Leadership and the Future of The Occupy Movement

by John Zajaros on November 21, 2011

Leadership, The Occupy Movement, and the Failure of Congress

Revolution, war, civil unrest, and dissent are all part of the human experience…like it or not.

Interestingly, I was just talking about certain aspects of your question with one of the young people I tutor/mentor. We have this idea that one individual, in this case the President of the United States, can do it all. We have created a triumphant mythology, we call it American history. Significantly, we have imbued leaders of the past with almost super human abilities and godlike talents.

We have claimed, on behalf of certain leaders, responsibility for a myriad accomplishments and incredible feats, achievement beyond the ability and power of any one leader. We have built up images of great courage, skill, and strength…all the while achieving success beyond measure.

Washington, Jefferson, John Adams (thanks to Paul Giamatti & HBO), Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ (for civil rights), (some would even insert Nixon for ending Vietnam War), Reagan, and Clinton (this one is going to get some people’s dander up)…and I am not touching the rest of the group.

What do all of these men have in common?

They are all human, they all made mistakes, some made incredibly costly blunders; and some, historians would argue, were leaders created by certain events…at just the right time.

There is a decades long debate going on among historians and political scientists.

The debate, captured in a nutshell, is as follows:

Are historical events shaped by great men, great leaders? Or, do certain events (i.e., revolution, war, civil unrest, catastrophe, etc) shape men; thus creating great leaders? If you argue the latter, and given a relatively uneventful administration, would the same great leader have been, well, average…history failing to thrust him into a defining moment?

There are examples of both processes and both roads to greatness:

  1. Great leaders rising to even greater heights and, in the process, defining the moment and their presidency.
  2. Average men, thrust into situations beyond their depth, but willing to step up and achieve greatness in the process.

Lincoln is probably as close to a pure #1 as any leader this country has had. Truman is an almost pure #2, defined by a set of circumstances no one could have adequately prepared for.

The rest our past presidents, at least the presidents we can define as great leaders?

They are somewhere in a continuum from 1 to 2.

So, what did most of these men have? What made them great leaders?

Many of our greatest leaders surrounded themselves with the best people they could find.

Lincoln is an excellent example of a leader who was able to build consensus…even among men who couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other. Lincoln’s relationship with William H. Seward is an excellent example of how two mean put personal feelings aside, or at least on the back burner, and work for the greater good…the welfare of the country.

Others had personality and charisma. There can be little doubt that FDR, JFK, and Reagan fall into this group.

The main challenge for the Obama Administration comes from the various special interest groups, in concert with the conflict currently raging between the two parties. These groups are so myopic, some would argue radicalized, that they have ceased to serve anyone…anyone but themselves and their group’s ideology.

The utter intractability of both parties, combined with a lack of leadership, has led to a complete breakdown of the political process.

President Obama has attempted repeatedly to form a consensus, often being called weak for his efforts.

Incredibly, it now appears that certain members of Congress, working with a number of special interest groups, would rather see the country go down in flames than allow President Obama a second term. It seems they would rather see the country, and everyone in it, go down in flames before they will allow this administration a victory…any victory.

An important component in almost every democracy, an integral component in the democratic process, is compromise. Unfortunately, when neither side is willing to give an inch…compromise is impossible. The failure of the “super committee” is yet another example of the selfishness of our leaders, small “l”, to get anything accomplished…particularly if it means setting aside their party’s political agendas, short and long term.

In an excerpt from The Christian Science Monitor entitled “Super committee about to fail: Is it Obama’s fault?”

“The not-so-super committee that was supposed to figure out how to reduce federal red ink by at least $1.2 trillion is about to fail in its mission. Republicans refused to allow increases in tax rates,Democrats refused to allow big cuts in entitlement programs, and you can figure out the rest. So, now that the Hindenburg has pretty much crashed and burned, who is to blame? You guessed it: President Obama! (bold & italics added)

“That’s what Mitt Romney says, anyway….’He’s done nothing,’ Romney said while campaigning in New Hampshire. ‘It is another example of failed leadership. He has not taken personal responsibility to get the super committee to find ways to balance the budget and cut spending’.”

Incredibly, that statement isn’t even among the Top 10 when it comes to the most ridiculous things heard during The Deficit-Default Debacle!

Political agendas, weak men and women in positions of power, and an economy as bad as any since the Great Depression…and we have a recipe for disaster.

Will someone else be able to do better?

I seriously doubt it.

Look at the field of Republicans!

The fact that the Republicans seem incapable of offering an alternative to the Obama Administration, much less a candidate capable of mustering more than a 25% approval rating, may provide a window into just how impossible the situation is…in Washington and across the nation.

Beyond all of the above, why would anyone want to subject themselves to the media microscope, the abuse, the derisiveness, and the petty agendas to run for the Office of President of the United States?

There was a time when great men stepped forward because they were also great leaders or knew they could be. Additionally, they loved their country and felt a certain civic responsibility to serve.


If they are high-minded and desire to serve?

The candidate is beaten down, he and his family are subjected to an intrusive media microscope unlike anything we’ve witness in history. And then, if he still hasn’t been scared off, he faces a Congress so entrenched, so selfish, and so unwilling to put the country and their constituents before re-election, they become serfs to the likes of Grover Norquist and others of his ilk!

Incredibly, Senator Alan Simpson calls Norquist “a megalomaniac,” and worse! (60 Minutes, November 20, 2011) 

I could go on…obviously.

Sadly, all of this will undoubtedly get much worse before anyone steps in and agrees to compromise.

Congressional Bender

Much like an alcoholic on a bender, many in Washington, members of both houses of Congress, are drunk with power, a corrupt sense of self, and tainted view of their importance as a national leader. Congress has not hit bottom. The country may hit bottom before Congress does…with dire consequences for the entire country. Given enough time, Congress will hit bottom…of that I am certain.

However, The Occupy Movement isn’t waiting!

The Occupy Movement is a public expression of frustration and rage. People across the United States, from virtually every socioeconomic group and culture, have had it with Congress. And it ain’t over yet!

Things will get worse before they get better and, if a leader doesn’t step up from within the system? I am absolutely certain that a leader will emerge from outside of Washington…and soon!

Fixing our country has to be a collective effort, a bipartisan effort.

Right now?

I don’t see that happening!

I wish it were otherwise….

The Occupy Movement isn’t about the failure of one man to lead…or a lack of leadership at the top. The Occupy Movement is about a complete void in Washington and an utter lack of representation.

Congress’s failure to represent the people they were elected to serve will lead to two things:

  1. The Occupy Movement will grow and morph into something we cannot, at present, conceive of.
  2. President Obama will be vindicated…and perhaps reelected.

The best thing to happen to President Obama is for the Republican Party to continue to do nothing, and blame others. The Democratic Party will not fare much better…as they are equally culpable in all of this.

Leaders find a way to serve, to put the interests of others before their own, to make sure the least among us is taken care of.

Instead of leaders, we currently have a complete lack of leadership and our elected representatives seek to serve only themselves.

Clearly, the Congress currently seated has to be removed and real leaders elected.  

Then, we have chance!

Until then?

Hold on to your hats….

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Woodard November 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Excellent post John. I hope, and fear, you are right.


coachz9 November 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Thank you Ben! I certainly appreciate the compliment and hope, as you do, that cooler heads will prevail. History would seem to suggest otherwise.



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