Monday, November 26, 2012

Member Engagement Solution #10: Engagement Is About Much More Than Just Volunteering

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I've mentioned previously that I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE, something we're calling an Innovation Circle. Ours is focused on member engagement, and you can get an overview of what it is and what we're trying to achieve with it here.

I've previously posted on some of the member engagement issues people in the Circle are wrestling with. Now, I'm sharing a some of the solutions the group is coming forward with--strategies that have been demonstrated to work in at least one association environment. This is the tenth and final post in that series. Previous posts include:

#1: Don't Forget the Fun
#2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy
#3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions
#4: Manage Volunteer Transitions
#5: Don't Waste a Volunteer's Time
#6: Provide Structure, But Not Too Much
#7: Advisory Groups Can Be Tremendous Win-Wins
#8: Effective Orientation and Interaction is Key
#9: Discourage Non-Performance By Rewarding Performance

As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments.

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Member Engagement Solution #10: Engagement Is About Much More Than Just Volunteering

There are many forms of engagement, and volunteering is only one of them. Joining, participating, advocating are all forms of engagement, and none of them should be neglected when it comes to thinking about increasing membership engagement in your association. By letting members define how they wish to be engaged and then removing as many barriers to that engagement as possible, and association can experience an across-the-board rise in all forms of engagement.

I'm going to take exception to this one. That may seem crazy, but this series has been about concepts discussed by the people in the WSAE Innovation Circle on Member Engagement, and I'm not going to agree with everything everyone says. That's okay. Not everyone is going to agree with me, either. So here goes.

Member engagement IS all about volunteering--about members volunteering some portion of their time and talent to help the association achieve goals it has set from itself. You may want to call something else you're worried about member engagement--membership growth, for example, or conference participation, or sales of your association products--but none of these are truly about member engagement. If you call them that, you're missing the point.

Joining an organization isn't engagement. Going to one of their conferences isn't either. And neither is buying any of their products. These are all transactions--an organization providing a valued service--and there isn't anything unique or special about your association when it provides these services. Your members may value these services, but if they find the same or better service offered by someone else for the same or lower price, they'll jump ship in a minute. They will because they're not really engaged in your association. They have no skin in the game.

That all changes when they take on a volunteer role in your organization. They stop being a customer and start being a creator--part of the way the association develops and provides those services. Now they're on the inside, not the outside, and that's ultimately where you want them to be. Because now they will have allegiance to your association. They will truly view themselves as part of it, and they will look to it to improve and will want to take an active role in helping it get better. It's no longer them. Now the association is us.

This is what I think about when I think about member engagement--and it's the objective to which all of my member engagement strategies are aimed. I don't want more customers. I want more creators helping me build the association they need for tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Too Big to Measure

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This is a true story. My association Board chair and I were chatting not long ago, talking about the mission and big-picture objectives of our association, and I mentioned, literally without giving it a second thought, that we were incapable of measuring progress on some of the things we had set for ourselves.

It was only the look of shock that passed over his face that made me step back and think about what I had just said.

Maybe I was thinking about Shelly Alcorn's recent post, Is Your Mission Bigger Than What You Can Measure?, where she argues that associations had better be focused on things that are difficult to measure. If you can measure it, she seems to say, you're not aiming high enough.

Or maybe I was thinking about Seth Godin's recent post, Avoiding the False Proxy Trap, where he cautions against settling for something that's easy to measure as a proxy for what you're truly trying to achieve. Tactics that you employ to move the proxy needle will likely have very little to do with affecting change for the bigger picture.

Thought-provoking stuff. But what was more likely on my mind was an email discussion I had recently had with Jamie Notter in response to his post, Taking High Performance Seriously. Reacting to a much-circulated slide show from Netflix on their "high performance" culture and values, Jamie insightfully suggested that achieving high performance was more difficult than the slide show lets on--and that at least part of that difficulty was related to determining what to measure.

So if you want to get serious about “high performance,” then I say go for it. Let’s raise the bar. But get ready for the hard work of clarity. Get ready to spend some time (involving everyone) in determining what to measure (and how). And please don’t default to what we already know (hours worked, or overall organizational performance). We need more sophistication than that if we’re going to do this right (I was happy to see that Netflix says hours worked is “not relevant”). We can’t assume our people are like cogs in a machine, where we KNOW they accomplish more if they spin on their axis for 10 hours than they do if they spin for 8. We can’t oversimplify it and say if the company does well, then everyone is performing well. Let’s roll up our sleeves and experiment with some new metrics and try to learn enough from the experiments that we can create the clarity that would truly drive a “high-performance” culture.

I thought it was great advice. Something I wanted to learn from. So I reached out to Jamie, asking him for a reference to an organization who had done exactly what he was advocating, who had done or was doing the hard work of engaging everyone to determine what to measure and how. I thought he would know of at least a handful off the top of his head.

Turns out he didn't know any. Not one.

It's an interesting conundrum. Pledge yourself to something that can be measured and achieve things of lesser significance. Or pledge yourself to something of great significance and give up on the idea of finding a metric that truly tracks your progress.

Does any one know of a third choice?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Inner Circle by T. C. Boyle

I think this is my least favorite Boyle novel so far. It’s still a great read, but it’s a different kind of novel than all the other Boyle books I’ve read.

First, let’s mention the prose. It’s mature and sharp, but it lacks that rollicking flow that so permeates most of Boyle’s work. And I was ready for that thrilling ride. I had my pen in hand this time, ready to underline every precisely turned phrase, confident that there would be more than could reasonably be counted, and that I would be stuck picking some at random as a representative sample.

But there weren’t that many. “I was lonely, bored to tears, masturbating twice a day in my attic room that was like a sweatbox in a penal institution” comes on page 4, but the next one, “Unfortunately, it was insulated about as thoroughly as an orange crate…” doesn’t show up until page 33, and then, it’s a wait until page 76 for “…her mouth drawn down to nothing, a slash, a telltale crack in the porcelain shell of her shining, martyred face.” Eventually, I put the pen down, disappointed that it wasn’t getting more use.

I took me a while to realize what the problem was. The novel is in the first person and Boyle’s narrator, John Milk, just doesn’t have the traditional Boyle flamboyance in him. The New York Times review of the book called Milk as bland as his name, and that’s pretty much true. Maybe it is something Boyle did purposely, but the lack of his traditional flair really called my attention to Milk’s voice. The fact that he is supposedly speaking the novel extemporaneously into a tape recorder made the occasional flourishes not welcome but actually out of place. Add that to the fact that Milk is a stutterer—stumbling over his words whenever he quotes himself directly. (Who would do that, by the way? I stutter, but not when speaking into a tape recorder, except when I am repeating words I actually said. Then I recreate the stutter I used at the time.) The whole thing just kind of falls in on itself.

Still, there are moments when Boyle—and I do mean Boyle, not Milk—puts you directly in the scene, and sends chills up and down your spine. In case you didn’t know, the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey is a major character in this book—called Prok, as in Professor K, and he’s Milk’s employer, mentor and sometimes sex partner—and Milk, along with several other assistants, help Kinsey collect sexual histories from tens of thousands of people. There’s one scene where they secretly arrange to meet a subject that falls well outside the bell curve of normal sexual behavior. He’s called Mr. X, and he shares with Milk and the others some evidence of his exploits.

The photographs—there were a hundred or more—had the most immediate effect. I remember one in particular, which showed only the hand of an adult, with its outsized fingers, manipulating the genitalia of an infant—a boy, with a tiny, twig-like erection—and the look on the infant’s face, its eyes unfocused, mouth open, hands groping at nothing, and the sensation it gave me. I felt myself go cold all over, as if I were still in the bathtub, standing rigid beneath the icy shower. I glanced at Corcoran, whose face showed nothing, and then at Prok, who studied the photograph a moment and pronounced it “Very interesting, very interesting indeed.” He leaned in close to me to point out the detail, and said, “You see, Milk, here is definite proof of infantile sexuality, and whether it’s an anomaly or not, of course, is yet to be demonstrated statistically—”

It is exactly this kind of clinical detachment that subsumes the novel and attracts Milk. I’ve written before about how most of Boyle’s work seems to focus on the contrasts and commonalities between two primary characters—whether they are Ned Rise and Mungo Park or Will Lightbody and Charlie Ossining. Well, in The Inner Circle, the two contrasting characters are both Milk—Milk’s basic human nature and the aspiring ideal he has of himself. And it is the clinical standards of detachment that Prok introduces to him that puts these characters into conflict with one another.

I don’t suppose it will come as a surprise if I told you I had trouble concentrating on my work that day. As much as I tried to fight them down, I was prey to my emotions—stupidly, I know. Falsely. Anachronistically. I kept telling myself I was a sexologist, that I had a career and a future and a new outlook altogether, that I was liberated from all those petty, Judeo-Christian constraints that had done such damage over the centuries, but it was no good. I was hurt. I was jealous. I presented my ordinary face to Prok and, through the doorway and across the expanse of the inner room, to Corcoran, but I was seething inside, burning, violent and deranged with the gall of my own inadequacy and failure—my own sins—and I kept seeing the stooped demeaning figure of the cuckold in the commedia dell’arte no matter how hard I tried to dismiss it. I stared at Corcoran when he wasn’t looking. I studied the way he scratched at his chin or tapped the pencil idly on the surface of the blotting pad as if he were knocking out the drumbeat to some private rhapsody. Kill him! a voice screamed in my head. Get up now and kill him!

Corcoran has slept with Milk’s wife. It’s something that Prok encouraged, a freedom not enjoyed by the tormented specimens they study. But Milk can’t accept it. There is something immovable within him that is jealous and horrified by the idea, even though he is welcome to sleep with any woman or man in their entourage.

The device lends a kind of lurid fascination to the entire novel. You don’t quite know what Prok is going to expect his henchmen to do next, and whether Milk will do it with self-abandon or self-abuse. In the end, it is his wife Doris that stands out as the incorruptible ideal, although it is not the hedonistic kind of which Prok would approve. She, and not Milk, is the agent of volition within the novel, and that makes for a strange and sometimes surreal ride.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Member Engagement Solution #9: Discourage Non-Performance by Rewarding Performance

image source
I've mentioned previously that I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE, something we're calling an Innovation Circle. Ours is focused on member engagement, and you can get an overview of what it is and what we're trying to achieve with it here.

I've previously posted on some of the member engagement issues people in the Circle are wrestling with. Now, I'm sharing a some of the solutions the group is coming forward with--strategies that have been demonstrated to work in at least one association environment. This is the ninth post in that series. Previous posts include:

#1: Don't Forget the Fun
#2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy
#3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions
#4: Manage Volunteer Transitions
#5: Don't Waste a Volunteer's Time
#6: Provide Structure, But Not Too Much
#7: Advisory Groups Can Be Tremendous Win-Wins
#8: Effective Orientation and Interaction is Key

As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments as we go along.

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Member Engagement Solution #9: Discourage Non-Performance by Rewarding Performance

Many associations struggle with volunteers or volunteer committees that don’t perform useful functions for their associations. And yet many provide recognition and rewards for all volunteer positions, even those that have not contributed. Although it may be difficult, it is essential to publicly reward only those behaviors that provide positive contributions to what the association is trying to achieve. Recruiting volunteer leaders that agree with this philosophy is key, as it is often they who will be on the front line of having to confront under-performing members of their volunteer team.

This is one of the solutions that is much easier to state than it is to implement, especially in any association that has already established a practice of rewarding all volunteers regardless of their contributions. As I've started sharing some of these ideas more widely, it's a question that comes up repeatedly. The question takes many forms, but at its very essence it is borne of frustration. How does one affect change when there are powerful forces aligned against the change that is sought?

The answer is not one that many want to hear. How does one affect change in these situations? Slowly and with dogged determination.

Maybe it starts with questions. One might ask, why do we reward all volunteers equally when some volunteers contribute more than others? Everyone should agree with that, right? Even in an association where all volunteers are rewarded, some would be deserving of higher recognition than others, wouldn't they? Maybe the first step would be to create a recognition award for outstanding volunteer service, and to be very clear and specific about the contributions and achievements that are necessary to obtain it. Maybe that could serve as a new model by which volunteer contributions would be measured, and maybe that will begin to shape the organization's perceptions about volunteer service and the recognition that comes with it.

Now, don't start objecting. I know that question won't work in your association. The leaders won't like it. We already have multiple levels of recognition. The dog ate my homework. It's all okay. The question wasn't intended as a key that will magically transform your organization. It was meant as an example of the doggedness that you have to show if you're serious about affecting that change.

Maybe you're asking the wrong person. Or maybe you're asking it at the wrong time. Try someone else. Try again next year. Or try another question. Try something and keep trying. Believe it or not, you're the only person in the organization who can bring about the change you seek because you may be the only person who sees the need for it.

Does that deter you? Why? What do you have to lose?

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Member Engagement Experiment

As I talked about previously, I gave a webinar on November 2, 2012 (rescheduled from an original date of October 30 because of Hurricane Sandy), on "What Does Member Engagement Mean To You?" Unfortunately, because of some lingering difficulties related to the storm, I was not able to complete the presentation, and so I promised to record and post to my blog some supplementary material about a member engagement experiment that’s going on in my own organization.

Whether or not you saw the original webinar, I'm hoping you'll take a few minutes to review this material, and give me some feedback in the comment section of this post.

The supplementary webinar, "A Member Engagement Experiment," can be downloaded here.

If you'd like to watch the original webinar, it can be viewed here.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Attention Deficit Democracy by Jim Bovard

Another one of those libertarian-leaning books. And like Who Killed the Constitution?, this one leaves me rethinking much of what I once thought about the country I live in.

Bovard has two main observations to make. The first is that, despite popular opinion to the contrary, “we the people” are not in control of our government.

In 1693, William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote what could be the motto for modern American government. “Let the people think they govern, and they will be governed.” Rulers endlessly assure people that they are in charge—while creating agency after agency, program after program that people can neither comprehend nor control. Americans’ political thinking is becoming akin to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance—a series of bromides that sink into the mind and stifle independent, critical thought.

It wasn’t always this way. Early in our nation’s history, the majority of people were suspicious of federal power, and actively worked to curtail it.

Wariness toward government was one of the most important bulwarks of American freedom. Representative government worked partly because people were skeptical of congressmen, presidents, and government officials across the board.

But Bovard says that all began to change in the 1900s, and really accelerated during the New Deal, when “government was placed on a pedestal.”

And it seems that the people most enamored with government are the people in the government itself. There is one vignette, about the publication by the Harvard University Press of a book titled Why People Don’t Trust Government, that is quite revealing.

Britain’s Times Higher Education Supplement published an interview with Joseph Nye, the book’s senior editor and dean of the Kennedy School. The Times reported that “the book, and its subject matter, are being taken seriously in the highest political circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Nye was among a group of American experts led by Hillary Clinton who recently came to Britain for a seminar on the book attended by, among others, Tony Blair, who left clutching a copy.” The book—and Nye’s move from the Clinton administration to Harvard—was prompted by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Nye explained: “I was preoccupied that people could become so anti-government that they were capable of an act like that.” Why People Don’t Trust Government had no mention of Waco. Nye lamented: “All the evidence is that government and politicians are at least as honest as they were in the past, but that isn’t the impression people are getting.” Three days after the interview was published, a Washington Post banner headline heralded the start of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Monica Lewinsky is not a troubling as what happened at Waco, but the point is well made. The people in government and their academic colleagues sit there and scratch their heads, wondering why the people don’t trust them, while scandal after scandal pours out of Washington. It’s frankly laughable that they can be both so educated and so blind. Bovard sums it up well.

The tone of disbelief in Why People Don’t Trust Government is at times almost comical. Harvard professor Gary Orren wrote: “The public has not only lost faith in the ability of government to solve problems, but it has actually come to believe that government involvement will just make matters worse.”

But it’s not all fun and games. This lack of trust in government has a darker side, and I’m not talking about blowing up buildings or other acts of domestic terrorism. Bovard also quotes Gary Wills, from A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government.

Many people find themselves surprised at the sympathy they can feel for even outrageous opponents of government—as was demonstrated when popular support blossomed for the anti-government forces holed up with David Koresh at Waco, Texas, or with Randy Weaver, who defied the FBI at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. … But the real victims of our fear are not those faced with such extreme action. … The real victims are millions of poor or shelterless or medically indigent who have been told, over the years, that they must lack care or life support in the name of their very own freedom. Better for them to starve than to be enslaved by “big government.” That is the real cost of our anti-government values.

This makes me think of much of the modern Republican Party, comprised of low and middle-income white America, who stand to lose more than they stand to gain by fighting for the rhetorical liberty that so many false Republican prophets proclaim during their stump speeches.

Loss of control over lawmakers and the resulting increase in distrusting government is, I think, an observable phenomenon, but Bovard’s second observation is more sinister. It is that our perception of democracy as a grand liberating force is flawed, and that this perception, or misperception, is directly responsible for our enslavement. Bovard puts it this way:

The issue is not whether democracy is good or evil, but that seeing democracy as an absolute good open the gates to great evil.


The more people who believe democracy is failsafe, the more likely it will fail. Attention Deficit Democracy produces the attitudes, ignorance, and arrogance that pave the way to political collapse.

I find it to be a persuasive argument. The thought that Who Killed the Constitution? exposed me to—that a government that is responsible for policing itself will inevitably drift towards at best cronyism and at worst tyranny—seems equally applicable to democracies as much as other forms of government. Why would they offer any special protection?

So what does Bovard prescribe for this malaise? I’m not sure he’s clear on that, but it is in his Conclusion that he comes closest to issuing a call to action.

It is time to de-sacralize democracy. Being crowned a winner by the Electoral College does not give one American the right to dispose of all other Americans’ lives and liberties. If we want a new birth of freedom, we must cease glorifying oppressive political machinery. Most of what the government does has little or nothing to do with “the will of the people.” The combination of ignorant voters and conniving politicians is far more likely to ruin than rescue this nation. In the same way that our forefathers in the 1770s refused to be grabbed off the streets and pressed into His Majesty’s navy, so today’s Americans must cease permitting politicians to impose one scheme and fraud after another.

It’s an appealing message for me, but I am not sure how practical it is. Most Americans are uninterested in politics and the activities of politicians. Those that are interested are lost (I think) in an ideological battle between a Left and a Right that increasingly have more in common than the small issues that separate them. I do agree with Bovard when he writes:

The sin of most political activists today is that they want to be anti-conservative or anti-liberal, anti-Republican or anti-Democratic, without being anti-Leviathan.

What is a liberty-minded individual to do? The central message of Bovard’s book is a powerful one.

We must recognize that mankind has not yet devised stable, lasting institutions that can safeguard rights without spawning oppression.

I used to think we had. I used to think—and was taught—that America was that stable and lasting institution. But, increasingly, I am no longer sure.

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Much of this book reads like a series of loosely connected essays. Bovard’s focus on the two main observations I describe above comprise only a portion of the text. The balance is a cavalcade of libertarian tropes.

The government always lies us into war:

Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 provided a challenge for the first Bush administration to get Americans mobilized. In September 1990, the Pentagon announced that up to a quarter million Iraqi troops were near the border of Saudi Arabia, threatening to give Saddam Hussein a stranglehold on one of the world’s most important oil sources. The Pentagon based its claim on satellite images that it refused to disclose. One American paper, the St. Petersburg Times, purchased two Soviet satellite “images taken of that same area at the same time that revealed that there were no Iraqi troops ‘near the Saudi border—just empty desert.’” Jean Heller, the journalist who broke the story, commented, “That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist.” Even a decade after the first Gulf War, the Pentagon refused to disclose the secret photos that justified sending half a million American troops into harm’ way.

Bovard goes into some depth on this general theme, quoting some people throughout history who observed how governments convince their citizens to go to war. Here’s author Randolph Bourne after the United States entered World War I:

Government, with no mandate from the people, without consultation of the people, conducts all the negotiations, the backing and filling, the menaces and explanations, which slowly bring it into collision with some other Government, and gently and irresistibly slides the country into war. For the benefit of proud and haughty citizens, it is fortified with a list of the intolerable insults which have been hurled toward us by the other nations; for the benefit of the liberal and beneficent, it had a convincing set of moral purposes which our going to war will achieve; for the ambitious and aggressive classes, it can gently whisper of a bigger role in the destiny of the world.

And here’s an interesting exchange between Hermann Goering and an interviewer during his Nuremberg trial:

Goering: “Of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. … But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along.”

Interviewer: “There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

Goering: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

It’s almost as if there is a science to this—to taking a nation to war. And, if that’s so, are we fools to think that our leaders aren’t students of that science?

Here’s another trope, that the priorities of government are surreal:

In the spring of 2005, Congress showed vastly more enthusiasm for investigating steroid use by baseball players than torture by the U.S. government. Congressmen were more concerned about the sanctity of home run records than they were about the CIA or military interrogators killing innocent people. IN August 2005, the House Government Reform Committee opened a perjury investigation of a baseball player who had testified to the committee that he did not use steroids but tested positive for steroid use a few months later. Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) piously announced that “we have a obligation to look at this.” Perhaps this obligation to scrutinize private misconduct is the flipside of their obligation to ignore government atrocities.

And a thing I plan to use in future arguments:

For those who continue to fail to understand how American actions abroad can motivate foreigners to hate our government, Bovard offers one of the most compelling “shoe on the other foot” examples I’ve come across.

Many Americans have remained oblivious to the impact that the Abu Ghraib photos and other torture reports have on foreigners. How would Americans have responded if the roles had been reversed? Consider the case of Jessica Lynch, the 20-year-old blond, blue-eyed, attractive West Virginian Army supply clerk captured after her supply convoy was attacked during the invasion of Iraq. The Pentagon and the Washington Post trumpeted grossly deceptive accounts of her capture and rescue that were later exposed as frauds (and which Lynch disavowed). What if Americans had seen photos of Lynch with blood running from cuts on her thighs, cowering before attack dogs lurching at her? What if Americans saw photos of a hooded Lynch with wires attached to her body, looking like she was awaiting electrocution? What if Americans saw videos of Lynch screaming as she was being assaulted by Iraqi captors? Such evidence would likely have swayed millions of Americans to support dropping nuclear bomb on Iraq. And yet many Americans refuse to recognize how similar evidence inflames Arabs’ attitudes towards the United States.

And some things that I just didn’t know.

The Abu Ghraib photos were only the tip of the iceberg. Far more incriminating photos and videos of abuses existed, which Pentagon officials revealed in a slide show for members of Congress. However, the Bush administration slapped a national security classification on almost all of the photos and videos not already acquired by the media. Rumsfeld told Congress that the undisclosed material showed “acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman.” Highlights included “American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, a taping Iraqi guards raping young boys,” according to NBC News. Suppressing this evidence enabled the Bush administration to persuade many people that the scandal was actually far narrower than the facts would later show.

Finally, in the course of his book, Bovard time and again gives me new perspective on issues I had long thought were settled. For example, we’re taught in school that, early in our nation’s history, the right to vote has reserved only for white men who owned property. That has always struck me as short-sighted and archaic. But read this:

In the era of the Founders, few things were more dreaded than “dependency”—not being one’s own man, not having a truly independent will because of reliance on someone or something else to survive. One of the glories of America was the possibility that common people could become self-reliant with hard work and discipline. John Philip Reid summarized eighteenth-century political thinking: “Property was independence; lack of property was servility, even servitude. … A man without independent wealth could easily be bought and bribed. A man of property has a will of his own.” This was part of the reason why many of the states initially required a property qualification for voters. Sir William Blackstone, whose work on the English constitution profoundly influenced Americans, observed that a property qualification for suffrage was necessary because if the property-less “had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other.” Thomas Jefferson warned: “Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”

This is a view I have never taken before, and certainly never have been offered before. Depriving certain citizens of the right to vote still may not be the proper course of action, but knowing that the motivation for the property qualification was maintaining an independent electorate rather than racism changes the view of the problem.