Heroism is not a leadership model social movements should adopt
Heroism within social justice campaign movements is an entrenched ideology and leadership model my generation seems to have unconsciously inherited from male-led and male dominated campaigns. We urgently need to rethink this model as the only way to campaign and to lead. If we are going to make any real impact in our lifetime we must move to a coalition model of diverse leaders.
It is important to appreciate and celebrate bravery an remarkable activism, (but can we stop celebrating people doing basic anti-racist or anti-sexist activism please). The heroism I’m referring to is centering all activity around one person and placing them on a platform which means behaviour or actions can ever be questioned let alone challenged.
Of course calling for a coalition of leaders is easier said than done but it can be achieved. We’ve seen this with the diverse co-founders of Black Lives Matter, #Metoo in America and to some extent with March For Our Lives. Diversity of thought and perspective is invaluable to an an organisation, therefore the opposite, Groupthink can be disastrous.
Social movements, particularly feminist and anti-racist movements, shouldn’t have one face but a multiple diverse faces and experiences. I understand that to grow movements you need an authentic and compelling story or a triggering event. I’ve reluctantly learnt this through setting up Glitch!UK. I am continuously forced to share my story and be the face of Glitch!UK in order to open doors of opportunity and profile our work. However, I do not want to become the brand, I pulled together an diverse interim board of Trustees and I’m adamant to amplify other stories with the little platform we have. I am also committed to continue working in partnerships with like-minded organisation, this is a key value of our organisation.
It is human nature to want to be loved and adored and the way we are wired as human beings means it can be extremely addicting. If for example, you’re an individual, celebrity, social media star or socialite it’s acceptable to be in the headlines and the story be all about you. However, if an individual has committed themselves to championing a cause, a cause wider than them, then the ego must be checked on a frequent basis. A coalition of leadership will go some way in providing accountability and implementing checks and balances. If a leader is not willing to share their platform with other leaders or at least bring diversity to the decision making table then that itself is a warning sign. It’s a blemish of selfishness and ego that will grow and will be the cause of death of that movement sooner or later. If a leader or movement blocks any critique or questioning you’re not in a movement you’re in a cult.
I strongly recommend reading Black Leadership by Manning Marble. Here is one of my favourite lines:
“But it may be the measurement of our ability to achieve full redefinition of American’s democratic project if over time black Americans are able to move away from the charismatic, authoritarian leadership style and paternalistic organisations towards the goal of “group-centered leaders” and grassroots empowerment. In short, instead of leadership from above, democracy from below. The time for all voices to be heard is long overdue.”
Although, Black Leadership talks about Black American leaders the problems identified can be found within all movements, globally and locally. (I can even draw examples from the state of the Church but that’s for another article)
- Local Labour leadership in Newham came to an abrupt but necessary (and well overdue) earlier this year. The leadership model was based around one charismatic Scottish politician who for 23 years not only failed to share decision making power with diverse leaders but became even more powerful, stopping any public and political scrutiny of his leadership. The new local Labour leadership offers a group leadership type model with diverse cabinet members. I strongly believe that is one of the key reasons why they (we) won. I really hope that they are able to genuinely and consistently deliver on this. This will involve making tough and unpopular decisions such as opening doors to groups that supported the old leadership.
2. Momentum and Progress. Both groups would reluctantly like to admit they have something in common. Both movements’ leadership model becoming increasingly based on one person rather than a group, ideology or set of policies. This is problematic because like I mentioned earlier NO ONE is perfect. Therefore both movements must quickly learn to take on board criticisms and in a transparent way, rather than shutting down questions or legitimate unhappiness with announcements and direction.
3. British Feminism. British Feminist movements are full of heroisms. Firstly, we should not adopt this style of behaviour and mirror this form of leadership from male-lead movements. Feminism should never be about one person. It should be a collective and if that collective is not diverse or diversity is an afterthought it is not feminism and that movement will be heavily criticised and will eventually fail. Feminists can and must work together in the spirit of sisterhood. Within the fight to end patriarchy and redistribute power there is plenty of room for common ground. As the late Jo Cox MP said in her maiden speech, “we have more in common than that which seeks to divide us.”
There is a responsibility as supporters of the cause and feminist to not fall into the trap of creating heroes too.
We must also take some responsibility by putting a stop placing unattainable expectations for one leader, expectations to have all the answers and be 100% perfect all the time. It is mission impossible. If we don’t press the abort button on this mission we will eventually and continuously be disappointed and become resentful. This will derail progress made and could quite possibly set back decades of hard work and achievements.
To be a woman calling out patriarchy and misogynoir on social media seems to be a :new thing”. My advice is to use discernment to assess whether these women are genuinely for your cause or need a platform to profile themselves. While we must never condone bad behaviour, if the majority of your activism is about cancelling women and allies, which it is very easy to do on social media, for a reckless action that they are willing to learn from then we eventually run out of women leaders.
Because no one is perfect.
Recently I’ve been learning to not cancel EVERY body but instead call feminists in and give professional forgiveness. Obviously if rouge feminists refuse to listen and become a real threat to feminist movement and individuals then of course they should be cancelled. Remember, great activists sometimes say and do bad things, and at the same time career, climbing activists can sometimes say the right thing and at times be on the right side of history.
Group leadership is more effective and sustainable than one single leader. Good leadership is open to sharing power, challenge and criticism, if you you’re not then I’m afraid you’re part of the problem. Supporters and members of movements must unlearn certain behaviours in order to quit idolising and /or cancelling every single human being, if you don’t then you’re too part of the problem.