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Craven: Money And Leadership

02/17/10 7:55AM By Jay Craven
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(HOST) Commentator and Marlboro College teacher Jay Craven has been thinking about the recent Supreme Court decision that will allow unlimited amounts of corporate money to influence our elections.

(CRAVEN) It just doesn't make sense to me. Sure, money can buy an election, but as far as I can see, "not" having tons of money may actually lead to more creative leadership.   

I recently saw an article in St. Johnsbury's Caledonian Record.  Its headline read, "Community Needs Leaders."  The story reported on a Barton meeting about challenges facing the Northeast Kingdom.  It emphasized an urgent need for more leaders-not in Washington or even Montpelier - but close to home.

We need leaders to be able to function in politics. But more importantly, we need them to know their local community, and be capable of taking calculated risks, acting with conviction and compassion. Most of all, we need them to demonstrate imagination, to look beyond what exists toward what could be-and then work to make it happen.

I see leadership in St. Johnsbury's Catamount Arts board. They saw the potential of a new arts center in the town's former Masonic Temple-and inspired others to also see it and make it a reality.  I see leadership in St. J. businessman Fred LaFerriere who takes the plunge for charity into Lake Willoughby each January and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer treatment and research.  He responded to the death of his brother by taking action.

In this era of increasing online purchasing, a local retailer shows leadership simply by starting or sticking with a business that creates local jobs and contributes to community causes.  I see leadership in what Circus Smirkus and The Young Writers Project do for kids and I see it in the work of St. Johnsbury's Umbrella organization that supports women at risk of domestic violence.  And I see it in the work of Anne Galloway who lost her editorial job in a downsizing move at the Sunday Rutland Herald and started Vermont Digger, a new on-line Vermont investigative news bureau.  Galloway gives meaning to the idea: "when you've got a lemon, make lemonade!"

I see leadership in the work of schoolteachers who engage with hard-to-reach kids and become lasting mentors to them.  It isn't easy, and acting on a vision includes the risk of failure. This kind of leadership requires looking beyond short-term financial interests, and people who try to provide it face local apathy and negativity all the time. But without people willing to try, our communities will stagnate and become nothing more than places where we hang our hats.

Which brings me to my final point-that leadership cannot be effective if we don't recognize and support it when we see it-and if we don't maintain a personal commitment to our actual communities, even when we spend time in virtual ones, too.

Leadership expands capacity.  Leaders demonstrate the power of imagination. They find or create new ways to advance the common good.  Leaders spawn new leaders.  And it all starts at the local, grassroots level.  We need more good leaders. And we can't buy them. We have to grow them.
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