Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fighting City Hall: How do you change the story so you win?

I live in a leafy suburb of London on purpose: after spending my infancy, childhood, and (til now) adulthood in Manhattan, I needed a break from relentlessly urban.

I love neighborhoods South of the river, and Shoreditch is very chic, but I crave more green space than they can provide.  Even in New York, I made sure I lived near the Park, no matter how many Superintendant doorbells I had to ring.

(It used to be that one way of finding an apartment in New York is to walk up and down the streets of the neighborhood you want and talk to Super's directly.  Sometimes you gave them "key money", sometimes they just didn't advertise an affordable flat and it was yours.  This I did for 3 months on until I found my home.)

In the name of housing shortages, there are plans to build a huge building in my 'hood that will not only block out the light in our local green space but also create the kind of wind tunnel one usually only feels when entering some tube stations.  That will be the end of our outdoor market.

The planning document is a sham - there are so many untruths, either from fraud or neglect, that it's untenable according to English law.  Despite the disproportionate amount of money on the builders' side, however, the neighborhood might well defeat them.

I haven't heard anything like it in New York since the 1970s.

So What?

What does this have to do with storytelling, leadership, and all the usual topics in this blog?  For justice in the US, the answer to a bad man with a gun certainly isn't a good man with a gun.  The answer is blasting away a credible but false story with a credible true one.

(Would someone take on that gun story, for a start?)

It's not news that politics is all about which story is most persuasive to the right people to win the day in the same way that history belongs to the victor.

In New York, we call countering the dominant narrative "Fighting City Hall."  Here, I guess you'd call it arguing with the local council.  Has less of a ring to it, but it actually could be more effective.

Why?  There's a transparency in England, I've found, not available in the US, probably because of the difference in scale.  If a story is not true, there are more people closer to the centre of power who can expose it.  When the story breaks, all the news is national.  It is even more quickly international because many in the US who get their news from BBC Worldwide.

In the US, who lives within 4 hours from the White House?  In England, who doesn't?

English culture is built on a premise that the US lacks, and it's equally important in the fight for transparency of storytelling: people here believe that things should be fair.  It's not just an inward complaint, either.  When I approach friends, they say, "Of course things should be fair.  What are you talking about?"

My Fellow Americans, can you imagine a country where everyone believed in a reality that prioritised fairness, if not always in practice, than at least in everyday theory?  How many of the stories that you know are false would you stand up and fight with a better story - from local or federal government, from corporations, from people trying to get you fired, from anyone who's lying, really?

*For anyone interested in helping fight developers who will come to your neighborhood next, please keep your eye on 100 Avenue Road in Camden.  Link to follow.

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