Being in a small rural town I feel that power remains with two groups – individuals and institutions. If you are an individual you derive your power from money. If you are an institution you derive your power from control of decision making – around resources, assets, rules, etc. For example, our downtown is changing, many would say for the better – breweries, farm to table restaurants, a small hotel, etc. These changes are being driven by people and institutions with power – the local businessman who has power via his wealth sells an iconic downtown building to another wealthy businessman in another state who has no ties to our community. The building starts to deteriorate and becomes cost prohibitive for the local business attempting to operate from it. The City, which has power because of its control and decision making ability, chooses not to enact or enforce any regulations that would require that property owner to maintain his building.
I’m intrigued by the idea of how to move or spread power to others. Can power ever really be gained by someone if someone else who has power doesn’t give it up? Or within a community can power be gained by a group of people if an institution doesn’t give away some of its power?
I feel like the answer is no but would love for someone to challenge me on that!
I think there are two impediments to the giving up of power. First for institutions, it is the ‘rules’ mentioned, which relate to decision making, and could also be defined as the institutional culture. If a company wants to offer their employees three hours a month of paid time to volunteer in the community they could select a local park and dedicate all their employees’ time to cleaning up that park OR they could allow the employee to select anything they want to do for those three hours (within reason!), something they are passionate about or have a personal connection to. This is decision making and it is also culture. I believe in institutions this happens because the same people stay in power for too long. There are no new ideas, no new opportunities for culture change, nobody challenging the status quo and asking “why not”. Sure, these have been the rules in the past but why can’t they be different.
The other impediment to giving up power relates to the individual and is basically defined as greed. We are very interested in this for our work. How do worker-owners see themselves as “stewards” of resources, their ultimate goal being to steward the business so it remains viable for the next generation of owners. How do you ask a local businessman to give up his resources, wealth and power in order to truly empower others? What interests me about this is that it ties back to the first week’s prompt – this is all personal transformation. Power can never truly be gained by someone new if the person with entrenched power does not experience a personal transformation that moves them in their heart and their soul to give away power to someone else. How do you bring that about? What steps, tools or resources can be used to transform someone’s own understanding of their power and their willingness to share it?