Skip to main content

Darren Walker Is Right

I usually save my blog space to ruminate on communication conundrums and explore best practices for audience motivation, messaging and narrative. But I’ve been inspired by Darren Walker’s op-ed in the New York Times, in which he offered, “Our founders bequeathed to us something radical, something unprecedented: the tools with which to build a multiracial, multiethnic, pluralist democracy that extends the privilege of American identity to all.”

I admit that I am not a handy person. I Google how to stack wood and how to fix a pilot light that won’t light. I also am a critic. I am quick to see the flaw in our Constitution, how it is applied and the excuses made for the men who wrote it with suggestions that we should judge them on their ideals and not their actions. But Darren’s piece struck me. We have all the tools we need to change the world for the better. Yeah, it would be easier if we got rid of the filibuster, but we also have the tools today to get 60 senators in office who agree with positions we want them to take. Yes, I have heard of gerrymandering, but again, this is not an unstoppable force. We have the tools to overcome that, too.

Here’s the catch: We have to use the tools, and it will not be easy. I used to have a friend who ran in the Tough Mudders race. People who run this take extraordinary pride in all the obstacles they overcome to get to the finish line. We need to see the obstacles before us the way Tough Mudders do: As surmountable. We have to take pleasure in finding our way around the potholes and rising back up after setbacks. Just like taking on a home renovation project, we need to embrace that knocking down walls and reconfiguring spaces will take more effort than changing a light bulb. We need to be willing to outsmart the haters and charm the fence-sitters so that while we get better policies and practices in place for the well-being of all, we minimize the damage their wins make along the way.

As I look out and see people reacting to Supreme Court decisions, to attempted take-overs of school boards and election offices, and to daily headlines declaring democracy dead, we need to see these as rallying cries that we can respond to. Darren reminds us “In our Constitution, I see our founders entrusting each generation to fix what the preceding one was unwilling to repair.”

Are you willing to repair what the preceding generation left for us to do? This question bounces around in my head. I make a quick note of all that I can personally do with the power and privilege I have. I add up what I can do because I work with incredibly smart colleagues at Spitfire who have also said they will use their power. I add up my family and friends (which LinkedIn and Facebook tell me I have many of) and see that with little effort, I can get them engaged. I add up people I have helped over the years when they need to testify before Congress, run for office (and win) or make a case statement that raises millions of dollars. I call this my favor bank, and I think I’m ready to cash it in. I have the makings of a modern-day barn raising, and I haven’t even left my couch yet.

This reframes my perspective from feeling like the world is falling apart to the idea that the world needs some much-needed upgrades. I have the makings of an impressive tool belt that includes deep knowledge of how systems work (thank you fifth grade civics education teacher, Mrs. Foster, and Smith College). I think of Spitfire as a group of changemakers. What the world needs now are some power shifts, away from old ways of thinking and zero-sum doctrine, and power shifts don’t just magically happen. We shift power. I, and all of Spitfire, will transform from changemakers to power-shifters.  

Here is how I am going to take the challenge Darren laid down: I am going to practice DIY democracy which is what democracy demands. Democracy is what the people make it. That’s the premise of the system. It is not a service like streaming or trash pick up that I pay for and then settle for what I get. It is self-government, and I need to put my whole self into this idea. Here are my practical steps because I think we need to bring more practicality with our idealism if we are going to get this done.

Get a growth mindset in place. We are going to need it. A growth mindset means seeing challenges as obstacles to overcome — mud pits and rope courses to cross. It doesn’t mean I won’t feel daunted or scared, even. Like my friend who ran Tough Mudders, I will also be exhilarated by the challenge. It will not help to drag my feet each step of the day wailing “why me.” I will start each morning by asking how I am going to make progress, not if. This gives me a sense of hope (different from optimism) and a belief that I can do what needs to be done, alongside others, to get where we want to go. Uncertainty will give me hope rather than fill me with dread. 

The future is ours to make. Uncertainty means we still have time to make it the way we want rather than surrender to those with a more dystopian view. I am going to consume media that encourages me to be a force for good as we radically reimagine America. I am not going to promote or fall for clickbait. The more the media peddles in divisiveness and apocalyptic evangelizing, the more I will tune them out and encourage my powerful posse to join me.

More than anything, I am going to look at my little pocket of the world here in Bozeman Montana and see there are things I can do today, this week and this year to make democracy stronger. I will experience setbacks. Some days the mud will get the better of me, but being a relentless force for a democracy that fulfills its promise is something I advance every day. 

I am embracing DIY democracy and encourage others to do the same.

Darren said, “And the American identity that we still share matters too, not least because it must inform and inspire a common effort, across our differences, to find our way out and forward.”

Sometimes if you want something done well, as DIYers often say, you just have to do it yourself. For all DIYers out there let’s let democracy know… Hold on. We’re coming.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 14, 2022 at 10:30 am and is filed under Coalition, connection and network building. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.