For centuries in moments of sharp civic discontent, anyone and everyone can take to the streets and demand change. The First Amendment protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” From the Stamp Act boycotts of the 1760’s to the 1913 suffrage parade and the 1963 March on Washington, protesters have proudly and purposefully demonstrated. The term “demonstration” was initially coined with reference to the significant gathering of huge assemblies of protesters to demonstrate their opinion.
Today activists speak more about numbers and reach than about lasting results. Is a protest just a bit of social theatre we perform to make ourselves feel virtuous, useful, and in the right? In recent years it has become the ‘scene’ of street marches without a plan or strategy for what happens next and how to keep protesters engaged and integrated in the political process. The world of always “on” social media, instant news coverage, YouTube, etc. has created a culture of making scenes. There exists a need for instant responses and gratification – ‘did my video go viral?’ However, the act of ‘making a scene’ does not directly correlate to ‘making a difference’.
I look back on ‘Occupy Wall Street’ where protesters camped in over 900 cities worldwide. There were no policy changes made as a result. The “Million Man March” from 1995 was to “convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male.” Did any changes result as a result of that scene?
The time, emotion, and energy surrounding these events revolved around planning the scene and reporting the attendance. The same ‘leaders’ have been leading these scenes for decades. Athletes and movie stars are quick to join the scene to show their support. But at what level of impact? Motivational speaker and author, Lisa Haisha says it best, “Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader. They set out to make the difference. It is never about the role – always about the goal.” The leaders of ‘scenes’ get all caught up in leading the process and not in achieving the goal.
Even on a microlevel, people spout their rhetoric as to what is wrong with the world or others. However, when asked what actions they take to make a difference, they grow silent. Making a scene can be a selfish choice done for personal profit and 15 minutes of fame (or these days ‘likes’ and ‘follows’). Making a difference is altruistic. It betters the whole, with little personal profit, while leaving a legacy and changing lives.
I once had a player take umbrage after a late hit on him. He proceeded to gain personal profit by making a scene and retaliating (“Coach, I had to, it made me look bad”). It was at the cost of a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down, which hurt the team. I also watched an individual over a 3-year time period go from being a ‘punk’ (my exact words to him) who was always making scenes to someone who shifted his focused from himself to his team. He invested time in the offseason, weight room, and on the practice field; such that it made a difference to others on the team.
A business world example is Lehman Brothers. For its first 150 years was focused on making a difference in people’s financial lives and then in its final 5 years succumbed to its own greed and felt the need to make a scene with its results. The consequence was the largest bankruptcy in United States history.
‘Making a difference’ is a continual long-term disciplined effort that requires work and sacrifice; ‘making a scene’ is easy and convenient. Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments; discipline takes us from wishing for success to achieving it. We cannot just talk our way to success; we need to discipline ourselves with action to make it happen. Society often lacks the resolve and patience to follow up with consistent disciplined action, because it is hard and takes time.
Gandhi’s efforts took over 20 years to change British rule in India and the Civil Rights Movement lead by Martin Luther King started on December 1, 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott and ten years later the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. The Women’s Rights Movement lasted from 1848 till 1920.
If the focus and intent is on making a difference then there can effectively be the creating of scenes; however, if the focus is on making a scene, it rarely leads to making a difference. In August 28, 1963, one of the largest political rallies for human rights in U.S. history occurred, The March on Washington. It was on that day Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. According to Allen Weinstein’s publication, “The Story of America,” this march led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
To ‘make a difference’ one must also not denigrate the efforts of the ‘other side’. Gandhi understood that the industrial and educational developments that the British had brought with them were required to alleviate many of India’s problems. Martin Luther King’s position was that those with moral claims must use moral means if they are to be successful; and that those who use violence are no better than their oppressors. One must move past divides and build coalitions based on some level of mutual respect and common ground. The need to see the change with accountability and credibility must be instilled.
The time it requires for making a difference is far longer than an election cycle. If a politician wants to stay in office, then the immediate tangible “look at what I am accomplishing” moment is in making a scene. Government these days has become a highly polarized and divided one which thrives on scarcity mentality and denigrates the other side. For Gandhi and King, it was Humility and not Ego; it was a Servant mentality and not a Serve-Me one; and it was Abundance Mentality and not Scarcity Mentality. They both harnessed the power of morality.
I recently met a 74-year-old gentleman raised in suburban Baltimore who for over the past decade has gone into the inner city and mentored young men. Coach Jay is one man doing what he can to make a difference with no scene needed. We are all capable of doing small acts.
The early church met in homes with small groups. There were no organized scenes. Just individuals making a difference in their neighbors’ lives. Christianity did not initially succeed by taking its message to the great and the powerful, the mighty Roman elite. It succeeded as a grassroots movement.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians (4:2-6), “Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; at the same time, pray for us, too, that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak of the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, as I must speak. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.”
Even when Jesus made a scene in the temple with the money changers, what impact did it have as opposed to when he made a difference with the woman at the well. Jesus had the words, grew great interest by preaching and his miracles certainly made scenes; yet it was dying on a cross and sacrificing his life that ‘made a difference’.
I was reading the USA Today and there was a statement from a 70-year-old grandmother – “when will we stop needing these marches”. My answer is when the focus is on making a difference and not a scene.