2021 International Women’s Day — Decentralized Leadership

This week’s readings are very rich, and many new concepts are introduced with explanations and examples. I learned so much from Alicia Garza (Garza)’s reflection and Ella Baker (Baker)’s revolutionary rhetoric, and I am especially impressed by how Garza magnified Baker’s approach in decentralized leadership through the “Black Lives Matter” movement (BLM).

In Chapter 8–12 of “The Purpose of Power” (“Purpose”), I learned most about the following:

1. Movement — Successful movements have broad appeal, effective use of social media, good leverage of organizations. Voting could be a movement and offers a way to engaging in the electoral system to reshape policies and priorities.

2. Intersectionality — It is a way to understand how power operates and offers a road map for change by making visible those who are currently invisible.

3. Leadership — Effective leadership accomplishes the goals and transforms the way power operates. Successful leadership takes different approaches and deliberation in how to get movement to its goal. Decentralization leadership in the BLM network is articulated in this chapter.

4. Identity politics — it was developed from Black feminism but has been used in white identity politics and right’s narrative. It is important to identify black women as a unique and complex group to achieve inclusive feminism.

In “Developing Community Leadership” (“Developing”), Ella Baker shared her community organizing in New York and the South. She clarified her role as to empower people and criticized the charismatic leadership style. She strongly believed that people themselves are the protections against violence and recognized the progress when people know what to look for. She also advocated developing leadership among people who don’t think they are leaders and emphasized the larger role of black women than men in the civil movement.

“Empowering Communities” (“Empowering”) analyzes Baker’s leadership and rhetorical eloquence during the 1960s fluctuating and fragmented civil movement where the purpose and method are challenged. Baker’s unique vision and approach are different than other male charismatic leaders, but they successfully sustained movement and membership and continued. The article articulates Baker’s style in comprehensive analysis, comparisons, and reflections.

“Purpose” and “Empowering” both discussed decentralized leadership. “Purpose” has a more practical application than “Empowering” because BLM uses it as a strategy to leverage more people to build a strong network. “Empowering” describes it more in a political application in activating leadership of the originally marginalized and calling on people to collectively accomplish things together. I read about similar implementation in “Developing”.

The “The personal is political” adage in “Identity politics” connects with Baker’s rhetoric emphasis on individual action and personal stake.

However, contrary to Baker’s criticism of Hierarchy, Garza uses its help on efficiency in decision making and get things done.

“Developing” seems a preview of “Empowering” and narrates leadership in Baker’s own language. “Empowering” analyzes her leadership from a scholar’s perspective and both discuss critical reflectivity, develop leadership among community members, and encourage individual action. “Empowering” quotes “reflectivity” as one component of Baker’s leadership, and the entire book of “Purpose” is a reflection of the author’s experience in community organizing.

I could relate the learnings to many of my business and personal experiences. Since I read “Empowering” the latest, I connected with “sacrificial love” the most to my mom. She was not a leader in the traditional sense but was one in my eyes. She grew up in the transition from empirical China to Communism China, and the intersection for a woman is the personal sacrifice for her family and an ideology. Her leadership manifested in quitting school to support the declining family, working as a social worker to lift others from illiteracy, caring for elders of the family all by herself, cooking and sharing food with the community, and extending hands to her colleagues in need, etc. Her leadership style influenced many people that she was a well-known person in her working and living community

My first essay at college in the U.S. was the reading response to The Reverend MLK’s speech “I have a dream”, and I still remember spending days editing it to a good essay in English. I was very inspired by his vision but also had questions about what happened afterward. Today I learned a ton of very different leadership rhetoric from Baker and Garza — a decentralized one that is originated from Black feminism, individualized in community members, rooted in sacrificial love, and moves forward by collective and reflective actions. It is very refreshing and this piece is a good memoir for 2021’s International Women’s Day, March.8.

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