Hard Choices, Right Process: Deal Making in Paterno, Cairo, & New Orleans

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Everyone is Happy with the Decision and Crowds around Candidate Vittorio Lo Presti (middle/blue sweater)

Paterno     After days of discussion sometimes heated and dramatic, the leadership of the La Citta civic movement in Paterno had come to the crossroads where they had to make decisions.  The right-leaning party had chosen a candidate for mayor and attracted some support from the center as well.  This meant that if La Citta could come up with a choice that was attractive, then there was a viable coalition that was possible with the left-party.  Other movements were beginning to announce their lists of candidates for councilors.  A newly organized movement like La Citta needed time to work through its program and get its people organized, but time was now the last thing it had.  The right steps might propel the movement from nowhere to the top, if they could figure out a way to reach consensus.

The leadership assembled in the campaign office and for two hours I listened to what I knew was a serious, well reasoned debate even with my marginal understanding of Italian and an occasional word of translation from my friend and comrade, Paolo Guarnicca, who had invited me to Paterno to help on technical questions and organizational development.  The debate involved classic questions.  Is it important to win or to make a point?  Is the process more important for the organization than choosing the right candidate?  How would any choice be received by the movement’s emerging constituency that wanted change and something different, if an existing politician was supported and the endorsement was not transparent?  Order was required and the speakers went around the room, one after another, sometimes at length and sometimes loudly, but always yielding to the next turn.  Some were adamant for someone new.  Others felt that they had someone who could win in the head of the water society, a lawyer who had joined their movement.  Others worried that he had previously been involved in the right party and the message would look expedient, rather than principled and kill the movement.  Paolo was even suggested as a possible candidate.

Team La Citta: President Biaggio Di Caro, Vittorio Lo Prestion, Paolo Guarnaccia

Finally, Paolo offered a compromise.  Vittorio should be supported but the president of La Citta should be the official bridge to the movement and Paolo should be part of the team as a consultant to the future mayor’s government to implement needed reforms, if he was victorious in the election.  Quickly, it was clear that there was now something for everyone.  A candidate would be on top of the ticket that might be able to win and a sense of a team guaranteeing change that would also be a signal to the left.   The men were ecstatic.  Bonds were formed.  Handshakes and hugs were everywhere, and pictures were taken.  It was the right decision for the organization.  Who knows if they can now do the work to win, but finally they are in position to do so.

Making deals is so difficult after long struggles, when even victory can seem bittersweet and not quite enough to settle the stomach.  Certainly this was true here in the small city of Paterno, but I had the same thought reading the story in the Times of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt now preparing to finally call for the military to step out of power on the eve of Mubarak’s resignation as they realize their base is now all of Egypt and not simply their members, long cloistered in secrecy and silence.  If reporter David Kirkpatrick is right, the liberal parties seem to still not be willing to join the Brotherhood on even a call they support, but rather seem to want the Brotherhood to rise and fall on their own steam.  A deal is hard in the middle of a revolution half-won and half-lost.

I looked at a picture sent to me from New Orleans.  Vanessa Gueringer of A Community Voice, formerly New Orleans ACORN, was wearing her ACV button as she put her foot on a shovel along with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other city dignitaries as they broke ground for a park in the Lower 9th Ward.  Vanessa has been a constant advocate and thorn in the side of the city officials for years about how little is done to rebuild the Lower 9th and she is constantly showing them how half-full the glass is from the residents’ perspective.  Nonetheless, as a great leader, she knows when the situation requires grace and it’s time to put the shovel in the dirt and celebrate a true victory no matter how many times she might have wanted to swing that tool at the nearest city official!

ACV Leader Vanessa Gueringer, Councilman Jon Johnson, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu at Ground Breaking of Oliver Bush Park in Lower 9th Ward

We are often so long out of power that when we win, it is hard to make the deal, no matter how badly we want it.  If the process is right, then the hard choices will be right, too.