Rules for Leadership

Yes, we’ve been away for a long time: conferences, social forums, holidays and vacations and playing catch-up after all that have scrambled our work days. But we’re back, better than ever, so here we go.

Today I wanted to share information about one of the really engaging talks we heard at the conference we attended. Dave Beckwith, director of the Needmor Fund, talked to us about his ‘Rules of Leadership.’  He connects his rules with sayings, stories and books that teach us about organizing. Dave is a witty man with a fascinating history of his own. For instance, at age 12, he was a street marshall in a march through Boston led by Dr. Martin Luther King. A PK (preacher’s kid), Dave was brought up on social justice. Here are a few of his rules, illustrated by stories and books:

Saying 1: Anyone Can Be a Leader.              Story: Gale Cincotta Gale was a mother and wife before leading the national fight to pass the federal Community Reinvestment Act which requires  banks and savings and loans to offer credit throughout their entire market areas and prohibits them from targeting only wealthier neighborhoods with their lending and services. Gale was co-founder of National People’s Action, a coalition of some 300 community organizations throughout the United States.     Book: Dynamics of Organizing, by Shel Trapp.

Saying 2: Winners Make Great Teachers Story: Holmes County, MS. Kids in 10 and 11th grade compiled stories of local leaders of the civil rights movement in their poor, rural county. Not only did they publish a book about these phenomenal leaders but the kids themselves, at-risk students in the local school, jumped grade levels in their academic work and became dedicated to human rights.    Book: Minds Stayed on Freedom, by the youth of ROCC (Rural Organizing and Cultural Center)

Saying 3: At the Banquet Table of History, there are no reserved seats… Story: Lois Gibbs In 1978, Lois Gibbs discovered that her 7 year old son’s elementary school in Niagra Falls was built on a toxic waste dump. She soon learned that her entire neighborhood, Love Canal, was severely contaminated. With no previous experience in community activism, Lois led the fight against state and federal agencies, eventually winning the relocation of 833 families. Her efforts also led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or Superfund, which is used to locate and clean up toxic waste sites throughout the United States.        Book: Love Canal, My Story by Lois Gibbs

Saying 4: Leaders Lead Story: Mother Jones Mary Harris Jones, Mother Jones to us,  lost her four children and husband in a yellow fever epidemic. She moved to Chicago and, motivated by her grief to help others, immersed herself in the labor movement after losing her business and possessions in the Great Fire of 1871. Indefatigable Mother Jones traveled from state to state to organize miners and other workers, crusade against child labor and helped form the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1903, she led child factory workers on the Children’s Crusade from their homes in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA to Oyster Bay, NY, summer home of President Teddy Roosevelt. Public sentiment turned abruptly against child labor after that publicized march (and Roosevelt’s refusal to meet with Mother Jones). ‘Pray for the dead,’ she said, ‘and fight like hell for the Living.’  Book: Illinois: Descriptive and Historical Guide, by the Federal Writer’s Project, WPA, 1939.

I’ll share more of Dave Beckwith’s sayings, stories and books in a future post. Share some of your own with us if you please!