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The power shift— new found ability to influence societal change


The recent arrest of two black men in Philadelphia at a Starbucks and the subsequent outrage against the company for racial discrimination is a testament to the effectiveness of what many are calling the “new power.”

This new power is about an individual’s ability to influence change; social media has magnified that in unprecedented ways.

{mosads}The apologetic reaction from Starbucks leadership and the closing of 8,000 stores nationwide for racial bias training is an expression of the effect new power has on old power. The two black men whose experiences may have been dismissed in the past now have the power to dismantle the façade of one of the most admired companies in the world in less than a week.


“Old power works like a currency.  It is held by few.  New power is like a current.  It is made by many.  It is open, participatory, and peer driven,” authors Jeremy Heimans, co-founder and CEO of Purpose, and Henry Timms, president and CEO of the 92nd Street Y and co-founder of #GivingTuesday. 

The effects of new power to mobilize are welcome. However, the goal needs to not be to erase or dismiss old power. It is the inevitable crash of old versus new power that undergirds our democracy and is critical to the evolution of power itself. 

When the threat of individual liberties is exposed, new power begins to swell, as evidenced recently in several events.

Hundreds of Howard University students, backed by alumni and the spotlight of national media, were recently victorious in demanding the board of trustees and administration give them a greater voice in university decisions. 

Two women journalists at the New York Times changed the tide on sexual harassment reporting by documenting the widespread abuse of power by disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey were celebrated  with the Pulitzer Prize.

The recent efforts of the Parkland, Florida students to mobilize a nation to march against gun violence in just days and weeks demonstrate the new power momentum. Emma Gonzales now has 1.6 million twitter followers; David Hogg has 765,000. 

But as power evolves, the cycle of power begins again.  What’s new becomes old. 

This shift of power is evident with the recent Oklahoma teacher strike. At least 12 teachers originally involved in the strike have shifted their focus from marching to running for office.


In 2015, shortly after the Baltimore Uprising in response to the death of Freddie Gray, I joined protesters marching to City Hall to demand several bills be enacted to change policing in the State of Maryland.  

Just two years earlier, I was serving in the Mayor’s Office as the Deputy Director of Policy and Communications fighting against some of the same injustices that gained national attention through the protest. I was part of the new power. I had been a part of the old power.    

With the polarization of the new and the old, power itself is taking on new, more boundless forms. The current presidency has been the perfect next chapter for the evolution of our democracy.  It has jolted a sense of safety and provided a wake-up-call for many Americans.  It may be behind the gender shift in power in this country.  

More than twice as many women are running for Congress in 2018, compared With 2016.  At least 575 women have declared their intention to run for Congress or governor.

In Alabama, 98 percent of African American voters supported Doug Jones; ushering in Alabama’s first Democratic senator in 25 years.  Women of color, once disenfranchised and not even allowed the equal right to vote, are now nearly 20 percent of the population and the core of the progressive movement.  

Establishment strategies need to exist in any power structure to get work done. Old power– no matter how well-intentioned  — is destined to become hollow without the constant agitation of new power.

A nation that is outraged and demands immediate action when black men are marginalized in Starbucks or teachers aren’t getting paid enough should not be seen as a nation in crisis. For democracy to truly work, the tension and discomfort of the old versus new can be the norm.

 As new power changes the face and distribution of power in this country to women, teachers, students, persons of color and all those who have been underrepresented, it is tempting to assume that this is the power we have been working toward.

But the power of democracy is not in the new; it’s in the balance of power that can only come from the collision of the old versus new.  The tension of this power asks questions, is accountable and accessible to us all.

Kimberly Manns is the managing director of Early Matters Dallas, a coalition of over 150 early childhood advocates. She is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.

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