Why do we stand, smile, and take pictures with unpopular politicians?
A photo came out featuring a few dozen officials and educators of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) standing in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump.
All were smiling for the camera with one of America’s most polarizing president…
The feedback on social media has been none too kind, wondering why any Black person would ever want to meet with a man who has used racism (among other isms) to become the 45th president of the United States.
I, too, recently had the chance to take a picture with an unpopular politician…
During a Black History Month celebration held at Queen’s Park, I stood and posed with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn.
When Premier Wynn arrived in the room where the celebration was taking place, there was a throng of people waiting to shake her hand.
I inched my way closer to the premier. I could now hear a gentleman quickly telling the premier about his daughter who was there to shake her hand.
I would have never taken a photo with the premier had it not been for my photographer…
I was being too polite, waiting my turn as others pushed in. That’s when my photographer boldly said “Premier Wynn, can I get a shot of you with Leesa?” There was almost a hushed silence as everyone crowding around the premier made a path for me.
One doesn’t get much time to converse with politicians…
They’re always scanning the room to see who they can talk to next, plus there are a few dozen people wanting their ear.
In that brief moment, no more than 30-seconds, I told Premier Wynn my name and stated that I was a hidden figure in technology.
“I loved that film,” she said.
Surprised, I asked, “You saw it?”
She nodded her head. “Great movie,” she said.
“I agree, it has a universal message that anyone can relate to,” I replied. My photographer asked that we smile, we did, and the photo was taken.
A recent poll reported that if an election were held today, the Ontario Liberals would lose their majority status and place third behind the Conservatives and the NDP. The poll cited soaring hydro rates as the main reason why voters in Ontario are dissatisfied with the premier and her Liberal party.
I’m a voter in the province of Ontario, yet I smiled brightly for the camera as I stood with Premier Wynn…
She’s unpopular, yet I was insistent that I get a photo with her. As with the educators and officials of HBCUs who posed with President Trump, we take pictures with unpopular politicians for a variety of reasons.
First, we do so because we hope that our presence is enough to change the politician’s views about our particular grouping.
A voter hopes that by having an audience with the unpopular politician, no matter how brief, may help influence that politician to make different decisions on legislation they may (or may not) be considering.
If the politician sees not just one, but many people who share the same values, lifestyle, skin colour, sexual orientation, religion, etc., in the same room with him or her, then that politician can no longer brush off an entire group with flippant remarks.
Second, we pose with unpopular politicians so we can find other advocates who share our views.
While I was in the room waiting for the premier to arrive, I met with a variety of men and women who were doing important things. Flashy business cards, big titles, full of self-importance.
Yet, there were some who were actively lobbying government on matters that affect their community. I was surprised when one woman told me that as executive director of an association geared to African-Canadians, she was in regular meetings with politicians in government to advocate on behalf of her members.
This was a reminder to me that voting once every four to five years is a poor way to participate in the political process.
Yes, voting is important, but it’s what the voter does in the years between the call for votes that truly matters. Taking a group shot with others who work in your industry is one thing, but using that power of community to bring those concerns to the politicians in power and the ones who are in opposition (typically the critics) is what engaged voters should do in between the time when ballots are casted.
Thirdly, we tend to be all smiles posing with unpopular politicians to help history record our version of truth…
Premier Wynn and President Trump are unpopular now, but they won’t be forever. Eventually, they will leave public office and return to private life. Years will go by, biographies and memoirs will be written, and history will give its version of their time in office.
While Premier Wynn may not remember meeting me, and while President Trump may not remember meeting the educators from HBCUs, we’ll have a record of that event in our personal libraries. One day, I’ll pull out the photo I took with Premier Wynn and share with my heirs and offspring the story behind the photo. Because as history shows, tomorrow’s story is more important than today’s outrage.
Which brings me to my last point…
Posing with unpopular politicians must prompt us to create a better story…
The only story I can tell right now is that Premier Wynn and I like the same movie. So, is that the story I want to tell my heirs and offspring? The photo I took with the unpopular premier is challenging me to do more, for example:
- What do I care about?
- What or who can I advocate for?
- How can I use my access, experiences, and wisdom so that the story behind the photo becomes more?
Saying that we both like Hidden Figures isn’t enough. It needs to be more. Just like when these educators and officials look back at what Joseph Campbell calls the inciting moment, the turning point in their existence, what action will they take today so that the story behind the photo becomes more historic tomorrow?
There is a time and place for everything…
A photo op in a room with an unpopular politician isn’t the time to unleash a litany of things you’re unhappy with. Frankly, you may not have the time to do so.
Instead use that moment to gather information so you know who to turn to and who to partner with so the story behind the photo becomes even more historic.