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C. Fraser Smith: Looking for the buy-in

When the mayor and the governor decide on a response to the Freddie Gray challenge, they will need buy-in.

But buy-in to what?

So far nothing approaching the necessary effort has been laid on the table. That’s a shame. People all over the city are wondering what can be done – if simply to show concern. We are wasting energy and time. The buy-in is there.

But there is nothing.

We have eager citizens – thinkers and doers — ready to sign onto almost anything.

We might have known. Baltimore has many good programs, many involved citizens. For years, observers have said all this energy would be more powerful if it were organized and focused. Is this a moment of opportunity to achieve more effective effort?

New thinking may have to precede buy-in.

Something on the order of Depression-era commitment seems to be needed.

Or maybe not. Maybe something considerably smaller in scope is more doable – something that could grow and attract wide support.

Buy-in means acceptance, yes. But to work well, it means acceptance plus commitment.

Long-term commitment. Any effort to address the issues illuminated by Freddie Gray’s life will demand concerted effort.

People are right to ask questions about previous, costly efforts to improve quality of life, to deal with drug abuse, joblessness, lead poisoning and food deserts.

But is there no way to start again, using what we’re learned? Again, I don’t suggest it’s easy.

Will Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agree on anything? Are they meeting?

We are talking about leadership here. We are talking the language of leadership, words that further define the mission and its importance.

History gives us many examples.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” President Franklin Roosevelt famously said.

One of the many Marylanders ready to act is Tom Riley, a retired NASA engineer. He sent me an email, offering to share what he has learned from his study of mass buy-in as a social and political dynamic.

Roosevelt’s words created change in 14 minutes.

“People took their money out of the mattresses and put in the banks,” he says.

People were, of course, desperate. The Depression seemed unrelenting. Which way to turn? Toward FDR, as we know.

People bought in to Roosevelt’s soothing, calming words.

Buy-in arrived on the winds of change: The stakes were literally life and death. The drive for racial and gender equality has been a powerful motivator as well.

Recovery from the Freddie Gray unrest will be a further challenge because the roots are deep. The citizenry as a whole is affected – but doesn’t always understand that.

This is where language becomes important. How will the mayor and the governor sell their ideas – if they have any ideas?

Will they talk about the importance of community? Will they invoke a One-Baltimore or a One Maryland theme? Will they amass data to illustrate something they are certain to say:

“We’re all in this together.”

They would be fortunate indeed to find the language and tone of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I have a dream,” he said, perhaps assuming that many Americans shared his dream.

You need the dream and the language – because the language, Riley says, allows you to imagine a new and healthier future.

“You have to have people envisioning themselves succeeding,” he says. Black ministers in Baltimore concluded mass civil rights action happened when people began to feel they could win.

The reform movement, if there is one, has thrown down some challenges.

“If you want peace, work for justice.” That’s some of the language.

Think about it.

 C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is    


One comment


    Leadership is key. People need to be inspired and believe they can succeed. Attitudes need to be positive and looking forward. We cannot change the past, only learn from it. Baltimore needs to stop having so many victims. Baltimore needs hope! The only thing in life we have control over is our Attitude! The foundations are Baltimore have crumbled.