THE LANGUAGE OF POWER

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Originally posted 12/22/17

Apparently, a lot of people are upset about the recent behaviors of their representatives in local and state governments but feel powerless to stop their rogue activities. You are not powerless. You are simply not speaking in a language that they understand. Okay, here’s the situation…

The average person naively believes that their fellow Americans speak the same language—English. A normal person is also motivated by human emotions, such as love or fear. This is the reason so many ordinary Americans are befuddled by the passing of some of the most unpopular laws and bills ever to see the inside of Congress. They assumed that their representatives would heed to the will of the constituents, who overwhelmingly oppose aforementioned laws and bills. Regrettably, Average American Joes and Jolenes are operating under false assumptions.

At some point, senators and representatives probably spoke English and were driven by human emotions, like most Americans. Unfortunately, they quickly lost their mother tongue after spending some time inside the hallowed halls of Congress. They began to translate everything in terms of power. Influence replaced emotional motivations as they cast their votes in favor or in opposition to policies that impacted their constituents. They forgot that ordinary people are decent, sympathetic human beings who love their families and desire a free and functional society in which everyone is afforded an equal opportunity to prosper. Representatives forgot to think and act in terms of what the American people want and began to cast ballots based on what they thought was best.
They believe us to be an uninformed public, easily swayed by the most recent campaigns aimed at controlling our opinions. They fancy themselves more sophisticated and knowledgeable about the far-reaching impacts of their choices. Just like parents making unpopular decisions on behalf of petulant teens, the representatives believe that we will thank them later for the actions they take now.

They are not wrong. Experience has shown them that Americans have very short memories and attention spans. They have seen proof that they can influence public opinion by putting more money into advertising than their opponents. They are rewarded with votes or voter apathy when they run campaigns to smear their opponents. People are quick to let their emotions override their logical, rational minds. Average Americans do not question who is providing the information, what that person, organization or group stand to gain by influencing others’ thinking, the accuracy/relevancy of the information provided and how the information was obtained. Ordinary voting citizens are so transfixed by sensational headlines that they suspend their ability to critically evaluate their relationship to the news being offered.

Fortunately for America, there are people like me—disenfranchised at birth. I was born a poor, Black, female to uneducated, unwed parents in an environment that was conducive to my continued subjugation. I posed a threat to no one, so was easily ignored and cast aside as “powerless”. Ironically, I found my value and power because of (not in spite of) the conditions of my birth. I found anecdotal and subjective evidence to prove to myself that I was not some helpless, hapless soul in need of rescuing by a patriarchal system. I showed myself my power by living a life contrary to what was expected of me. My very existence now as an educated, upper middle class, married homemaker flies in the face of reason. I should be anywhere but here.

So, how did I get here? There are two moments that stand out in my mind, but I am sure there were actually a series of events that led to my conclusion that adults did not have all the answers. The first occurred when I was in fourth grade at Bible study. You see, I was a bit of a nerd as a child. I dove headlong into everything I found interesting and tried to soak up all the available information. That propensity led me to read my miniature copy of the New Testament in search of the answers to life. When I was faced with contradictions, I turned to the most learned Bible authorities I could find for counsel and guidance. One question burned in me more fiercely than all others. “If God is all loving and all forgiving, how can there be such a place as an eternal hell?” I could not reconcile the opposing ideas with my juvenile logic. In my mind, I (a lowly sinner) would never imagine even sending my annoying little sister to burn forever in unquenchable flames. How could an almighty god exist that could be so unforgiving as to condemn those he loves to such pain?

I asked this question many times and received many responses. The majority were patiently spoken and thought-provoking but, still, unconvincing. The most memorable reply came during a Sunday morning Bible study that I attended without my family, because I was independent enough to walk to the bus stop and board the Church bus alone. The young lady, who led the group, attempted to resolve all of my questions and move on quickly, but I was relentless. I remained standing and kept firing off iterations of the same query, which she could not answer adequately. Finally, she told me to sit down and stop talking for the remainder of the class. An introvert by nature, I normally would have been embarrassed by the exchange. It took all of my courage and determination to stand to ask the question in the first place. The public lashing could have been catastrophic to my sense of self.

Actually, it had the opposite effect. I felt vindicated in my doubts. I relished the notion that no one could unequivocally answer a simple question posed by a ten-year-old, poor, uneducated, Black girl. If my pastor, elders and those with decades of experience reading the Bible could not answer my question, it meant that they did not really know the answer for themselves. More importantly, there was probably no answer that everyone could point to as the authoritatively accurate response. If that was true in this case, it was probably true for all things. In that moment, I found my power. My logical, critical evaluation of so-called facts would act as a thorn in the side of established truths and frustrate those who aimed to blindly perpetuate the continued dissemination of unchallenged certainties.

The next moment occurred two years later in a North Carolina history class. To be fair, I had become somewhat of a Contrary Mary by the time I sat in the sixth grade classroom. My poor teacher was probably overwhelmed by the already taxing nature of her profession. I remember her as the opposite of a formidable opponent, disheveled and unsure of herself. She was not at all inspiring yet fell just shy of insignificance. I incredulously asked why we never learned about African and Native Americans in our history books outside of their roles as slaves or victims. She said it was because they did not play significant roles in our history. Ha! Of course, I had been researching David Walker’s “Appeal” after hearing about him during a radio broadcast. What about him? She had no clue who David Walker was. Tom Jones? Nope! Harriet Jacobs? Unh-unh! J. Allen Kirk and his account of the Wilmington race riots? Nada! She did not even know, Fayetteville’s own, Henry Evans.

Although I still loosely held onto the promise of incontrovertible, socially-accepted truths, I continued to prove their inexistence. Outside of scientific certainties, like gravity and the existence of energy, everyone believed in lies that they kept masquerading as truths in order to continue their worlds spinning in orbit. I did not have the luxury of perpetuating the lies, because most of them were created to the detriment of my livelihood.

What does that have to do with the political environment of today? It’s elementary, my dear Watson. It’s the same language spoken by our political leaders—power. I discovered my power despite the overwhelming “evidence” of my powerlessness. I exposed the truth that everyone is capable of affecting change, even poor, Black, ten-year-old girls. If you do not like something, don’t accept it as the way things are. Challenge it! Speak out against it!
I don’t mean only to vote the yahoos out of office. Yes, do that when the time comes. But for now, speak their language. Let the power of your dollars be the voice that echoes your priorities. If you do not like the fact that the new tax bill will give Apple another $50 billion in kickbacks, stop buying Apple products today. If you no longer support Google’s campaign to sell your browsing preferences to the highest bidders, switch to DuckDuckGo. If you are tired of screaming at your representatives to work for the people instead of the corporations, don’t throw up your hands in frustration and proclaim that all politicians are corrupt oligarchs. Research the corporations that are the driving forces behind unfavorable proposals, and then actively work to defund them. Your voice, your dollar matters. Just ask Papa John!

When we stop buying products that are manufactured by companies, which build themselves up at the expense of our best interests, we speak the language of politicians. When we question the motives of social policies that seek to divide and conquer, we regain our collective power. You see, the greatest lie that Average American Joes and Jolenes have accepted as true is that they have no direct influence on policy. The fact is that their influence is direct and immediate when they speak in terms of dollars, not emotions.

I don’t know anyone who admits to watching the Kardashians, but there must be a large audience of viewers and followers that continue to drive millions of advertising dollars into the family’s pockets. I don’t know any members of my community that admits to shopping at Walmart, but I saw a parking garage filled with luxury cars each time I visited the gym directly above the store. I don’t know anyone who admits to eating at McDonald’s, but the franchise has an active spot at the center of our affluent community and does not appear to be hurting for business.

Regardless of what we proclaim in our social media posts, the truth of our beliefs is recorded in the material on which we click. We speak toward our values in every show we watch. We display our morality in every song we listen to and sing along with on the radio. We cast our ballots with every dollar we spend. If we want our politicians to hear our voices, we can’t just be Facebook warriors. We have to be conscientious in EVERY decision we make.

Yes, it is exhausting at first. You will get used to it. You will learn to make this a way of life to promote your livelihood. You will gradually become aware of each book, album, product, service, story, show and company you buy into. Disrupting the establishment is where I found my power. Creating a new one is where you will find yours. Welcome to my world, Friend.

Ciao!

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