Change l/Leaders

I have been reading everything I could get my hands on about Margaret Sanger. We named one of our conference rooms after her and I am telling her story in a few weeks to colleagues who don’t or barely know who she was. As one of her biographers wrote, she led 13 lives at the same time. Her birth control  legacy is astonishing; the things young woman now take for granted, such as being able to make choices rather than being shackled to one’s biology, were only known and practiced by a small group of generally well off women, who could get the services they needed.

It was exactly 100 years ago that Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethyl and a young Lithuanian translator, Fania Mindell, opened the first Birth Control Clinic in Brooklyn. Women lined up around the block to get advice on how not to be constantly pregnant. Margaret Sanger’s mother had 18 pregnancies in 25 years and then she died. That 10 of her children survived into adulthood is a miracle.

But the clinic, barely started was raided and its staff prosecuted. Sanger’s life was full of arrests, jail terms, fines, exhortations, yet she continued to provoke in order to test the laws against logic. In the end she won but it took decades.

And then I hear Trump talk about making change and I wonder what he has in mind. His kind of making change is turning a paper dollar bill into 4 quarters. It’s easy, anyone can do it.

But when I study the people who actually changed things, the inventors, the discoverers but especially the activists who got challenged the laws of the land in order to get them scrutinized and overturned, their change was all but small change. They were demonized, pursued, lost things dear to them, sacrificed personal comfort and their family life. Now that is real courage.  We saw the movie about Snowden this weekend and there it was again, this same pattern of giving everything up for this one cause, risking life, liberty and happiness for this one goal.

In my job we teach about leadership with a lower case ‘l’ because it is more accessible to the many whose leadership we need to make the small changes, the incremental changes that can happen in a year, making things better on a small scale; but Sanger, Snowden and so many others are in a different league, their vision is way out there and their courage and perseverance commensurate with it. They have earned the right to be called Leaders rather than leaders.

By the way, don’t forget to register to vote if you are an American citizen!

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