By Kristina Egan, Emerge Maine Class of 2013
I recently saw the movie Lincoln and was deeply moved by it. This astonishing man persuaded Congress to support the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, with his conviction, even while quietly buying votes by offering plum jobs to Democratic lawmakers. Quite a Machiavellian move from the man we nickname Honest Abe! Lincoln was a ferocious fighter, but he was also brilliant at finding common ground and getting things done.
A great paradox of politics is that we elect fighters, but we also need collaborators. To be elected, the first thing you have to do is win your race. This often involves a tough, maybe even brutal, fight. But once you are in office, you need skills that go beyond fighting. You have to listen, find common ground, and build coalitions to make sound and wise policy.
In politics, we may have too many fighters who only know how to compete and win, but who know little about how to cooperate. Perhaps this is why we don’t have solutions to our state’s and nation’s most pressing problems and why the public is so unhappy with Augusta and Washington today.
For most of my career, I’ve been an advocate for better policy from within in the non-profit world. The non-profit sector I know is comprised mostly of women, although men still lead many of the organizations. The prevailing culture is one of cooperation and network-building. Organizations seek ways to work together and gladly join coalitions to advance worthy goals. Most people I work with share, rather than hoard, information and relationships, key elements of power.
Like many people, I naturally prefer collaboration to conflict. I find the vicious competition in races between candidates and the hyper-partisan, argumentative tone of many of our leaders frustrating.
I don’t accept that the politics of the future has to be the way it is today. More and more women are being elected to office. So many of us, through our upbringings and professions, have experience nurturing and healing others, listening and finding common ground. We can do more than win office, we can also bring to it a kinder, more collaborative, and more effective politics.
Our Emerge training has taught us how to successfully fight to win. But my great hope is that Emerge also generates enough candidates and elected officials over time that we can help create a new kind of political culture. Our races will be not only about who’s tough enough to win, but also about who has the strongest leadership skills and who would best represent constituents.
We’ll fight fair. We’ll be above board. We’ll be kind, fierce warriors. And, once we are elected, we can use all our collaborative skills to make great changes for our state. That, in the end, may be the greatest impact that Emergistas can have.