Over the last four weeks, I have been riveted by the scenes of Occupy Wall Street (#ows) and how the movement is slowly gaining steam across the country (and world). On Tuesday night, I was glued to my computer watching as the protesters in Oakland were tear-gassed, hit with “bean bags” and shot at with flash bombs. As I sat and watched as people screamed and ran from the police, I began to wonder more about the occupy movement.
The organizers of this movement have highlighted the fact that it is a leaderless movement. A movement which represents the other 99%. A movement that has many “causes” but no unified message. A movement which is grassroots. A movement which encompasses students, veterans, unemployed, underemployed, etc.
Throughout my time working in nonprofits and in getting my masters, I was constantly reminded that organizations and nonprofits need a leader to create change. Even this week, I was once again reminded by Rosetta Thurman in her series about Nonprofit Leaders that we need leaders for our missions to be accomplished.
Think about Parkinsons research or testicular cancer or breast cancer. Each of these causes have had a leader who has given the movement a voice (Parkinson’s – Michael J Fox Foundation; Testicular Cancer (all cancer) – Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong movement; Breast Cancer – Susan G. Komen). While these are just a few of the more visible examples, most nonprofits and causes have a leader who people can trust and believe in the message they are trying to portray. Throughout my nonprofit experience, people talk about the fact that people give money to a certain individual for a cause not necessarily because they believe in the cause.
Even in the Occupy movement – the leaderless movement – has started to highlight the faces of the movement. In Oakland, it is an Iraq vet named Scott Olsen who was hit in the face with a projectile from the riots. In Atlanta, State Senator Vincent Fox was arrested with the protesters. Author and civil rights activist Cornel West has been arrested twice at Occupy events. Russell Simmons has attended the rallies and spoken out on Twitter about the occupiers.
For nonprofits, Occupy Wall Street, community organizing, politics and religion, it is important to remember how important a leader is to a movement. If there is a voice or a face that people can rally behind it adds a sense of trust and respect to that cause. As nonprofit professionals, we are always looking to a leader who will rally the donors and community around our causes and as Rosetta is talking about, we need to start looking at our future leaders. Who knows, maybe you will be that next leader.