How We Do Power

Power is the ability to mobilize resources to attend to needs.

Movements need power to create positive change. Members of organizations, from the leadership team to the newest volunteer, need power within the organization to make a contribution.

However, handling power without care creates tremendous potential for abuse. We recognize two paradigms of holding power:

  • Power-with uses power collaboratively to attend to the needs of everyone involved by changing structures and systems. Power with is a renewable resource.

  • Power-over, on the other hand, uses power in a dominating fashion to prioritize the needs of the power holder and their allies over those with less power.

Moving collectively towards the first paradigm, and away from the second, requires effort from everyone. It is everyone’s responsibility to insist that power be held collaboratively by those with more of it, but we must be patient and compassionate with each other as we learn new ways of collaborating.

We must also be vigilant for a stealthy form of power-over called power-under. Power-under, also called leadership attack, is a particular challenge facing left movements due to the left’s ambivalence about power and high sensitivity to social power (power from things like racial and gender privilege). In a power-under dynamic, leaders or individuals perceived to have power are singled out for harsh scrutiny, with the attacker leveraging a victimhood narrative to isolate their target. Leadership attack is usually carried out by traumatized individuals without ill intent, but it is a crucial threat for organizations which must not be tolerated.

The best defense against power-under is a strong, self-conscious culture of power-with. Below are the guiding principles we use to create that culture in Pax Fauna.

Holistic View of Power

In any situation, we consider the social dimension of power as well as its structural, material, spiritual, and other dimensions.

Social power is bestowed by social signifiers such as race and gender. Structural power comes from someone's position in powerful institutions, such as the ruler of a country or a CEO. Material power references access to resources such as money. Spiritual power is strength someone can access through purely internal resources.

Power is Taken, Not Given

Earned power comes from taking responsibility for a part of the group’s purpose. This kind of power is a renewable resource, where more power for one is power for all.

Bandage the Blisters

We encourage naming small tensions, and fast. It is everyone’s responsibility to bring to light tensions large and small, so that our processes can be improved with all the information available to the group.

Defend Deviation

As Dumbledore said, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” When someone questions the group consensus, celebrate them and make sure their deviant perspective is considered fully.

Take a Pause

We actively create norms and situations to make power accessible to those with less of it. The ability for anyone to ring a bell and call a pause makes it much easier for anyone to affect the group process, and ensures that tensions sensed by anyone are heard by the group.

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