Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So what is it about revolutions?

(NOTE: This entry was originally written and posted at a website called The Red Room, a website for writers and editor.)

There is a song making the rounds of many places in California these days called 'Union Maid,' a rousing tune that was written by Woody Guthrie in 1940.

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come 'round
She always stood her ground.

It's the kind of song that gets people stomping their feet and clapping their hands and the kind of song that sociologists like to point to as beacons that bring people together and cement social units - units that will promote social activism and change.

Well, that may be true, to a degree. I've even learned to play the tune on the ukulele at meetings and gatherings to get the crowd fired up when some of that social activism and change is called for as the U.S. economy continues to melt quicker than an iceberg off the coast of Greenland.(Economic recovery my ass...)

But it has been my experience - as a journalist and a university professor - that real change, Revolutions, occur not because of group think, but because someone steps up to the plate and takes a solid swing. And those people I have always thought of as champions, champions in the sense that they were willing to stand up for what they believed was right, and take the hits for doing so.

It's not a popular way of looking at leadership and social change. My sociologist amigos tell me I am naive. They tell others (out of my earshot) that I am romantic and don't understand the research and data on the topic about revolutions.

I may be romantic and naive - and, OK, sociologist-collected data doesn't impress me that much. Champions and heroes do.

My sociologist friends might be averse to the theory because, frankly it's hard to ever be that champion, hard to stand up alone and hard to take the hits. I have been called Don Quixote more than once by journalism and academic colleagues.

There are worse sobriquets.

Perhaps the hardest thing about all this, is that all-too-frequently when a champion steps aside, (having won whatever victory was sought) the ground gained is lost, perhaps completely.

Still, two feet forward, one foot back is a better way to live than studying the data, I believe.

Today we often seek champions and at the same time immediately try to discount their courage (or claim self-interest or any number of sins). We can blame media for this, but media in many ways is as reflective of us as it is a force itself.

You say you want a revolution? Look for a champion to arise. Better yet, play Don Quixote yourself and grab a lance.

Without a champion, you might get some good harmonies, but you won't get change.

Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union.
Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die.

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