Notes from Home: Sources of Power


By Trudy Wischemann

“There are two kinds of power,” a man once told me, a black minister from South Africa I met in Davis. He’d come to speak about peace at a conference we were holding through the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, and so I listened carefully to what he said.

“The kind of power we normally think of is ‘power – over’: the power of one person or group over another.” That helped me understand why I automatically recoiled at the word. Power Over is the greatest source of pain I can think of, for what it causes us to do to ourselves in defense of the threat of being overpowered by someone or something as much as the actual fact of it.

“The other kind is ‘power – with,’” he continued, laying before me pictures of movements of peoples across continents and across centuries. It is the power of unions, of co-operatives, of student groups and racial minorities. In fact, it is the power of militaries as well: people committed to working together at risk of self for the benefit of something bigger than themselves. Having just mentally walked through the Last Supper, that not-so-good cross of Good Friday, and the mysterious disappearance from the tomb of Easter, it’s not hard to see Jesus’ ministry as another form of Power With.

Another man once told me of a third kind of power: Power Under. As a small farmer and a member of this community, he practiced this kind of power as a means of survival. Many of us do. It’s that “under the radar” form of self-protection and maintenance, staying out of harm’s way from those with plenty of Power Over. So many of our undocumented neighbors have been practicing this form for so long, it makes it difficult to imagine another way. It also makes it dangerous.

As our young people have taken to the streets and the legislatures to protest our inability to protect them from gun violence in their schools, I have both cheered and wondered. As the recent shooting of Stephon Clark by police in his grandma’s Sacramento backyard illustrates horribly, once again, our young black men aren’t safe anywhere. Neither are the DACA students and their parents, whole families flying under the radar for years.

Do we have the power to fix any of this? I think we do, together.

In a New York Times editorial last week, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens advocated repealing the Second Amendment. His arguments were sound and based in the constitution. Perhaps in the face of losing all gun sales, the NRA’s backers would be divided and weakened into allowing our legislators to pass regulations against the worst weapons, the ones we do not need in our closets much less on the streets. Perhaps if fewer guns were in our closets and on our streets, our police officers’ fingers would be less itchy.

Our undocumented neighbors, however, need another solution. They need us to come forward into our public forums and speak for them, we who do not need papers, who do not face having our lives ripped apart by speaking. We need to advocate for legislation to be passed in Congress to make legal pathways to citizenship for people who are operating as citizens but flying under the radar. We need to be walking with them in spirit while they stay low. It’s what our citizenship allows – and calls us – to do.

Trudy Wischemann is a writer who often feels powerless but for words. You can send her your ideas for reform c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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