What does it mean to shift power in society? PACSA’s Community Partner’s Reflect on this question
Category : Archived News
The Community Partner Networking Forum [CPNF] was held on the 21st of August 2015. It was a moment of real excitement for PACSA as our community partners had expressed a need to capture the space last year, and they did it. It was one of the best CPNF’s we have ever had. The content of the discussions were extremely rich, rooted and provocative.
The CPNF secretariat facilitated a day of real questioning on “what building power where we are” really meant. In the process we grappled with questions of power, democracy, information and organisation. “Power, power, power!” Everyone wants power but power for what? What type of power?” This question raised in exasperation led us into the question of democracy – representative democracy versus participatory democracy. We realised quite starkly that there is a difference between the power to influence decisions and the power to make decisions ourselves. The discussions thus evoked questions of what type of power we wanted and how the type of power we wanted impacted on the type of democracy we required. The type of power we wanted influences how we understand the type of information we want to builds that power. Many people had expressed the need for more information. Here we had a big debate about what type of information and for what purpose. It was recognised that we are fooled by thinking that if we have information then things will work. Many people expressed this not to be true, that information doesn’t necessarily lead to resolving issues. There are structural barriers for us to reach our desires. Here we saw that we often ask for technical information, this information allows us to work within the system. But this same system oppresses us! The type of information we wanted actually – mostly- is within us – our experience of what we see and what we do not want. The type of information that would assist us is the information that would help us break the injustice – political information in the form of ideas and theory. We spoke about who holds the information and for what purpose – who has it and who gives it and why. Going back to participatory democracy, ideas emerged that if we want power to decide then we will also be called upon to imagine (we envision) a different type of society. Again the type of information to decide and imagine is different from ‘technical’ information to simply engage within a framework decided by others. We linked our discussions on power and information to organization. That is the types of structures we typically organize ourselves in today. We grappled with the idea that building people’s power requires a different type of organized structure. We spoke about how we model our democratic pr-axis. It was recognized by some of us that different types of organization facilitate different types of participation. For example, the type of organization most dominant is that of political party organization. This is replicated locally whereby communities are ‘represented’ by Councillors and ward committees and that we (people) are not heard, we make no decisions and really we are not represented. We spoke about how we should be looking at different types of organizational models if we wanted to realize participatory democracy – where we make decisions. Here we looked at stokvels and prayer groups. In a stokvel everyone is heard and everyone decides; there is a very strong level of equity. Stokvels are imagined and organized around trust, love and solidarity and so are prayer groups. The CPNF ended with all of us partners agreeing to take the nascent discussions on building power back into our organizations for greater contestations and deliberations. Further to this is how to continue building the CPNF as a space where power and solidarity is built and a platform for pr-axis shared and strengthened.