You get as much justice as you have the power to compel.
Dr Martin Luther King
The justice you are seeking, be it getting someone elected, to saving a zebra crossing, requires power. Power is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the ability or capacity to act”. It is a neutral verb that can be used for good or bad. We want more people to be able to act for good. That is the only power we are interested in building. We whole-heartedly search, develop and build community power. Why? Because for us to be winning, we need to organise more power than they can.
When we hear the word power we often think of dominant power or power over. A power forced on us, with no freedom to choose. It can and does have devastating effects on our lives. I’m not saying all dominant power is bad. I used to stick my pinky in sharpeners as a child; thankfully my mum would use her dominant power to put them in a drawer out of my reach. But dominant power is not power we are interested in building.
Act Build Change builds power with; relational power. It is the power of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, workers movement; all grass-roots movements. We also build power within. The inner belief that comes from personal reflection and taking part in solidarity work. Power within is the belief in yourself to make change in your life and your world. These two powers, we will develop together.
You are powerful
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
All of us have some power. During my work on Syrian refugee resettlement in London, I worked with Syrian refugees, who people often call powerless. They have no home, no passport, no money, no job. Yet they are some of the most powerful people I have ever worked with. Their courage and power within to keep building, to keep trying. How they have been able to organise themselves in spaces that are so unfamiliar to them, is resilient and powerful.
Recently, one of the first families myself and a small team resettled, got in touch to say they are going to have a baby. When they arrived, such opportunity and happiness did not seem possible. The parents and their two children had been through horror most of us could not imagine. Within a year, this family who arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, has a small flat, are volunteering within their local community, and we can now speak to each other in english; when they arrived they couldn’t speak a word.
If you look down what do you see? Your feet, or wheels or crutches. You can show up and you can refuse to leave. You can always act in some way to resist. We all have a story, so all of us can change hearts and minds and bring people with us. If you believe this is all pie in apple’s sky, look to the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Arab spring, the Zapatistas movement, the Dreamers: history proves you wrong.
Be awake to how you let power play out
When building any movement, campaign or team, think carefully about whose power you are raising. Check who is speaking and who is not? Who is in the space and who is not? Who is leading and who is not? Reflect on your assumptions and challenge them. Nothing is perfect and you will get better over time. Always be open to feedback, apologise when you mess up and take time to self-learn, reflect and grow.