‘Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic.’ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
‘The purpose of getting power is to give it away.’ Aneurin Bevan
As a rather lost and miserable post-college backpacker, I once found myself in a small village on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Peru, at the home of a charismatic activist with the memorable name of Tito Castro. Tito was a lapsed Christian Brother who had decided to devote himself to raising awareness among Peru’s indigenous people. He had arrived in the village with a library of books on politics, economics, sociology and indigenous rights, and when I met him he was lending out books and running discussion groups for local leaders.
Tito took me to meet the villagers and introduced me to Peru’s history of apartheid-like racial discrimination. He patiently explained how, by organizing, indigenous people can win greater control over their lives. By the time I went on my way, I was filled with an exhilarating sense of a big and heroic struggle for justice. My slow process of learning suddenly hit a critical juncture, and soon I was back home working to defend human rights in Chile and Central America. Tito later became mayor of the nearest city, Puno, and eventually a sociology professor at Lima’s Catholic University.
What Tito showed me—and I experienced—was empowerment in real time, when light bulbs go on in the heads of people who had previously felt helpless or shackled by their lot, and they begin to take action to change it. Such small, personal events often lie at the heart of the tides of social and political change that are the subject of this book.
Empowerment, the driving force behind Amartya Sen’s definition of development as the progressive expansion of the freedoms to do and to be, is one of the most ubiquitous buzzwords in the lexicon of development activists. Many, however, shy away from the word from which the term derives: power. Power, which allows one person or institution to command the resources, actions or innermost thoughts of another, was central to Tito’s understanding of Peruvian society and it should be so for all activists.
The most evident and most discussed form of power is what we might call ‘visible power’: the world of politics and authority, policed by laws, violence and money. It gets bad press, conjuring up images of force, coercion, discrimination, corruption, repression and abuse. But visible power is also necessary to do good, whether to implement enlightened public policies or to prevent acts of violence by the strong against the weak.
Activists seeking social and political change usually focus their efforts on those who wield visible power—presidents, prime ministers and CEOs—since they hold apparent authority over the matter at hand. Yet the hierarchy of visible power is usually underpinned by subtle interactions among a more diverse set of players. ‘Hidden power’ describes what goes on behind the scenes: the lobbyists, the corporate chequebooks, the Old Boys Network. Hidden power also comprises the shared view of what those in power consider sensible or reasonable in public debate. Any environmentalist who has sat across the table from government officials or mainstream economists and dared to question the advisability of………..
 Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr, Abacus, 2000.
 Quoted in Aneurin Bevan, vol. 1, ch. 1, Michael Foot (1962).
 Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, 1999.
 See Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller, A New Weave of Power, People & Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation (Oklahoma City: World Neighbors, 2002). See also Powercube – Understanding Power for Social Change, http://www.powercube.net/.
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