Not too long ago I finished a book by Naomi Alderman titled The Power. It’s a story about a world where women posses the power of electricity and how that changes gender roles and politics around the world. The opening chapters describes the fractal appearance, of lightning discharges, tree root systems and the like. That book got me to thinking about the nature of power and influence and its bearing on American life.
In America, just as its always been in the world those with power are the ones that controls what happens. People with power are loathe to give up the privilege and influence that comes with power. In this country nothing symbolizes power more than money. Those with money influences politicians, messaging (through the media), and the criminal justice system. Businesses with enough cash can donate to the coffers of those running for office thereby insuring their mutual beneficial interests. The owners of media conglomerates can perpetuate stereotypes of any kind and those depictions often become the truth in the minds of many viewers. If you’re rich and commit a crime you are far less likely to be jailed than if you are poor and commit a crime.
With so few people controlling so much of the wealth in this nation it can be disheartening to the average person that wants to make change. Decisions like Citizens United seem to nullify the voices of individuals while amplifying the voices of corporations. Elected officials doing their job badly get elected over and over while clearly criminal presidents go un impeached. While it may seem hopeless it’s important to know that it is not hopeless and we are absolutely not without power. We arguably have the most powerful role in American society and that is the role of citizen.
The power of the citizen is embedded in our US Constitution. Those elected to lead us derive their power from the citizen so ultimately it is the citizen that is the ultimate authority. The power we have though sometimes doesn’t seem as obvious as compared to those with money and influence. It’s a power that is often subtle, and slow moving but ultimately it is the strongest there is I liken it to a blades of grass or a plant root system. Sure a lawn mover is used to cut grass but left unchecked grass can destroy the foundations of houses and cities. In much the same way our power can cause drastic changes in a society but I believe it takes four principles to exercise that power: Belief, Knowledge, Action, and Engagement.
Belief. In politics as in life belief in your success can be summed up in this poem:
The Man Who Thinks He can
by Walter D. Wintle
If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t
It’s almost a cinch that you won’t
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you’re outclassed, you are.
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can.
Essential to affecting change is the belief that it is actually possible. If you are already convinced that an endeavor is impossible then you are more than likely going to be right. We have to be willing to take the leap of faith first and then wait for the evidence.
Knowledge : No one is uplifted or made better by being ignorant. There is a reason why the slaves were prohibited from reading. We must educate ourselves on issues and policies and how they influence our lives. We most certainly have to understand how to distinguish between credible and non credible sources of information. In this internet connected world we live in being ignorant( or just stupid) is a choice. We can’t be lazy in this. We have to do the hard work of learning about anything we don’t understand so that we may make better decisions about who we elect to lead us.
Action: All the knowledge and the belief in the world does no good if we don’t put it into action. To that end we must register to vote. We must get others to vote and then actually vote on Election Day. We must volunteer time and money to causes and candidates that reflect our values and concerns. If we’ve found someone we believe in then why not canvass for them or work for their campaign. What ever it is you do, standing on the sidelines and hoping for better is not going to cut it. Every major change we’ve had in this nation is because ordinary people stood up and demanded it. We must do the same.
Engagement. Everyone’s view of how things should be is shaped by their experiences. We are a nation of many points of view but among reasonable people there is room for compromise. The only way to do this is to engage with people that may not share our views. Engagement gives you perspective and a broader understanding. Understanding, patience and tolerance is sorely needed in our national discourse.
Most of us are not rich, famous or elected officials. Most of us are citizens and as such we ultimately are responsible for the direction this nation goes. We can no longer afford to be apathetic bystanders. Now more than ever is the time to work together and make this nation and world a better place for all of us.