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The Power of Community

Who are the power players in your community? Are they charismatic, creative leaders who get things done for the community? Is it sustainable, shared power that brings people together or is it authoritarian power sustained through coercion and fear?

Influence and authority are two paths to acquiring power. The perception and reality of influence are based on achievements and relationships. Other factors may also be access to resources, education, and wealth. Authority is usually based on the position (elected, appointed, or other) held by the person. The authority is with the office, not necessarily the person.

A Black woman wearing a yellow turtleneck with black pants speaking into a microphone to a group of people standing in a circle around her.

A community power structure consists of key leaders acting together to affect change. Here are five examples of community power structures:

  • Top-down: Key leaders and their subordinates, such as the military or community elder model.

  • Power elite: Small, tight-knit group who control policy-making, such as school boards or grants committees.

  • Split community: Power split, such as rural/urban or liberal/conservative.

  • Power pool: Group of 10-25 people who wield power and whose members change over time.

  • Democratic: This is like the Quaker model where power is held by those who believe in democratic principles and unanimity.

There are specific steps that will help create power within your community or organization. They include:

  1. Common values are pre-established to encourage new members to join when they share the values of the community or organization. These values also protect the community from attempts by one person to take control.

  2. Rituals enable a group to embed common values and build culture. Rituals are words or actions that create a practice for all community members which reinforces its values and culture.

  3. Storytelling helps reinforce culture. Stories about other community members can support the collective nature of the group.

  4. Trust is built by being honest, supportive, consistent, accountable, and empathetic. This opens the door to collaboration and mutual support.

  5. Connections occur in a healthy community where people know each other. Communities with high levels of connectivity are more collaborative and supportive of each other.

  6. Interactions between community members lead to discovering ways to help and support each other.

  7. Identity is a name, symbol, or slogan that identifies the community or organization and helps instill identity.

  8. Shared experiences build bonds between people from different backgrounds. For example, imagine fans cheering on their favorite sports team or entertainer.

Many of these steps are interconnected. For instance, rituals and storytelling can come together to reinforce culture, embed common values, and build trust. Ultimately, when you use these steps to build community power you can create a power model that is sustainable for the good of all.


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