In its most basic sense, power is defined as the ability to accomplish something or act in a certain manner. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. considered power “the ability to achieve a purpose. It is the strength required to bring able social, political, and economic change.” People with power have the opportunity to shape their lives and the larger world around them. Power is unequally distributed globally and in U.S. society; some individuals or groups wield greater power than others, thereby allowing them greater access and control over resources. Wealth, whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism, and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates. Although power is often conceptualized as power over other individuals or groups, other variations are power with (used in the context of building collective strength) and power within (which references an individual’s internal strength). Learning to “see” and understand relations of power is vital to organizing for progressive social change.
Primers and additional resources on power:
Dynamics of Power, Inclusion, and Exclusion (.pdf)– a May 2006 Nonprofit Online News Journal publication that defines power and contains related activities
Making Change Happen: Power (.pdf) – a short document by Just Associates that looks at power in the context of justice, equality, and peace
Power and Social Change (.pdf) – a concise summary of power from the Otto Bremer Foundation
Human Sculpture Power Exercise (.pdf) – a group activity that addresses power dynamics
The Midwest Academy – a leading national training institute for the progressive movement and social change. Its organizing institute and training manual teach participants how to recognize power in the world and build it in their own organizations.
Image: lovestruck., http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en