What is Power? How does it work?
Power is the ability to act.
Power is not good or bad. It is how you use it and toward what end.
Power unchecked or unaccountable can corrupt – it can also reveal…
Power is not a zero sum game – there is not a limited amount.
Power is not set, it is relational. People power has the ability to alter the relationship.
Exercising our power consciously can manifest the outcomes we desire.
There are different kinds of power:
- Power Over – that’s what the boss or state use
- Power With – horizontal organizing, that what we need to model and build
- Power Within – every single one of us has power to act. For some this is also spirit – a willingness to be fully alive, present and participating as an agent of change.
- Power Under – when we give up the power that we have, when we say we can’t instead of won’t.
Sources of Identified Power:
- Authority or Legitimacy
- Human Resources
- Material Resources
- Skills and Knowledge
- Psychological Factors
What kind of power do we need?
- Organized people – collectives, unions, coalitions, cooperatives
- Organized money – pooling funds, dues etc, collectively we have more
- Organized actions/votes – political power to persuade, convince, coerce just action
We live in a culture or world of Power Over…. No matter where you look —in workplaces, communities, states or nations – the power dynamics are the same. We look to those people with money or political power or some other authority – mother, father, priest, teacher, doctor, and newscaster etc to tell us what to do. The power of the people relies on our collective spirit and many people taking collective action toward the same goal. It is by nature decentralized and horizontal. Right now we don’t have enough power to create the kind of world we want and the State does lots of things to insure we don’t get it. Once we begin to understand how power works, we can learn how to organize to build more….
The State (Boss) is able to maintain itself because we let them. “All those who govern derive their power from the consent of the governed.”
We cooperate, we go along…why…because we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t. The State (or Boss) in subtle and not so subtle ways will show by example what the cost can be if you don’t go along. In the workplace the ultimate punishment is often firing a worker, but outside the workplace people have been killed as a result of their struggle for justice.
It is not the punishment that keeps us obedient it is the fear of punishment.
But obedience is not inevitable. We must organize in ways that overcome fear, apathy and neutrality. We do this by taking one step at a time, building support around each other and escalating to the next step. We do this by giving our opponent the opportunity to do the right thing and when they don’t, we escalate again and again until we have won or completely withdrawn our cooperation. To make withdrawing our cooperation possible, we must understand the consequences of our actions. If we are willing to assume the consequence, there is nothing they can do to stop us.
So we see that in this paradigm, we begin to take our power back when we refuse to go along, when we no longer cooperate with the injustice. This is a choice. When we see power as an exercise of choices, we begin to see that every day, every moment gives us an opportunity to exercise our power and that our choices become opportunities to either liberate or oppress. When people cross lines that typically divide, they generate power, power that builds spirit and trust and conscious organizing. That is one of the greatest challenges of an organizer – how to bring diverse communities into respectful relationship with one another, where using or losing privilege strategically can equalize power and spread access to resources to those who have the least, where those most impacted have the greatest voice.