For those who are too young to remember, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the antiwar protest was a bloody movement that ripped apart the fabric of the United Stares. The whole world is watching was a recurring slogan chanted by antiwar demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. And although fifty years have passed, the whole world is indeed watching to see what Americans will do to restore normalcy to the White House. Restoring normalcy means we need to take back our democracy.
After we emerged as a major power in World War I, America has been perceived as a world leader. Our core American values have always been fairness, equality, justice, and a proven measure of freedom embodied in our bill of rights and repeatedly tested in our U.S. Constitution. The founding fathers framed the Constitution to be a living document. Able to expand and adapt to a changing world, the Constitution protects our democracy. The current White House makes a mockery of our core values and has thrown our nation into a constitutional crisis. In order to regain our primary democratic values, we are in desperate need of new leadership, but where will our new leaders come from?
If we examine leadership as a management tool in business, then we can see that leadership is a huge business. A report by the market research firm IBISWorld at the end of 2014 said coaching is a $1 billion industry in the U.S. alone. The Membership of the International Coach Federation has more than tripled. Many colleges and universities offer certificate programs in leadership. Even Harvard offers 2-day Classes on Leadership Coaching, so business executives can rattle the saber and say they have a Harvard certificate. With so many Americans training to become better, more effective leaders, why is there a "disconnect" between our top leadership in the White House and everyone else?
With so many leadership gurus, coaches and programs dotting the business landscape, maybe the training, content and philosophy skimps on substance and focuses on tricks and tips for getting ahead in business and life. There are many analysts, executives, corporate consultants, leadership trainers, business owners and self-styled coaching experts who offer platitudes about getting ahead, but they do not delve into the hard topics that really matter: sacrifice, courage, integrity and doing what’s right even when we risk being unpopular. Instead of examining the true characteristics of leadership, a junk food panacea is offered to those who are starved for genuine leadership. Consequently, few Americans are prepared to solve real world problems and become emerging leaders.
If you want to see a strong example of true leadership, then take a good look at the student survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. They didn’t learn to become great leaders through a mail order certification course; leadership was thrust upon them, and even under extreme duress, these young students rose to the occasion and exhibited grace under pressure. They were brave, courageous and articulate. They spoke the truth in a way that ultimately proved to be an embarrassment to the White House. For a brief shining moment, Americans could recognize the truth again, because the truth came from the mouths of babes. The world saw that these students did not have dark ulterior motives, hidden agendas, or any of the underpinnings of power, corruption and greed that have become the chief hallmark of the current White House.
The White House, loosely defined, includes all politicians who take money from the dark, tangled web of corruption that ranges from the NRA to the public policy think tanks and research groups sponsored by the Alt-Right oligarchy. This White House is determined to make a mockery of our democratic values and turn our Constitution into a relic of the past, a piece of old yellowed parchment, and they have the money behind them to achieve their goals. What the White House did not anticipate was how quickly a group of students could organize, step up to the plate, and demand action that this type of assault on a school would happen #NeverAgain. Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma Gonzalez wrote in a personal essay in Harper's Bazaar magazine. "We are children who are being expected to act like adults, while the adults are proving themselves to behave like children." The student leadership exposed politicians for who they really are, and told them what they should be doing.
In a dramatic and unexpected turnaround, individual corporations took the lead from the Stoneman Douglas High School students and also acted with integrity. Dick's Sporting Goods announced they would no longer sell assault-style firearms, and not sell firearms of any type to anyone under 21. Walmart and Kroger’s quickly enacted the same policy. It has become clear that America’ leadership is coming from people other than a White House that is being increasingly derailed by dysfunction, disunity, and corruption. From this standpoint, and without a doubt, our leadership in the White House has failed us.
The impassioned and eminently rational leadership evidenced by the Stoneman Douglas students has given us new reason to hope. Maybe as a nation the entire political leadership will not succumb to the prurient money and craven power interests of an oligarchy. Once again as a nation, we can collectively agree that true leadership is evidenced by sacrifice, courage, integrity and doing what’s right even if it risks being unpopular. Will the new burst of student activism develop into a mainstream grass roots momentum similar to the antiwar protests during the late 1960s and early 1970s? Only time will tell. One thing is certain. A Sleeping Giant has been awakened.
The late great writer and Harvard professor George Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." One can only wonder if we would have a different America today if John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King had lived. With that kind of leadership going forward, maybe we would not be condemned to repeat the past. Even though we lost these leaders in the 1960s, let us never forget: It was the steady persistence and integrity of our young people who stopped the war in Vietnam. Here we are, fifty years later, cycling through the same issues. Civil Rights. Black Lives Matter. Social Justice. Social Fairness. Social Equity. Social Security. The Environment. Healthcare. All of these issues and more hang in the balance. It is time to draw on our collective memory of the past to stop another war—the war against our democracy. The Whole World is Watching and waiting to see what will do.
Patricia Vaccarino has over 25 years' expertise working with a wide range of national and international clients, in all areas of public relations: managing worldwide campaigns for global companies and developing strategy for small companies, startup ventures, and individuals. She has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, articles, speeches, web content, marketing collateral, and five books. Her latest book, YONKERS Yonkers!, takes place during one of the most turbulent times in American history, 1969-1971. Chief leitmotifs throughout this work of fiction include the Vietnam War, a bad President in the White House, upheaval in society, racism, sexual harassment, chaos and the fundamental breakdown of social order. Sound familiar? Here we are again in the same place, different time.