By Kevin Krummes, IBEW 1245 Organizing Steward
Photos by John Storey
Risk. What do you think of when you hear that word? Maybe the classic board game springs to mind. Maybe you imagine yourself sitting in the bleachers when the Giants play the Dodgers. Maybe, if you’re single, it means trying an online dating service for the first time.
These are all valid perceptions of “risk,” but for the IBEW 1245 Organizing Stewards who gathered at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy in Monterey in mid-September, the concept of risk took on a new meaning – as an element of strong leadership.
The special Panetta Institute event was hosted by Leon Panetta himself, a former Congressman, Secretary of Defense and CIA Director. Panetta was joined by his dynamic wife Sylvia, and the couple delivering a stirring, first-hand account of how all leaders must take risks to effectively lead. According to Panetta, sitting idly by and waiting for public opinion to change is not leadership- it’s just a feeble attempt to keep your job.
This message of taking a risk for what’s right really hit home with the Organizing Stewards, who know from first-hand experience how important risk-taking is in order to make a difference for themselves, their colleagues, or even people they’ve never met.
2016: Our Chance to Lead
Panetta convincingly argued that next year’s election will be the most critical referendum in 50 years. If we as Union members want to protect what is rightfully ours — what we have fought for and what our past brothers and sisters have died for –we need to LEAD. Union members must realize that our way of life is being threatened like never before, and if we want to pass our standard of living on to our children, we have to roll up our sleeves, get to work, and lead the way.
Some other takeaways from Panetta’s inspiring talk:
- We need to exude a sense of urgency to overcome the current climate of political dysfunction. As Panetta said, “America could go one of two ways – we can enter into an era of a great renaissance, or become a country moving slowly but surely into decline.” It was a powerful statement, one we’re not used to hearing, and as union members and American citizens, one we must heed. As Organizing Steward Pam Pendleton put it: “My thinking changed yesterday, and I’m remembering why I made the decision to become an organizer.”
The pivotal issue of immigration needs to be addressed, and it has to happen sooner rather than later. As the son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Panetta understands the important role that immigrants play in our country. “I loved hearing about his ‘Coming to America’ journey,” said Organizing Steward Walter Carmier. “These stories can bring us all together.”
- Common sense, courage, and the willingness to work hard are just some of the strengths of the American People. If our leaders can mirror these qualities, then America can once again regain its place as a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. On a related note, Panetta emphasized the importance of integrity. “Leaders must have it,” he declared. As Organizing Stewards and Union Members, it is imperative that all of us display our integrity daily. “I found it refreshing to learn that despite who he has worked for or what he has experienced, his integrity has not seemed to waiver,” noted Organizing Steward Lupe Johnson.
Perhaps the most fascinating risk-related anecdote Mr. Panetta shared was behind-the-scenes account of the operation that brought Bin Laden to justice, which took place while Mr. Panetta was CIA Director. Using all the information available, Panetta risked it all, both internationally and domestically, and recommended sending the Navy Seals on that fateful mission. We all know the outcome, but hearing how it came about and the courage it took to make that decision was gripping. Organizing Steward Logan Jonas summed it up: “[You have to] make a choice-no matter how difficult.”
- One final takeaway from our visit was the compelling partnership between Leon and Sylvia Panetta. In our brief time with them, we all noticed that their love, trust, and respect for each other was readily visible. They make a remarkable team. “What I enjoyed the most about our leadership training with Mr. Panetta was having his wife introduce him. The story behind how they met was cute. I enjoyed the passion that Sylvia shares with her husband,” remarked Organizing Steward Nilda Garcia.
Any day in Monterey is special, but spending an afternoon with one of America’s preeminent leaders was extraordinary. The energy in that room was palpable, and the resolve was off the charts. As we stare down the sights leading to the decisions of 2016, we only need harness the passion and dedication of the Panettas, and to use and live by his words – “Get out there and fight for what’s right!”