Governor Jerry Brown, c1976: an approach to protest

I would be part of the entourage and we’d go to some public event… and there outside the event would be the usual protesters about one thing or another. And I’d find myself trying to get Jerry [Brown, Governor of California] in, and we’re all of us late, “Come on, let’s keep moving,” and then he’d see the protesters and he’d veer off and go over and talk to them.

And we’re rolling our eyes, but here’s how he’d talk to protesters: he’d go over to whoever it looked like was being a spokesman, maybe they had the loudhailer or something, and he’d say “Glad you’re here, what’s on your mind?”

And they would start to say their trip, and he would listen for a bit and he’d say, “I think I got it… let me see if I got it.” And then he would say back to them their stance, often better than they had stated it, and you’d see them just melt. Because the thing that they wanted to have happen was for him to be aware of their position, and to understand it, and he’d just shown that he’d done that.

And they had the further hope that since it was known that Jerry occasionally changed his mind and his policy on things, that not only had he heard their position, he might even adopt it at some point. And so he could always engage and diffuse opposition with the fact that he could be persuaded out of a position that he’d publicly taken.

He was not a good speaker, he was not a charismatic character for the longest time, basically an introvert in public life, and yet that characteristic as much as any other – he did a lot of policy, he was very bright and eventually a very capable politician – but that characteristic I think opened him up to a very successful political career.

Stewart Brand speaking on The Tim Ferris Show #281

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