Let’s Get Serious About Power
I’ve been thinking a lot about power these days. Power for good. What it means to build power. And our collective ambivalence around power, particularly in the anti-violence movement.
As we think about how to reorient our movement around a social change agenda, we cannot escape the question of power. Social change necessarily requires a shift in power. We know this, and yet it can be hard to embrace—particularly given the many ways that power is used against us. This dynamic is important to recognize and I believe it is precisely why our movement needs to get clear about what power is and how we build it.
Many of our sister movements have grappled much better with their collective relationship to power. As an activist in the LGBT movement many years ago, I remember my very first lesson was about power—specifically, I was taught that power = organized people + organized money. This simple equation was revolutionary to my young queer self, and so very exciting. It held the promise that power was something we could get proactive about, something we could control and build for ourselves. It suggested that if we were organized, we didn’t need to be in the majority to win. And it suggested that power could be quantified, that we could know—with precision—how much we had and how much we needed.
Although this way of looking at power is not the only useful way of thinking about it, I believe it helps to clarify its fundamental building blocks. It helps reorient us to what we can do and where we must focus.
Organized People. As anti-violence activists, where are our people? Who are our people? What is the role of grassroots organizing in our movement? How many will it take to reach critical mass? We need a strategy for building “our base”—something we don’t talk much about in the anti-violence movement. Who is responsible for building our base? What are we asking them to do? How does this relate to our existing infrastructure and focus on direct services, healing and empowerment?
Organized Money. How does our movement think about money? How do we organize more strategically around it? What does it look like to take a proactive, forward stance around money? Can we reimagine the relationship between activists and funders? How do we engage in community-based fundraising? Perhaps most importantly, what is the specific vision and agenda that we are asking people to put their money (and energy) behind? How much will it cost to achieve?
Arguably these are some of the important questions that we might collectively take up as we reorient our movement toward building power and achieving social change.
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