GENE ROBERTSON: Strategy for countering violence in Columbia needs to be well-planned

Monday, May 14, 2012 | 6:45 p.m. CDT; updated 10:44 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Columbia, the City Council showed admirable political savvy when it decided to reconsider a proposal to create a designation of blight for a portion of the community. The citizens of the city are to be commended for addressing the issue by persuading the council to reconsider the proposal. This example illustrates ideally how democracy can operate. This example is easy compared to another issue occurring in the same city. Citizens organized a demonstration to protest and address violence in the community. The mayor, police chief and other city officials joined this demonstration.

There is a big difference between these two examples of participation. One specifically addressed a doable action, which needed to be addressed. The other called attention to a crisis that needs to be addressed. The first example can easily provide observable indications of progress and results. The second example requires far more effort.

While a demonstration is a legitimate means of drawing attention to the crisis, it is no more than an early step. The crisis must be specifically defined, researched and discussed. Those prerequisites can be addressed simultaneously. Only after there is a serious analysis should a strategic process be started. Meanwhile, much work can be done recruiting and enlisting supporters.

The implementation of a well-planned strategy requires the aforementioned ingredients and many more. Commitment, implementation, skills, discipline and persistence are also necessary to attempt reaching some achievable goal. A demonstration or presentation at a city council meeting does not ensure the immediate total resolution of a proposal or a crisis.

A time-sensitive series of steps, elements and expected outcomes must all be considered, acted upon and continuously evaluated. Tasks as complex and tedious as the ones suggested have been achieved in most movements throughout time all over the world. Noteworthy leaders did not start these movements. Leadership needs and personalities usually arise from these processes rather than start them. Where the leaders are and who leads a movement are needs that only the media and ego-driven personalities possess.

Concerned, affected individuals whose names we may never know start most movements. There may be sparks which draw attention to the movement that already existed, such as Rosa Parks or the Tunisian vendor who ignited the Middle Eastern movements. Leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Hugo Chavez arose through engagement in the movements. They were not instantaneous pied pipers. They embodied the leadership qualities, which enabled them to enlist, obtain commitments and allegiances to delegate to persons who could marshal needed resources to achieve some endgames.

Those who have started this process to address violence in a community should not be deterred from seeking their goal. They should rather be encouraged and assisted to consider the elements in this process and find a way to modify the elements to suit their issue, context, resources and endgame. These suggestions are relevant for attention anywhere a movement is being considered. 

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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