooh:
"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.
As part of our gathering, we did the The Diversity Shuffle.
[The] exercise helps to encourage discussion about differences and similarities within our communities. This can then be used as a springboard for a dialogue about power differences in our communities and how they can be addressed.
It seemed as if everyone in the group had experienced forms privation and prejudice as well privilege and plenty in different ways. Remembering the some of the experiences was painful for some of us at different times. I found the exercise very empowering. I believe that recognizing the full spectrum of our experiences is something that can help us as leaders, as we try to recruit others to work with us and as we tell stories of what we are trying to address. It was important for me that this took place in a safe environment where I could explore my background, my feelings about that background, and think about how it fits with my leadership style.
Two quotes that I often refer back to are, "There but for the grace of God go I", and a great quote from Virginia Woolf, "The only thing wrong with privilege is that not everyone has it." When I think about friends who have led much more difficult lives, I can say, there but for the grace of God go I. I can say the same thing when I think of those with great privilege. Underlying all of this is a fight to get things, too often thought of as privileges; housing, a good education, health care, healthy food, etc., to be recognized as a right, or at least a privilege that everyone should have.
The exercise was done after we had seen the movie, Race: The Power of an Illusion: The House We Live In.
The movie is close to an hour long, but it is well worth spending time watching and thinking about. It is so tempting to think about the United States with a mixed race President as being post-racial, but I suspect many of us don't know or fully comprehend the impact of U.S. racial policies in the twentieth century.
One of the big questions that whole day left me with is, what are the policies of our country today that people will look back with horror at a century from now? Is there something we should be learning from Sandy Hook or the death of Aaron Swartz?
Perhaps the biggest lesson is one that we all need to be reminded of on a regular basis, especially as we think about political leaders. Perhaps the real leaders aren't those who think they have all the answers, the real leaders are those who aren't afraid to search for new questions. The Health Leadership Fellows Program is helping me in this search for new questions and I hope these blog posts will help you search for new questions as well.