As movement-builders and strengtheners, JASS continuously seeks to deepen thinking and practice around power in relation to:
● Systemic power
● Envisioning and practicing transformative change
● Violence and safety
● Movement cultures of mutual care, joy and vibrancy
A person’s sense of self-worth and self knowledge. Grounded in a belief in inherent human dignity, power within is the capacity to value oneself, think independently, challenge assumptions, and seek fulfilment. Effective grassroots organizing efforts help people affirm personal worth, tap into their dreams and hope, and discover their power to and power with (MCH3: 6).
The unique potential of every person to speak, take action, shape her life and world. Leadership development for social justice provides new skills, knowledge, and awareness, and opens up the possibilities of joint action. Nurturing people’s power to is a critical antidote to resignation and political withdrawal.
The collective strength that comes with finding common ground and community with others. Power with – expressed in collaboration, alliances, and solidarity – multiplies individual talents, knowledge and resources for a larger impact.
The combined vision, values and demands that orient our work and inspire strategies and alternatives – the world we seek to create.
This arena of power in JASS’ framework refers to mega-systems of capitalism, white supremacy/structural racism, patriarchy, and colonialism/imperialism. These systems:
● connect all of our histories and countries
● define the logic that undergirds all other arenas and institutions of power
● determine economic, political, social and other relationships
● justify human exploitation and subordination
● shape dominant–subordinate hierarchies in families, relationships, and societies
● ‘explain’ the extraction and destruction of nature for profit as development and ‘progress’
As the DNA of power in the world, systemic power is the most challenging to surface, question and alter.
Expose and resist
To shift and challenge the influence of actors who operate behind the scenes, legally and illegally (shadow power), we:
- Resist and expose who’s really calling the shots and reveal their interests.
Strategies include boycotts, “name and shame” campaigns, law suits, protests and other “outside” strategies to undermine the often corrupting power and impunity of private institutions like corporations and politically motivated religious institutions on visible power and narratives. Targeting and exposing can provoke others to distance themselves.
- Strengthen the political leadership and legitimacy of less powerful groups
Strategies build power to through leadership development, organizing, coalition-building, research, and public education efforts.
SYSTEMS OF POWER
We expose historically embedded codes and logics that underpin political, economic, and social systems.
Strategies fostering radical imagination; creating decolonizing systems, practices, and models; practicing direct democracy and just relationships; activating regenerative economies and ecological sustainability.
Influence and engage
We seek to change the ‘who, how, and what’ of policy-making – the decision-makers, the transparency and inclusiveness of the process, and the outcomes – so that decision-making is more democratic and accountable, and people’s needs and rights are addressed.
Strategies include advocacy, policy development, demands for accountability, legal action, reforming institutions, securing and enforcing rights, and impact on elections at the local, national, and global levels. The UN and World Bank can be as influential in our contexts as national governments.
Disrupt and redefine
We work to transform the way people perceive themselves and those around them, and how they envision future possibilities and alternatives.
Strategies include fostering individual and collective critical consciousness, questioning dominant ideologies and norms, healing internalized stigma and fear, cultivating vibrant visions of self and society, challenging negative political narratives to reveal the interests that underlie them, offering contrasting narratives and values to shift public sentiment and debate; investing in new forward-looking agendas and propositions.
When we understand the different arenas of power over, we can strategize more effectively. Read more in the JASS Power Matrix.
Part of the strength of JASS is to be able to convene unlikely people to be in one space. So we have people defending land that is affected by extractives and mining. We have unionists, we have LGBTI people. We have sex workers. We have women who sell their farm products in markets. We have HIV positive people. We have possibly every struggle in our context present in the room and using the power framework to actually be able to see how power operates, and where energies are invested in challenging that power – which might not necessarily be good strategic places to invest energies – and to be in conversation about those issues with people in a comradely fashion.
Phumi Mtetwa, South Africa
Movement-building demands a level of coordination between different groups in order to:
● Create pressure and offer alternatives on the outside of structures of power
● Leveraging allies and tensions on the inside
The matrix shows some strategies and tactics to engage distinct forms of power.
For JASS, political narratives serve the interests of dominant power or, conversely, can be transformative.
Narratives tap into invisible power – the ‘normalized’ ways of thinking about the world, including prejudices and social anxieties – to advance a particular agenda and to delegitimize other ideas and those who dissent. Through the manipulation of fear and use of misinformation, powerful interests seek to confuse and polarize us, silence our demands for justice, and marginalize activists from society. Both these forms of invisible power – internalized and manipulated – operate deep in people’s consciousness, anchored in emotion as well as beliefs, and so they cannot simply be challenged at a rational level. The good news is that we too can develop narratives, based on other, shared values such as the desire for belonging and community vs. stark individualism and othering.
Our narrative strategies can be embodied or ‘performed’ or communicated through images and words to expose abuses of power and propose alternatives.
● In 2020 protests, Thai activists drew on popular culture (the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games) and big rubber ducks to expose the absurdity and tyranny of military rule.
● Hundreds of Chilean women joined in performative flashmobs to critique the complicity of the state in rape and violence against women, and these were shared and replicated across the world.
Powerful, positive slogans invite people to question, resist and change:
● Caution: Women Crossing the Line (JASS’ provocative slogan)
● Black Lives Matter (anti-racist movement)
● Choose Love (successful Irish campaign to repeal a ban on abortion)
● Love Makes a Family (LGBT campaigns for equality and inclusion)
Violence / safety
Those in power use violence and the threat of violence to maintain their hold on power and to preserve the inequities that serve their interests. This is just as true in intimate and family relationships as it is economic, social, and political structures where violence and intersectional discrimination (based on race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality/identity) prevent change.
Unequal power is always contested. And, when we advance in our personal and political work, we can expect a reaction and some form of conflict and backlash. Understanding this helps us to put safety and wellbeing more firmly at the center of our movement-building work and strategies.
Activists unconsciously replicate dominating forms of power in our own organisations, and so we seek to build transformative power in the ways we organize and lead – guided by principles of equity, inclusion, solidarity, and liberation. The most critical form of transformative power is power for because it defines the values and articulates the inclusive, just world we are seeking.
For more on JASS’ foundational ideas about power, read:
For more on safety and protection, read: