Repost: “Full Circle”

A few nights ago I was staying up way too late stumbling down the rabbit hole that is the Internet. On a whim I searched for a post I’d written at the beginning of 2009, just after AIESEC United States’ Winter National Conference 08-09, where my term as Local Committee President of AIESEC at Georgia Tech ended. Unfortunately the old AIESEC GT blog, where I’d written the post, was lost in Google’s scorching of all FTP blogs on Blogger. However, that particular post had been copied in full and re-posted on a range voting Yahoo! Group. Since I have just become online services director of AIESEC Life, the AIESEC US alumni association, I have decided to re-post that old bit of euphoric writing in full, for posterity. And maybe for the lulz too.


On the night of December 29, 2008, I was in a Zen state.

My former teammate and one of the greatest people I have been blessed to know, Tiffany Curtiss, was elected Member Committee President of AIESEC United States in the first free and fair MCP elections in twelve years.

I haven’t cried in a long time, but I came pretty damn close as Missy poured the water on her head and everyone cheered for Tiffany. What was clear to me, though, is that as much as we were cheering for her, we were cheering for the process, for student ownership, for having a voice. For having come so far just shy of six months after the July 4 letter.

The only thought that had space in my head after the bucket fell was back to the weekend of May 12-14, 2006, when I was told “you have no future in AIESEC US” by the top leadership after trying to bring people together and think for themselves. Instead of doing whatever college students do on the weekend, Tiffany and my AIESEC mentor and former LCP of AIESEC LC Cornell, Arthur Maas, spent the entire weekend on the phone with the key players in New York, and when they were talking about “next steps,” Tiffany was talking about right and wrong. Tiffany, of course, was right, and despite being right, her hours and hours on the phone that weekend got me back into AIESEC US. How incredibly appropriate, how it fits in with the music of the Universe. How justice was served and how progress was lifted up!

I turned off my video camera and I walked up to my room, alone. I could barely even shut the door before the immensity of what had just happened washed over me like a tidal wave. I gripped the table and I put my head against the wall. I closed my eyes and let the reality of it flow through every bit of my being. How years and even months ago, this moment was an unthinkable fairy tale – regardless of the winner of the election. I felt like I have not felt in an incredibly long time, and to the powers that put the breath in my lungs, I let forth in an exhale, “thank you.”

Words cannot express the pride I feel that Tiffany was elected MCP.

And finally, mere hours before my term as LCP ended, I was able to participate as a proxy for Milwaukee (Amira taking the seat for GT) in our legislation, where we established our first compendium in twelve years – and I am proud that I was a key part of writing it. I skipped sessions and I stayed up late to work on the constitution and accountability with Jason, and I personally spent the entire day after the election tweaking and perfecting the range voting process, which was one of the final motions we passed – by acclamation. Though it was hard work and it kept me from hanging out nearly as much as I wanted to with the people who matter to me and friends I haven’t met yet, I realized at the end of the conference how much more valuable it was that we spent our time on things that mattered. We did work together, we built the foundations of a new AIESEC US together. That was far better than anything else I’ve experienced at a US conference before, and I hope for the future members that it only grows and does not stop.

While banging the table to close legislation, we heard loud sounds from above – and through the skylights we saw the fireworks heralding a new year. We did it! And the fireworks let everyone know it.

Poetry upon poetry, the formal New Years Eve dinner that night took place in the exact same room as the plenary of the last Winter Conference in St. Louis. My LCP term ended in the exact same room in which it began. A year ago in that room, as we finished singing “Auld Lang Syne,” I thought to myself: “This is either the year AIESEC US will save itself, or the year in which it will be lost forever.”

I could never have pictured us in that same room one year later, triumphant. The truth is stranger than fiction.

A sincere thanks to all of the people who are a part of the fabric that has been my AIESEC Experience thus far. There are many of you to name, and rest assured you will hear it from me soon. But other than Tiffany, the person I must thank most of all is Missy Shields, outgoing MCP and former LCP of AIESEC at Georgia Tech. Without her AIESEC US would not be here today, and I would not be the person I am, plain and simple. She deserves adulation for years and years, and she will be a golden legend for as long as the word “AIESEC” spurs the heartbeats of people looking for a better future.

To you both: because you have changed me, you have changed the world. Hold me to that.


The Burden of Leadership

I watched the election returns last night with some AIESEC friends and others at my place. Yuengling, that first American beer so new to Georgia, and Maker’s Mark, my personal favorite go-to bourbon, were on hand for the long haul. Of course it wasn’t a long haul; he was declared the winner at 11 PM.

We were watching CNN, continually checking out fivethirtyeight, people’s blogs, etc. When Wolf Blitzer said that CNN was projecting the West Coast was going for Obama and he had won the presidency, I immediately called to mind the opening scene of the pilot episode of Firefly, when Mal is fighting in the Battle of Serenity Valley for the Browncoats. As vicious fighting rages on and the Alliance is decimating his battallion, he grinningly and assuredly yells at his soldiers that soon “our birds will be in the air,” to clear out the valley for them. But then they receive a call saying “They’re not coming. Command says it’s too hot.” And Mal looks, in empty disbelief, as the Alliance ships come down to occupy the valley and the remainder of his battallion, save himself and his second-in-command (a female!) are massacred.

That must be how John McCain and Sarah Palin, in some twisted way, felt as the nation fell to Obamamania.

Or, from the victor’s account, a nation stood up “in hope,” and spoke very loudly about both the direction the country must go in and about their final word on the intensely racist past of this country.

Or from my account, an extremely gifted politician demonstrated shrewd political and organizational forethought and leadership to build up the gigantic machine atop which he was able to sincerely convince a majority across many states that his was the way of engaged peace, turning the wheels of the country to production and prosperity, and he would lead all Americans and not cast any single aspect of his own identity onto his administration.

Fireworks started going off in Atlanta and horns were honking. I received phone calls from friends, and texted to one person who was at Obama’s Grant Park jubilee. McCain’s speech came on, and the man was as respectable, gracious, and honorable as any to have given a speech of victory or conciliation, but the harsh venom and anger of his supporters sprayed upon him one lsat time, even in his singular opportunity to close the wounds of a long campaign. I felt, and continue to feel, genuinely bad for McCain as it is clear he tried to act with the utmost integrity and cooperation, ensuring angry people at his rallies that Obama was not a Muslim and was “a family man,” among being his friend and other things. But the evil of the institution of the political party – his just happens to be Republican, but it’s not about being a Republican, it’s about the Party – found its voice with Sarah Palin, who will chill the hearts and minds of Americans as a fresh new avatar of Dick Cheney.

The Facebook status was last night the soapbox of anti-democratic (notice the little “d”) anger. Beyond even that, it was an art exhibit of sheer ignorance and amazing misinformation, along with the expected racism. One person had “That’s it! I’m moving to Iraq!”, Christians of the right put their pitiful prayers up, like “It’s okay, it is all in God’s plans” on one end, but on the other were such statements as “…God help us.” or to the one who most horribly represents the right-wing of the Institute, “praying for our country… and reminding everyone that ‘God is still God, and Jesus is still coming back!'” Even more confusing, because I don’t expect the aforementioned to utilize any semblance of the reason they had been given at birth, were the statements about Obama’s “socialism” and that “we’re screwed, my paycheck is going to the government.” Since when _wasn’t_ your paycheck going to the government? It was Ben Franklin (a Deist!) who said that there are only two certainties, death and taxes. We have not entered anything even suggesting a “requisition-bracket.” It is easy for me to dismiss the religious swooning, but those arguments just make me scratch my head; it’s really beyond me how such a large part of the American population, especially young people, seriously believe that Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, or both. LBJ and FDR were both far more “socialist,” and not even that, than Obama ever will be. Socialism makes up a significant part of my own political belief system, and I did not vote for Obama mostly because he is not nearly far enough left for me. If that’s the case, how can he be a socialist?

That aside, we looked forward to Obama’s victory speech at midnight. I prepared us all a shot of Maker’s and we watched as he gave his speech. We were all silent, understanding just how important this moment was. Not because of Obamamania, but because America had just executed one of those bloodless revolutions like the one that occurred in 1800, and because we were a part of the election that saw the resurgence of young people as a major political force and that elected the first Black president. That was a pretty cool thing to be a part of.

The real significance of the day didn’t truly hit me until today, however. I was pretty excited to think of the road ahead of the country, and the world as a result. The ecstatic welcome of the whole world to Obama should be enough to prove how important that is. I should note here that I still stand by my vote for Nader. A friend called and asked me last night, as she was reveling in Ohio, if I would have still voted for Nader had this been a serious 2000-style election and I was in a battleground state; I answered yes. The only thing I have is my choice, and if I give it up, I give up everything.

I am looking forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with even the “sinners” at the table, like North Korea and Iran and Venezuela. I am looking forward to a resurgence of feeling good about the country because of our standard of living, which we should be thankful. I am looking forward to the way Obama will probably bring about a more direct form of democracy through his personal interest and enthusiasm in things like social networks and open source software. Most of all I am looking forward to his announcement of a project to make the nation energy independent in ten years, our very own modern-day Apollo project, which will also form the powerful new engine for the economy which those neocons have failed to understand.

Which reminds me, ever noticed how the Great Depression was preceded by a decade of Republican rule in the executive branch and legislative branch, and this current crisis has been preceded by Republican rule in the legislature since 1994, save the last two years, and a Republican in the White House since 2001?

I did a lot of reading up over the last couple of weeks on Obama’s victory machine and how it occurred, and I learned that it came from Dean‘s strategy in 2004, which he has now translated to the DNC as his “fifty-state strategy.” I began to take some inspiration from this, noting how Dean insisted that Democrats engage all Americans in all States, not just their largely outdated vanguard of labor unions, immigrants and other minorities, “big-city” liberals and working-class whites. Obama has perfected that vision, engaging with all Americans on their own terms as the direction of this country has been washed out by Hurricane Bush. It’s much like lessons of leadership I’ve learned on my own journey in AIESEC – if you are not open and don’t let people come to terms with their own decisions, then the integrity of your organization is doomed to fail. Forcing beliefs and decisions down people’s throats is a ticket to retribution – or as we saw this July, revolution.

Which leads me to finally discuss much of my feelings about my term at Local Committee President of AIESEC at Georgia Tech.

Everyone tells you that being LCP is the best year of your life – and indeed, they are right. It is the coolest job in AIESEC. You are truly a leader, no one to catch you, no one to tell you what to do. You have to manage a business and make sure it is sustainable, and grows, and produces your product in high volume – quality AIESEC Experiences.

They’re right!

But I came into this role amist a dark and worsening cloud over AIESEC US. When elected, LC motivation was approaching an all-time low from when I was a part of restarting it. Students had been stripped of the last “real” exercise of power we had, producing traineeships, against our will. The entire MoTxCoKs region released a letter of grievances to the nation directed at the national staff – none of them were answered. I woke up in St. Louis on January 1 knowing that if AIESEC US was not saved in this year, it would never be saved.

It was not only the daunting national situation, but also my semester of unprecedented academic difficulty, which beat me hard. My high hopes for making my team an extremely tight unit, vanguard for AIESEC GT, were eventually put down by both my own inability to motivate people and also my inability to abandon my classes to F’s (although I almost failed two classes that semester). This was de-motivation number one. That followed up with things I was learning that were happening to AIESEC US – namely that we were losing our full member status, and my knowledge that the national staff was not too interested in doing anything about it.

On the local front meanwhile, I had seriously alienated the team that left me the office, the EB of 2007 – and this was in the end all my fault. I wanted to wipe away the demotivation of the fall, but I handled it too poorly and it cost me dearly, and in turn it cost the LC dearly. To those of you who came before us: I apologize. I was wrong to not seek your counsel more deliberately, and to not consider what words you did offer more seriously.

I went to EUROXPROS in St. Petersburg, Russia, for Spring Break, knowing that in the last days of that meeting the national staff would be meeting in the US to determine what to do about our membership status in the global network. This weighed so heavily on me, and my conversations with Naoufel there were both a buoy to my sanity and a confirmation to my fears. One day during the conference when we worked with the Balanced ScoreCard, I realized fully how much AIESEC US was not AIESEC at a fundamental level (to use the words of the Senator from Illinois). I became visibly upset – I kind of hyperventilated and kept shaking my head. People asked me if I was alright; I was not. My mind was breaking, as was my heart, in the middle of Russia by the sea.

I managed to have a very useful and important conversation with some pertinent people on the AI team there about the situation, and their counsel was seriously important to the events that followed. It was, essentially, necessary that I went there to Russia, even if I did not go to meet them in the first place.

A national Leadership Team meeting took place in NYC in late April, where Missy was not present. I could guess why; no one else knew except two national staffers. Besides being a predictably unproductive meeting, they claimed that the memership criteria did not require us to do anything more than write down what we already do. My own independent investigation and counsel with Missy had already made me know that those were untrue statements.

When Missy quit as MCP, I took open action, an action of opening: I made the uneducated LCPs of AIESEC US aware of the freely-available and binding literature on the member country situation, such that everyone could read for themselves the truth. It did require some coordinating however, such that I had to email AI to request one document, but the document was freely available to anyone who asked for it. I sent it out on a Friday to prevent quick retaliation by the Thought Police.

I got a call from the person who would later be installed as Missy’s replacement, without any democratic process. He said that what I had done was seriously damaging, and if I did anything like it again, “we cannot work together.” I’d heard that one before. I simply responded “I understand.” I was in the car on the way from Gadsden to Atlanta to leave for Canada’s national conference that night when I got this call. I had made my decision about my role in AIESEC US.

As if by fate, the same person I talked to in Russia was the chair of the conference. I managed to get some time with him, and there the foundations were laid for what I had to do, to be a responsible leader, someone who would stand up and give a damn about AIESEC in the US. It was all up to me, but the first keys had been handed to me.

The national organization in turmoil and anger already from Missy’s departure and her unwarranted replacement, I set about using the global network I had built over my nearly three-year tenure in AIESEC. They proved totally necessary in building what eventually became the plan: to produce a letter written by and signed by as many LCPs as possible, to be placed on so as to not only be publicly visible, but also to be required to be used as “evidence” by the Global Plenary of AIESEC. I had to keep identities secret when I talked to LCPs to protect people, but we managed to organize it right under the natstaff’s nose.

The major error came at this point, however: there were a couple of LCs, namely Michigan and Baruch, which we feared may alert the national staff if we invited them to talk about the letter. That would be unacceptable; most LCPs were not knowledgeable enough about the bad reality of AIESEC US as I was (from a tell-all by a former natstaffer) to firmly stand by their signature in the face of natstaff retaliation before the letter was released. Thus, the very difficult decision had to be made by those people who were responsible for those regions (the letter writing and organization had one leader per region involved). In the end, they were not approached. There were a few other LCs which we tried to approach but we did not manage to have a conversation with before July 4; this proved to be the dividing line in the days afterwards, especially in Madison.

I learned my lesson about openness from that – if people do not take ownership over something, no matter how much of a “fellow traveler” they are, if they are not a part of the process that creates a decision or product, then invariably they will not be as “on-board” as those who did create it, and will probably even wind up standing in opposition to it. It is the nature of organization and allegiance and is unbeatable. One of the people we did not reach, whom most say would have been for the letter, wound up being one of its most vocal opponents.

Then came July 4; then came the dissolution of the LC, then came the story we all know. Then came August 5, then came the resignation of the national staff, then came the night we said “we are the most powerful people on earth.” Sure it was just euphoria, sure it was – but we did not expect that one month and one day after the letter was released this clean sweep would occur. We didn’t want it to happen that way, mind you, but it did, and here we are.

And while I was galavanting with national and global figures, fighting the fight which I had to to preserve AIESEC US and by association my own LC, there nonetheless sat my beloved family in Atlanta, not cared for as it should have been. I was like the senator who spent all his time in Washington. I did not care for my constituents, I did not care for my family.

I think that during my tenure, I have been too dogmatic about AIESEC. I have done no small amount of philosophizing around our product and our identity, the nature of AIESEC as a student organization, and the like. It has led me to identify those things which make for a great AIESEC Experience. It was utterly invaluable in the revolution. But the students of Georgia Tech are not all like that, and by failing to accomodate that, I did not live up to my own expectations in terms of the quality of results I wanted, and I did not live up to the expectations of the office of Local Committee President in terms of the dynamic of the LC. I became too harsh sometimes to my EB, and that only drove them away, and disrepair continued.

I have a hard time connecting with people who haven’t “gotten” AIESEC yet. I want so badly for the people who come in as newies to have their minds blown like I and the veterans of the LC have, to realize how magnificent it is that such an organization really does exist and we are a part of it, and more recently how beautiful it feels to give so much to save it, and finally, finally see the day come where the road is lit again by the light of openness. I’m just not that kind of guy. Luckily my successor is that kind of gal.

We are called “Local” Committee President for a reason. It is my belief that I did not live up to my own expectations, nor that of my team, nor that of my LC, nor that of my predecessors, and probably not that of my colleagues here or around the world, in that local capacity. AIESEC happens on a local level, and no matter how much I did on the national level, I can’t change that I failed to be an effective leader where it matters most to our product.

That being said, the events of July 4 and Madison in early August, as well as finally National Presidents Meeting in Chicago, were transforming to my life. The night of August 5 confirmed in my heart what my life-quest must be: to wage openness on the world. I must swing the sword of truth to destroy corruption and the closed nature of parts of our society and allow facts to kill lies. It is this quest to which I am dedicating my entire life. How I will do it, I’m not entirely sure yet, but I will say one possible path is being inspired by George Soros (former honorary Chairman of the Board of AIESEC US!) and his Open Society Institute.

Something more I have been thinking about from that time, something which has plagued me since I entered university, is that my skills shine there, on the national and global stage. That’s where I have achieved the most, and it is explicitly through my talents and practice. My talent for that sort of thing, I guess we’ll call it “statesmanship,” was first prominently exhibited when I was whisked from being a cynical and angry young liberal at what I percieved as a corrupt and overly religious Alabama YMCA Youth in Government summit in 2004, to being declared as one of the 20 delegates (out of about 400) from Alabama to the 2004 Youth Conference on National Affairs – and I didn’t even know such a damn thing existed. My experience there was also pretty important. And though my skills were in places like that, as well as writing and music in high school, I chose to go into electrical engineering specifically because I didn’t have a knack for it and it would be challenging. In my research on how Obama’s political machine has brought him to such a victory, I was reading Bill Clinton’s Wikipedia entry. This passage spoke directly to me, my feelings, my experience, and my future:

In Hot Springs, Clinton attended St. John’s Catholic Elementary School, Ramble Elementary School, and Hot Springs High School – where he was an active student leader, avid reader, and musician.[citation needed] He was in the chorus and played the tenor saxophone, winning first chair in the state band’s saxophone section. He briefly considered dedicating his life to music, but as he noted in his autobiography My Life:

(…) Sometime in my sixteenth year I decided I wanted to be in public life as an elected official. I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz. I was interested in medicine and thought I could be a fine doctor, but I knew I would never be Michael DeBakey. But I knew I could be great in public service.[13]

And that is where I find myself. I love music and was considering how I could do it for serious money in college, but I knew I would never be Chuck Leavell. Now I am getting my ass kicked by, but seriously taking an interest in, electrical engineering but I will never be anything like Nikola Tesla. But I can be a great leader of my community, and we all know that geographical lines don’t mean anything any more with communities. That is where my talents lie, and I have to come to terms with that. I have to stop denying it. But I cannot sell out either; I must combine my talents with my quest and become a Hero.

Separation, Initiation, and Return.

After sitting down and writing this, I realize that is why I am really so interested in Obama now. I’m not an Obama-maniac, mind you; I always question everything and I won’t stop, and so I have to be skeptical of the pageant of his campaign promises. Nevertheless, here is a man who came from a world totally unlike the one he gained the key to Tuesday night. Obama is what the Shepherd called “a Believer:”

SHEPHERD BOOK: Only one thing is gonna walk you through this, Mal. Belief.

MAL: Sermons make me sleepy, Shepherd. I ain’ t looking for help from on high. That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.

BOOK: When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?

It’s time for me to believe too. Not in Obama. In my talents and in my quest.

Gaussian Curve of Exhaustion

The weekend was good – Friday night I hung with Dave, John & Christina on the blessing of some just-received coupons for Cameli’s, played a bunch of Super Mario Galaxy, and hit the hay at midnight in anticipation of the next day’s festivities – but not before giving Ben James some much-needed ice downstairs.

The next day was something we’d waited for a long time – the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races. We got up to Lake Lanier at 8:30 in the morning on Saturday, and stayed until after two. In between those hours almost 25 of us in the LC hung out in the AJC Foods tent (our partner and sponsor) where we enjoyed plenty of free food and free beer from 5 Seasons Brewing, and racing in the two time trials and finally after the opening ceremonies in the actual race. It was hard but a lot of fun – between our first heat and the third and actual “this-one-really-counts” heat we halved our time due to better teamwork and rowing, and we even won our division! No matter that there were only two teams in our division and AJC was the other one… we win a sweet paddle.

A picture from the event can be found at

I returned from the dragon boat races exhausted but happy at the fun we’d had all before 2 PM. I went to Dave’s and watched GT lose to VT (ugh), and was really bottoming out from exhaustion for a bit. But later things were okay – my man Matt from the BHMpire came with his band Hayden Corner to play Phi Delt, and we got some Majestic beforehand and then after his show we hung out at my place. Today I did homework and had LTM.

Potluck dinner tomorrow night. I just sent out the LCP application. The end is nigh, but I don’t want it to be.