I used to imagine a world where people desired power. It was a bad thing. My problem was when I imagined people, I imagined individual people who were power hungry. If we are all thirsting for control over one another, we will all be unhappy. Even the people who end up with power. I had a failure of imagination all my life around the idea of power. I could only see a world where some people were on top, and the rest were on the problem.
Power, however, can be wielded by the people. Not individual people, but the collective people. All of us together. That kind of power imagines a world where all people can flourish. Where, as Jesuit Gregory Boyle imagines, the circle of compassion is wide enough for everybody to fit in. Where we no longer desire the best future for our own children, but for all the children, for all the people.
This week I heard on the radio about a war between these two images of power. Uganda has a president who wields absolute power. A musical artist turned member of parliament has led a popular movement that desires a new way of imagining power. At stake is the future of the East African country.
This musical artist goes by the name Bobi Wine. Wine had a successful recording life but moved back into the neighborhood he was from and declared himself the "ghetto president." He desired to be an advocate for his friends and neighbors and won a seat in the Ugandan parliament. He quickly realized that parliament was not going to make a large change. He puts his revelation this way, "I realized that a dictatorship does not fear the Parliament whatsoever, does not fear even any system, does not fear the courts, but it fears the people."
The power lies in the people.
This lesson has become more relevant as I have lived in a neighborhood where few residents would be considered very powerful. If anything is going to be done, it has to come from the work of the people. But people banding together does not mean that there is a common good. I read this week that there tremendous bipartisan hatred of affordable housing. When people own their own land, they become far less interested in where other people are going to live and far more interested in property values. This NIMBYism (not in my backyard), is particularly distressing considering that we are currently undergoing a housing crisis in Houston, only exasperated by Hurricane Harvey. Put simply, people need good, affordable places to live. And not enough of them exist.
This is why I am so excited about the discussions that have been happening in the East End around the Houston Community Land Trust. The city has been working in the 3rd Ward and is engaging conversations with many other neighborhoods as well. This could be an incredible opportunity to provide perpetually affordable housing for vulnerable members of the neighborhood that otherwise would be priced out and displaced.
The only thing left to do? Lets make our voices heard for a new kind of power in the world. A world where all people can flourish, all people can have a home in a good community, and the most vulnerable are cared for. Let's say yes to affordable housing, workforce housing, and senior housing! Let's turn the cries of "not in my backyard" to shouts of "YES in my backyard!"
For more on the Houston Community Land Trust, and I do mean more, a lot more, check out: this!