Listen, Organize, Act! Organizing & Democratic Politics

S1.E4: The Ability to Act: Power Over and Power With

March 09, 2021 Season 1 Episode 4
Listen, Organize, Act! Organizing & Democratic Politics
S1.E4: The Ability to Act: Power Over and Power With
Show Notes

This episode discusses power, defined simply as the ability to act. It focuses on the relationship between power and democratic politics, the distinction between "power over" or unilateral power and "power with" or relational power, and questions such as who has power, how should it be analyzed, is anyone really powerless, the nature of self-interest, and how does organizing build power to effect change.


Robert Hoo is the Lead Organizer and Executive Director for One LA-IAF. He has fifteen years of organizing experience with the Industrial Areas Foundation in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Sacramento. And before that served as an AmeriCorps member in Connecticut.

Ben Gordon is senior organizer with Metro IAF which he joined in 2016. He currently works with the IAF organizations in Boston, Connecticut, Milwaukee, as well as several labor union partners. Prior to joining Metro IAF, he was Director of Organizing for the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), a 200,000-member affiliate of the public employees union (AFSCME). He began his professional organizing career in 1987 with the Southern Region of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union organizing clothing factory workers in the Southeast.

Resources for Going Deeper

Frederick Douglas, West India Emancipation (1857). A key statement of the importance of power in radical democratic politics. Available online: 

Bayard Rustin, “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement.” Discussed in this and other episodes.  Available online: 

Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Vintage, 1975). Considered a classic, this book gives an account of the urban planner Robert Moses. Organizers consistently refer to this book as a detailed and very revealing case study in how to gain power even when you don’t hold an official or elected post, how power operates institutionally, how to get things done, and how to analyze power;

Saul Alinsky, John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography (New York: Vintage, 1970). Another case studies in how power is built up and wielded effectively, this time in a non-state focused form of politics, that of union organizing; 

The distinction between “power with” and “power over” originates with Mary Parker Follett, Creative Experience (New York: Longmans, Green, 1930 [1924]); 

Hannah Arendt also sketched a conception of relational power in her essay “On Violence.” See Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 2006 [1963]), 105–98; 

Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). A reading of the New Testament and the ministry of Jesus as exemplifying creative, non-violent resistance and the use of relational power to bring change; 

Amy Allen, “Feminist Perspectives on Power,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (on-line),