Margaret Mead, arguably the greatest cultural anthropologist of the last century, once observed:
‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
So many people today feel powerless. In western democracies, ordinary citizens feel ignored. The power of the media and of lobby groups (business, political parties of all kinds, even ‘the christian lobby’) seem to set the agenda.
Who knows what we, the ordinary people think?
Who cares what we think, want, value?
Yet, in reality, ordinary people have the power to unseat them all, if we chose to use it.
It’s not ‘Power to the people’: it the power of the people, which we just don’t use, and don’t even know we have.
I once heard a great African American pastor tell the story of what was called ‘Operation Bread-basket’. Bill Jones was a member of the Southern Christian Leaders Conference, of which Martin Luther King was the most well-known member. Together they worked for civil rights. But they also worked for the livelihood of their marginalized people.
Operation Bread-basket was about getting jobs for their people, equal in proportion to their numbers in the population.
So they went, for example, to a large retail chain and asked them to employ more black people, in proportion to their numbers in the local communities.
After negotiations, some employers would go along with the idea, others would not.
If they did not, the SCLC would call on their people to respond: simply by ceasing to buy from that retailer, or refusing to deal with that business. In one case, this call went out from the pulpits on a Sunday morning. And by 9.30 am the next day, the drop in sales was sufficient to have the Managing Director on the phone, willing to negotiate.
The power of our acquiescence is a huge power. Just how much are we willing to go along with?
Imagine, right now, if all the purchasing people of Australia decided that we simply will not buy anything from a Singaporean company, until the Singapore Government grants clemency to Van Nguyen?
Imagine if every Optus phone customer just stopped using their mobile phone for a week, to tell the owners of Optus (Singapore Telecom) they have to do something about Van Nguyen.
All retail and commercial activities operate on a margin. If they lose even 10% of their custom, the operation is in trouble.
The power of a concerted group, small but committed, is great.
So where is this power? It is unused, in our hands.
Why is it so unused? Why do we acquiesce?
Because, more than anything, we have no leadership. No committed, visionary and courageous leadership, able to call upon the ordinary people, even 10% of us.
Leadership, of this genuine, socially responsible, and relevant to the power of the people, is the scarcest commodity in all the world.
This is my prayer, before all else: like the ancient people of Israel, for many centuries,
I pray that God will raise up amongst us a leader of the people.