Thanks to Ian Scott at ACCE, I recently read an article whose premise was hauntingly familiar: see Corporations and Politics: Shunning the Middle Road to Go Left or Right – Knowledge@Wharton. The gist is that extensive research shows corporate America is moving to the politically active fringes.
It was hauntingly familiar because I recall similar research from a few years back tracking the same phenomena among the mainstream electorate. In fact, I wrote a blog about it encouraging the economic development industry not to abandon the “middle’s” reason and logic for the extremes on either side of the political equation (The Silly Season Is Upon Us). Among other things I said “we need to decide if we are also abandoning the middle or if we are going to work to maintain that tried and true cornerstone of our Democracy: negotiation and compromise! After all, we should not be about building platforms, but rather building communities!”
At the time it seemed like sound advice grounded in experience and wisdom. But what do I know? As the Democratic convention wrapped this past week, I had two recurring thoughts: First, I’m profoundly thankful that nothing ridiculous happened at either convention; by ridiculous I mean no protest that spiraled out of control, no “over-the-top” violence, etc.. Second, I’m proud that our people, democracy and country, in spite of it’s flaws and deficiencies, found a way to preserve freedom of speech and the right of assembly without infringing on our personal right to life and liberty! Kudos to the Philly police for handing out bottles of water and $50 fines instead of putting protesters in jail!
As we move into the general election season I have another thought that I just can’t shake: things aren’t going back to the way they used to be. Nostalgia in today’s politics is just that ……… nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
We’re not going back; the fringes are too wide, the divisions too deep. And yet, we have to find a way to make this new reality work or else nothing will work! We have already seen divineness lead to stalemate lead to gridlock lead to decline. That can’t be the “new normal”.
When asked, “What do you see as the most pressing issue in the profession today?” in a recent interview in IEDC NOW, here’s how Roy Williams, President and CEO of the Oklahoma City Chamber, responded:
“The dysfunctional environment being created and perpetuated by elected officials, primarily at the state and federal levels. Critical issues such as education, infrastructure, public safety, etc., are all neglected by social agendas of single-issue politicians.”
That’s the impact of the “fringe”; that’s what happens when we allow ourselves to disavow the tried and true of negotiation and compromise in favor of the rhetoric and intransigence of the fringe. It doesn’t work. Call me old school, naïve, behind the times, whatever you want but I refuse to accept that we can’t do better!
I have a request of every economic development professional:
Don’t sit on the sidelines…………
The political debate is impacting our industry like never before. I don’t care what it says in your by-laws, protocols or code of regulations; it doesn’t matter if you are a 501c3. You can no longer do what your community needs if you are not in the game.
……..but resist the temptation to feed the frenzy.
Becoming more politically active to advance an agenda that should be non-partisan does not mean joining the screaming and jostling edges of reality. Be reasonable, stay grounded and maintain your course. Your job is to find common ground so you can advance an agenda that benefits the community, region or state that you serve.
Maintain your composure.
This may be the hardest thing to do! Elected officials seem to be leading the charge to the far left and far right and they do it by espousing venom and vitriol for anyone who disagrees with their position. Don’t take the bait. Don’t be sucked into an unproductive dialog that doesn’t advance your larger agenda. Stay true to your mission — creating the best environment possible for economic growth.
Negotiation and compromise take time. Yes, that must be balanced with the urgency and need for change but remember the lesson of the Tortoise and the Hare – stay the course …… win the race!
Get some help.
The political arena is not a place one wants to go without a solid foundation in process, patience, protocol and perseverance! Most important is a compass that can help you navigate the rough waters and terrain that lie before you. Economic developers are rarely skilled in the art of politics so don’t be afraid to seek advice and counsel from those that are — ACCE, IEDC, your respective state associations are all good places to start as you run off the sidelines onto the field.
The next few months will test our resolve professionally, personally and as a country. The very tenets of our democracy are being challenged and I am sure there will be a surprise that confronts our sense of reason every day. And yet, we still live in the most free, inviting, open, prosperous and democratic society on the planet. Let’s not let the crazies take that away! Above all, remember those wise words from one of the great poets of our generation:
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.