Local Government Innovation & Redesign

To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.

Reading List

Powered by Delicious

Blogroll

Visionary Leadership at the Conventions

images.obama.jpg

As a woman who grew up in during the 1950s and 60s in the deep, segregated South, I experienced Barack Obama’s acceptance speech as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee as a powerful link of past, present, and future. Many people of all generations no doubt heard the intentional echoes of Martin Luther King’s "I Have Dream" speech in Obama’s words and phrasings. Obama did not utter King’s concluding phrases, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" I heard it, though, and maybe others did.

Today, I hear those words differently than I did in the 60s. Then I heard King talking about a future society in which African-Americans would be freed of the discrimination, fear, and brutality that prevented them from voting, getting a decent education, and at times even surviving. In many ways that future has come to pass, though a full realization of equality for African-Americans is still a vision that must be fought for rather than a reality that can be taken for granted.

As a woman who grew up in during the 1950s and 60s in the deep, segregated South, I experienced Barack Obama’s acceptance speech as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee as a powerful link of past, present, and future. Many people of all generations no doubt heard the intentional echoes of Martin Luther King’s "I Have Dream" speech in Obama’s words and phrasings. Obama did not utter King’s concluding phrases, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" I heard it, though, and maybe others did.

Today, I hear those words differently than I did in the 60s. Then I heard King talking about a future society in which African-Americans would be freed of the discrimination, fear, and brutality that prevented them from voting, getting a decent education, and at times even surviving. In many ways that future has come to pass, though a full realization of equality for African-Americans is still a vision that must be fought for rather than a reality that can be taken for granted.

The difference in how I hear King’s words today, though, has to do with American society as a whole. Over the year’s I’ve come to see that King’s vision embraces all of us. He hoped that America’s soul would be freed from the chains of racial and religious prejudice and oppression. Indeed just before the concluding phrases, King made clear that his vision included "all God’s children." As I watched Obama’s audience and the words "free at last" resounded in my head, the crowd seemed to reflect a society in which more and more people of every hue and background are free of old beliefs of superiority and inferiority and able to judge everyone on the "content of their character rather than the color of their skin." Of course, this "good society? too is far from fully realized.

Last week the Democratic convention evoked thoughts of visionary leadership for me. This week the Republican convention brought evidence of another kind of visionary leadership – the kind that names real conditions and real problems. In curtailing the convention agenda and many of the accompanying festivities in light of the devastation threatened by Hurricane Gustav, John McCain and other party decision makers, recognized that a real regional problem was developing and they could not afford to proceed with business as usual.

Theirs was a pragmatic call, but also helped focus national attention on the plight of Gulf Coast citizens. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign stood by to mobilize its volunteer networks to help out if needed in the hurricane’s aftermath. All of this leads me to another aspect of visionary leadership – proposing innovative ideas for remedying public problems. Perhaps people in both parties could re-envision the party conventions. Yes, they would still be a vehicle for anointing presidential and vice presidential nominees, endorsing platforms, and bonding at concerts. Maybe, though, they also could be about leaving a legacy of service in the host communities. If Democrats and Republicans can mobilize to help hurricane victims, maybe they could also establish as a regular feature of their conventions a major local civic renewal effort – be it boosting voter registration drives or building homes. Minneapolis and St. Paul could have used the help.

Post a comment

 
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs or the University of Minnesota. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota or the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.