The Importance of Leading From Within

On January 21, nearly 3 million people in cities throughout the United States and around the world came together to march and lend their voices to the causes they feel most strongly about. My sister marched in Miami. My nieces marched in Portland and New York City. My friends and colleagues marched in dozens of cities from coast to coast. I marched in Atlanta. 

There were grandmothers and grandfathers; toddlers and teenagers; moms and dads; business leaders and artists; entrepreneurs and teachers; ministers, priests, pastors, and rabbis; activists and humanitarians. 

These were not the organizers. They were not politicians or heads of community organizations. The majority of them were not leaders of any particular cause. Most had never marched for anything before. And still, they led. 

They led from within. 

They led from within their neighborhoods and book clubs and churches and synagogues and schools and sports leagues and scouts and theater troupes…gathering one friend, then another, then another, until they were the voices behind the masses, their homemade signs crying out for the things they supported most. 

They had many, many reasons for being there. I know; I spent hours asking dozens of people about their “Why.” And while their answers varied, they all seemed to have a common denominator: they were there to support love – not hate.

I heard very few derogatory statements, although there was plenty of bold signage. And I admired the bold and the brave. Truth be told, that morning, I wavered as to whether or not I was going to show up at all. I woke to torrential rains drenching Atlanta, with strong winds that made an umbrella a joke. I asked myself if I really had to go. Couldn’t I just watch the coverage from my living room? Couldn’t I check in with my friends’ Facebook pages for updates? 

No, I could not. I kept thinking about all the men and women who fought — and still fight — for my right to march. I thought of all the men and women who face daily struggles so horrendous and urgent that I was uncomfortable with even entertaining staying home because of wet weather. And wouldn’t you know it, the first sign I encountered at the march reminded me of that reality. It read: 

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” –Audre Lorde 

The person raising that hand-lettered poster board was a young father – he was holding the sign in one hand and his daughter’s hand in the other. 

And so the day began. As I walked among more than 60,000 people, asking my one question, I marveled at their passion; their purpose; their principles; their belief that one person can make a difference, while the power of many can carry it forward. 

They were thousands of people leading from within. It’s a story as old as our history, and in fact, I had just heard a history lesson the week before, as part of the honoring of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Troy Jackson tells the story of Jo Ann Robinson, a name very few people know. And yet, she was the organizer of the boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in December of 1955. She had no title; she was not in politics or the head of any organization. Still, her passion and initiative are responsible for sparking one of the most critical moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Here again we see that leaders aren’t always the ones in high positions, or even those whose names lend credibility to a cause. They are often the ones behind the scenes, and people follow them not because of their name or title or position, but because of their passion, purpose and vision. 

The marches on January 21st weren’t a singular moment in time; they were the beginning of a movement. And behind the scenes, people are continuing to lead from within to give clarity to the vision; to provide actionable next steps. The Women’s March on Washington has launched a campaign called 10 Actions for the First 100 Days. Every 10 days, you can take a recommended action so your voice continues to be heard. To ensure that progress doesn’t halt or regress. To encourage you to stay informed, learn about the issues, and let your leaders know what matters most to you. 

Because as one of my friends said, pointing to the gold dome as we arrived at the Georgia State capital, “We may be marching outside, but the decisions are made inside.” 

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Ginger Schlanger

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