If you’re teaching an undergraduate class about the Civil Rights Movement and want to provide a bite-sized example of a movement leader choosing between “insider” and “outsider” tactics, here’s a nice one. NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates interviews Simeon Booker, the first African-American reporter at The Washington Post and (multiple) award-winning writer for Jet and Ebony magazines, about his recently published memoir Shocking the Conscience. In particular, the NPR piece focuses on an event Booker describes in detail: a party, hosted by JFK at the White House in 1963, to which many of America’s black movers-and-shakers were invited. While the party was notable for the many black politicians, civil rights leaders, entertainers, journalists, and other figures who attended, it was also notable for who declined the invitation–the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. By that point, King had worked for years, unsuccessfully, to get Kennedy to send civil rights legislation to Congress. With the lunch counter sit-in tactic rapidly spreading, King made the choice to forgo another attempt at “insider” influence and instead focused his attentions on developing the next set of direct action tactics. Continue reading
Tag Archives: leaders
LEADING TEAMS (or, How Social Movement Leaders Are Like Flight Attendants, Semiconductor Manufacturers, and Second Violinists)
It is increasingly common for social movement scholars to bemoan the lack of theory and research on leadership in social movements. There’s a good reason for this: there’s not enough out there. We know a bit about who becomes a movement leader. We know a bit about how they become leaders. We know a bit about what the leadership experience does to leaders over time. And we know a bit about what leaders (sometimes) (probably) do. There’s clearly a lot of ground left to cover.
One way to advance our understanding is to shift from thinking about leadership as something individuals do to thinking about leadership as the outputs from leadership teams (recent works by Marshall Ganz, Francesca Polletta, and others have started pushing us in such directions). Making this conceptual shift refocuses our attention away from the particulars of what certain leaders have done and toward the organizational and interactional contexts within which they operated. The most brilliant tactical innovation or issue frame is highly context dependent. But the settings from which brilliant ideas spring forth may not be. In effect, to understand movement leadership, we might be better off asking why some leadership teams work better than others. Continue reading →