The peaceful transfer of power is what we’re all longing desperately for next week in this time of fear and tumult. The coup attempt that culminated in a white power riot must face swift, severe consequences and the Inauguration must proceed. But the change we need in 2021 is about far more than just changing leaders at the White House. There’s another transfer of power that has begun — from the elites to the communities, and this deeper power shift must be fully realized to achieve a just transformation of our society.
Sounds like a big task, and it is. If we want to know how, we ought to listen to Black women. They know how because they’re doing it already.
One of the amazing Black women who did more than any elected official to rescue our democracy from the brink, LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter, has power on her mind too. After the history-making Georgia win, she told The Root that “in these elections, the focus for me is not in seeing a win or an electoral win as the end-all be-all…I want people to start feeling a sense of power.”
Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, in her recent book The Purpose of Power, reminds us that “Power is the ability to impact and affect the conditions of your own life and the lives of others.” One of the nation’s best organizers, Stacey Abrams won because she empowered voters by inviting them to join their neighbors in building a multicultural and vibrant Georgia. When our communities are powerful, we all win.
Our communities feel a sense of power when politicians listen more to our experiences than they do to their fear of antagonizing the white nationalists who attacked our democracy both on January 6 and countless times before.
Our communities flex their power when we outfox restrictive laws designed to suppress our votes. The Republican Party’s electoral strategy depends upon minimizing Black votes because Black votes matter.
Our communities will know a sense of power when we defund brutal prisons and policing that jail and kill poor and BIPOC men and women while wealthy and white violent supremacist thugs (like the ones who invaded the US Capitol) walk free.
Our communities will own their power when path-breaking appointments like Deb Haaland are followed by bold proposals by the Biden-Harris administration to shift from extractive to regenerative economies, create jobs by passing a Green New Deal, and center communities on the frontlines of climate impact and resilience.
Our communities will build power when we prioritize housing and health care for all as the path to recovery from the cruel inequities laid bare by the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Organizing builds power and protects our communities from oppression. Organizing brought us the Movement for Black Lives and sustained multiracial protests for justice. Organizing secured the Biden-Harris win. Organizing won Georgia. Community organizers are leading the frontline that is protecting our democracy and providing the fuel that will allow our leaders to soar. But if our communities’ power is minimized or ignored, those same leaders will find themselves mired in meaningless deal-making while the nation crumbles.
This struggle is far from over — it’s just getting started. We are the only ones who can guarantee that our sense of power does not evaporate as the tough decisions begin. Next week, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will swear oaths to defend the Constitution and to make real their pledge to represent the people. To succeed, they must embrace the community power that brought them to this moment.
Angela Davis reminds us, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” That is the purpose of winning power.