Everyday People Everyday Power

May 7, 2024
“Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable, but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What Does It Mean to be Powerful?

Growing up I was a fan of books about victorious characters – stories that depicted the main character in a hero posture as they acted solely to solve the issue they were facing. Something about the way the character was able to overcome their problem seeded the idea that if I just had the right amount of physical strength, money or knowledge, I too would be powerful enough to resolve whatever obstacle I encountered. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about the world around us, I’ve come to understand power a bit differently.

At the Urban Core Collective (UCC), we lean into a definition of power offered by the Midwest Academy which says, generally, to have power means you have “the ability to make one's vision a reality.” When thinking about notions of power and the ability to make our desires a reality, many of us are conditioned to believe in a narrow scope of what it means to be powerful—often associating power with having wealth or influence. There is no doubt that sometimes access to money can “help to make one’s vision become a reality,” for example we see this play out when CEOs of big corporations influence elections and policies through donating to candidate campaigns, but in our society, access to those particular forms of power are not readily accessible to everyday people. However, there is a form of power that we do/can have an abundance of and that’s—people power. Though less talked about (for intentional reasons), there is an ethos of resistance–everyday people using their everyday power–that undergirds our local community. Take for example….

Local Examples of Everyday People Exercising Their Everyday Power

In 1911, after years of organizing, over 4,000 furniture workers in Grand Rapids walked off the job and engaged in a four month strike in protest of poor working conditions and wages. The workers were in pursuit of an 8 hour work day and the right to unionize (Smith, 2023) — Everyday People showcasing their Everyday Power.

On November 16, 1966 nearly 400 Black Grand Rapids Public School students engaged in a walkout at South High School in opposition to the dress code and “good grooming” policy largely impacting Black students that was put in place by the school superintendent. The day after the student’s direct action, a group of Black parents picketed outside of South High showing their solidarity (Robinson, 2013) — Everyday People modeling and inspiring other people to use their Everyday Power. In December of that year, a committee formed by the school board voted 12-1 to remove the facial hair ban policy.

On June 28, 2018, approximately 250 people gathered in the Kent County Commission chambers pushing for the county to end its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which was/is separating families-–one of many people-powered actions that is said to have contributed to ICE ending its contract with Kent County in 2019 (Smith, 2023) — Everyday People flexing their Everyday Power.

In each instance, the people’s currency was their solidarity—a demonstrated commitment to show up with one another and to speak back to/reject harmful practices or policies because they imagined a different way of being. Today, there are folks who seek to restrict our freedom to learn true history, to breathe clean air, to earn a thriving wage, and as those organizing before us, we too, imagine a community that is vastly different. All across our community, people continue to push for social change from residents in Roosevelt Park working to stop a truck route that pollutes the air in their neighborhood to students organizing to improve school lunches and transportation services and more. Resisting the status quo, imagining and bringing forth our desired ways of being requires a particular form of power.

Types of Power

As expressed in the examples above, there are various ways we can exercise our people power including, but not limited to, refusing our labor, engaging in disruptive actions and shaping narrative around the issues we care about. Among the forms of power we have access to is electoral/political power. Democracy is a form of government that translates to, “rule by the people” meaning it is everyday people who should shape their conditions. While engaging in elections is one form of exercising power, we believe it must be coupled with holding elected officials accountable. With a particular focus on local elections, we see engagement in local government as a way to play a role in shaping our conditions, not just having them shaped for us without our input. As we continue to navigate our present reality within a representative democracy (i.e., we elect people who represent us and make decisions on our behalf), there is also an opportunity to push for more direct democracy where community members have more direct decision making power (for example, directing how our tax dollars are spent through efforts like participatory budgeting or putting forth policies through ballot initiatives). In all these forms of power—whether through direct actions and/or voting, our goal is to bring about racial and social justice. Our interest in building people power is not for the purpose of hoarding it or to cause harm, but for the sake of harnessing said people power to bring about necessary social, political and economic changes as Dr. King reflected.

Employing Multiple Forms of People Power

Utilizing our people power in various ways can aid us in winning the material and felt change we are seeking. Whether we actualize our power or not, power is always at play and shaping the conditions we live within. In the pursuit of a more just, loving and humane world, people power is our greatest asset and we have decided to take up a bit more of our power. We invite you to join us in tapping into everyday power by taking one or more of the actions below!

  1. Take the Everyday People Everyday Power pledge to demonstrate your commitment to building a county that values each of us!
  2. Sign-up to join us for 1) door-to-door canvassing and text banking, 2) democracy game nights and/or 3) an Everyday People Everyday Power training to learn more about what’s happening locally, what it means for you and our community.
    1. Come with us as we engage in door-to-door canvassing and/or text banking to connect with neighbors across Kent County to learn about their interests and to share information about what’s happening locally.
    2. Host a democracy game day/night for your co-workers, a group of friends and family members, your church group, your soccer team or whoever might be interested to learn more about the role of local decision makers in a fun and engaging way! You bring the people and we’ll provide the food, venue, game materials and prizes.
    3. Attend an Everyday People Everyday Power virtual training to learn more about what’s happening in local government and what it means for you and our community. At the end of the training you can decide to become an ambassador to help share information about what decisions are being made locally and how we can shape decisions/advance people-powered priorities.
  3. Do you know students who might be interested in joining other teens in the Student Association for Leadership Transformation (SALT) to organize to promote healthy and healing schools? Contact Saida at betsaida@uccgr.org
  4. Are you a parent or caregiver who wants to connect with other parents of K-12 students with the goal of organizing alongside students to improve conditions in schools? Contact Fredericka at fredericka@uccgr.org
  5. Interested in working with other community members engaged in climate and environmental justice initiatives? Contact Erica at erica@uccgr.org


1. Robinson, Todd. A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Temple University Press, 2013.

2. Smith, Jeff. A People's History of Grand Rapids. Chapbook Press, 2023.

P.S. I’m not a “writer,” but I’m sensitive about my ish.

More posts