USA, 2016

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Essays

Well, here we are. President-Elect Trump.

This past week, I met with a few executives from a portfolio company to discuss the implications of a Trump Administration on the company. The conversation really struck me, particularly a few pieces:

At a personal level, they felt compelled to protest and organize, to take a stand against hate and separation. They felt guilty that it seemed like a mutually exclusive choice between being effective business leaders while also showing moral courage through their personal expression. They worried that creating a space for political dialogue might distract employees from work, but also that discouraging that space was even worse. They worried that creating a *safe* space for political dialogue might exclude those who voted against the rest of their peers at work, in whichever direction. It got me thinking: as a leader in a business, what responsibilities, or opportunities, do you have to your employees and peers in light of this election season? Is it okay, or even necessary, to take a stand?

What I suggested to them: remind your employees that gender discrimination has no place in the office, and will not be tolerated. Reassure them that you will fight for their work status, if they are immigrants. Commit resources to it, if you haven’t. Assure them that anti-discrimination in hiring and in human resources are the hallmarks of an empowering culture, and *will* drive better business results, particularly at a time where huge swaths of the community are uncertain about the future. Let them cry at work. Tell them that, no matter what their views, it’s natural to be afraid, to be angry, to feel betrayed. Give them space.

Executives have an opportunity to be bold in the workplace, with all of the power of the law behind them, and to double down on their investments in their people’s safety, freedom from persecution for their identities, and their economic security. These tactics can transcend politics, because they are a matter of universal human decency, but also of great business fundamentals. Mayors of many of the greatest cities in the United States, themselves CEO’s of municipalities, have taken similar proactive stances, to serve and protect their residents. Marty Walsh has put social justice and equality at the center of Boston’s agenda. Mayor Walsh is a former union worker, a white working class Dorchester man who lives in the neighborhood where he grew up, and knows a thing or two about what drives today’s American worker. I tip my hat to you, Marty. That is leadership.

As we transitioned the conversation to personal matters, they described the guilt they felt, to the guilt that I feel, too: that I’m not doing nearly enough. That I let every one of my black and brown brothers and sisters down when I have an inclination to lower my head, to accept the status quo, to put peace ahead of justice. That I let my wife, my mother, my sisters and my sisters-in-struggle down in every word I don’t say about the misogyny catastrophe that has gripped the nation, and maybe the world, for so many generations. I said to them, and really to myself: it’s okay to fight like hell. It’s even necessary. Take a personal day and go to a march. Take a personal day and go visit a prison through Defy Ventures. And bring a friend. Give your money to the ACLU and the Equal Justice Initiative. Listen to Bryan Stevenson. Take your daughters and sons to the million woman march on Washington. Keep the phone lines of your congressmen and senators so jammed they can barely do anything else but hear your voices. Because otherwise ***they want bury you***. And don’t lose hope, either. Because the famous quotation stands now more than ever: “they tried to bury us, but they did not know we were seeds.”

When it was Arab Spring, when it was the Green Revolution, even when it was Brexit, we laughed from our perch of moral superiority, back-clapped over how the genius of Facebook and Twitter sowed the seeds of direct democracy across the world. But what of now? What have we done? Does it occur to you that the cosseted and cloistered elites in the palaces of the Middle East and Great Britain, in the technocratic glass offices of Brussels might in fact be *you*? Has it occurred to you that democracy is, like any force of devastating power in our society, not always the good you had hoped it would be? The tyranny of the majority can be tyrannical, after all. The reality is, indeed, that power is, in the way we understood in the 20th Century, over. Even in the United States. The rules of political engagement for the Information Age are still being written, but most certainly don’t look the way the rules of engagement looked for previous political generations. They said Occupy Wall Street had failed. But Bernie Sanders actually came close to becoming our president, despite a massive traditional infrastructure ensuring he wouldn’t. Donald Trump spent very little money, and some might argue he simply tweeted his way to the Presidency. The rules are different this time. 

One thing is for certain, though. We have the numbers. The Millennial Generation, the world over, is the biggest in the history of the world. We value and crave connection before all. We intermarry across racial and religious lines, we pray to many Gods. Our women are grabbing the mantle of leadership across sectors. We know how to organize at massive scale effortlessly – after all, we live and breathe memetic theory. And we may have just woken up. 

For those of you who feel low, unable to sleep for fear for your families and loved ones, for those who are sick to your stomachs, so angry that you’re paralyzed: good morning, you are now what they call woke. Stay woke. The First Amendment of the United States constitution is the first for a reason. It is the cornerstone of a free and just society. The protection is not just of the right to speak, but to pray, to publish, and to protest.  I fully intend to do all of those, and invite you to join me. Especially in these times.

***Don’t get it confused that President-Elect Trump didn’t mean what he said; at your peril do you take comfort in the belief that the “traditional Republicans” will “normalize” Donald Trump. It was a campaign of separation, hate, division, and phobia. And Bannon and Sessions are fully stark evidence that it will be an administration of the same. They want to bury us. Period.***

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