Sunday, March 22, 2009

Power of the Powerless! by Seth Naicker

In times of great chaos and stress, people need voices of reason and inspiration. Minister Vernon Johns was, is and will forever be one such prophetic voice and stalwart. Johns preached fiery and passionate messages from the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1947 to 1952. He was Dr. King's predecessor as pastor, and a mentor of people like Ralph Abernathy, Wyatt Walker, and many others in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“The road to freedom”, is a movie that documents the life, work and ministry of Minister Vernon Johns, and in many ways the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the U.S.A. Before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Minister Malcolm X came Minister Vernon Johns, who preached in unconventional yet passionate and practical ways. One Sunday morning Minister Johns stood up at the pulpit and reached down to fresh vegetables he farmed in his garden. Minister Johns encouraged his African American congregation to break free from the power of the social reality of a socially constructed racist society. Such freedom was possible if people became producers and refused to exist solely as consumers.

The advice of Minister Vernon Johns must be revisited as a source of strength and a strategic vice to reclaiming a quality of life existence in the midst of tough global economic times. Having people connect with their abilities to produce and initiate is a worthy task. The dominant culture of consumerism has the detrimental result of draining people and communities of their resilience and struggle for political and economic freedom. However the notion of becoming a producer could equally be demeaning to the soul of a person, a nation and a world. Producer-ism must be liberated and redeemed from the hands, strategies and venomous vexes of free trade and capitalism, which seeks to further disenfranchise the already disenfranchised.

The wisdom of Minister Johns is immersed in a notion of consciousness and pedagogy that speaks from, with and in struggle. The producer-ism that Minister Johns encouraged was not to aid the creation of another status quo. Instead it was for people to rise in their consciousness and take a hold of their worth. People were to be liberated from the vicious cycle of systemic oppression, their personal –communal - mental -physical oppression, for the purposes of producing a community of equity, fairness and justice.

In my local community Lenasia, Lenasia South and the broader community of southern townships of Johannesburg- South Africa, townships like Soweto, Eldorado Park, Ennerdale and Orange Farm, there are people living in dire strait circumstances. Right here in the Twin Cities, my community and home away from home, there are people who are equally trapped in troublesome economic times, and house foreclosures. As I walked through the streets of Frog Town in Saint Paul Minnesota, I saw several houses with these bold bright yellow notices stuck on the doors. People have been displaced from their homes and are clearly feeling the pinch, pain and disparity of tumultuous economic times.

The social reality of poverty and further complexity offered by a faltering economy has been prevalent in the U.S.A and the Globe long before the crash on Wall Street. Long before major insurance companies and fortune 500 companies started feeling the pressure of systems they are part of and systems they propel, economic pressure was the plight of people whom privileged people and power based systems would rather deny. There is a need therefore, for power structures and people who have power to invest their time and effort in bringing development and aid to people and communities steeped in globally trying times, and chaotic circumstances.

President Obama has had to defend himself, as he grapples with and attempts to bring resolve to the maze of social factors facing the U.S.A. It may be politically nonstrategic for Obama to go about multiple projects which may result in the lack of targeted success. Being a successful leader is important, especially when success is concerned with pleasing systems of power and having the popular vote. But Obama may be on a mystical path of engagement that may not make sense or fit the arena of logical and strategic thinking. Obama may be about the work of being true to his consciousness, and mindset that has been informed from, with and in the context of struggle. Obama could choose to anchor his ideology, and continue his political leadership and theology in pedagogy of the disenfranchised and oppressed.

However, as much as I am hopeful of the Obama regime I am equally critical of power based systems and people who have the power to bring positive social change. For persons who have come into power have also been noted to fall into the trap of being co-opted into the power frameworks, this ultimately diminishes their advocacy and activism for positive social change.

It is therefore of vital importance for people to emancipate their minds, their social existence and humanity from an unhealthy dependency and consumerism mode. People and communities must come together and pool together their resources to ensure that more families are not dislocated from their homes. People must claim their humanity and get creative with that which they have. It may require planting vegetables instead of purchasing them at the store. It may require communal living instead of individualized existence.

According to Howard Thurman Jesus recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his or her inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his or her destiny. The hope of the poor and the disenfranchised is anchored in their ability to believe in their worth, and to live life in human dignity even though their economic standing is not sound. This hope is provided in the basic fact that Christianity was born in the mind of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and thinker as a technique of survival for the oppressed (Thurman, A Strange Freedom, 1998, pg. 143). Jesus motivated people to break through the psychological oppression and free their minds, to determine their own destiny. Impoverished communities must rise up in the midst of their poverty and draw strength from each other, without the dependence on investment hand-me-downs from power based political systems and haughty people.

It is therefore possible for me to acknowledge my struggles, my failures, and downfalls, but rise in the midst of my troublesome circumstances and social settings. It is therefore possible for me to live with hope and a spirit of empowerment, without the power of position and economic enfranchisement. In my weakness I am strong. In my struggle I am blessed. I can live a life of activism and advocacy challenging systemic injustices. I can mobilize positive social change, and refuse to sell out on my rooted values and core faith inspired ideals. I can act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God, for there is power in collective, community consciousness and pedagogy of power of the powerless!

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