People Should Have the Ability to Lead a Life They Have Reason to Value

Sarah Mulachy talks about her first week in Washington DC

Sarah Mulcahy

“One of the things about Accenture is we develop leaders who want to be followed” – We’re listening to Kevin Laudano, Global Managing Director of Accenture speak about Project Management. It’s clammy and wet outside. I’m starting to get those feelings I now recognize as extreme tiredness: headache behind my forehead and in the center; acidic feeling in my stomach, but it is incredible out here.

Over the past few days we have heard from the foremost political commentators in DC, Mark Shields and E J Dionne; we have spoken with Dean Treanor of Georgetown Law and heard his opinions on President Obama’s healthcare legislation; we have listened to the founder of Politico and we have spoken with Professor Maria Wagner of Georgetown University on the subject of International Development. It has been a blur of opinions, insight and advice. Still, across these domains, certain themes hold strong. For me, these themes are the integral importance of common identity, and common vision.

Kevin Laudano of Accenture spoke of the importance of defining key common milestones, checkpoints and achievements as a way to keep enthusiasm for a project going. Professor Maria Wagner, speaking on the subject of poverty alleviation defined ‘lack of access’ to societal norms and institutions as a key factor in perpetuating poverty, claiming that the idea of hope and the psychology of vision is central to getting people out of the poverty trap. Dean Treanor of Georgetown Law asserted that one of the most important elements of the American Constitution is its linguistic device of inclusion. It begins with the words, “We the people of the United States”- the wording was added in the last draft in 1789. Mark Shields and E J Dionne spoke of the decay of political affiliation along labor lines, with other modes of identity, like sexual orientation, taking over as key political cleavages today. Shields noted that perhaps as a result, there has been a ‘hallowing out of the middle class’, as labor unions and collective wage bargaining fall into decline across the American political landscape. These insights spoke to me, re-affirming how the human need for identity, belonging and celebration can be harnessed to develop common cause and common vision; essential tools for driving change.

This week, I was given the opportunity to chair a panel discussion with Jim Boland, President of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and others on the role of unions. I am particularly interested in a phenomenon that has occurred across wealthy OECD countries, where common identity based upon income has declined. This phenomenon is marked by the decrease in labor union membership. It has been shown that the single most significant occurrence corresponding to increased wage inequality across OECD countries is this decline in unions. In comparative studies, it has more significance than globalization of markets, SBTC (skill-based-technological change), and partisanship (left or right wing government in power) in driving wage inequality. For me, the messages throughout the week fed my understanding of why this phenomenon is significant, and what steps can be taken to rebalance inequality in our societies today. A radical redefinition of cause and purpose- perhaps along labor lines, perhaps along other modes of identity- is needed, one that draws in people who today, are significantly disenfranchised from involvement in the political sphere, and deprived of the capacity to make themselves and their desires heard. A phrase that stuck with me was Maria Wagner’s simple statement that, “people should have the ability to lead a life they have reason to value”. Hopefully, over the next seven weeks here in DC, it will become more apparent to me where I fit in, in making that statement a reality.