Power is often seen as a dirty word but it is neither positive nor negative. It is just a word after all. However, the word is used to describe influence or potential for influence. El Tiempo Latino’s “Power Meter 100” sponsored by The Washington Post created an annual process to recognize the top 100 influencers in the DMV community. Why is this useful or important?
It is important to know who is considered powerful to understand how power moves. Powerful decision makers can affect our daily lives. Council Members of the city have the power to create legislation like whether to raise the minimum wage or not. Knowing a Council Member’s political interests is information that can be transformative in learning how their decisions will affect or potentially affect your life.
Serving as a judge for the first Washington, DC “Power Meter 100” was quite a challenge, given the extraordinary number of outstanding individuals that were nominated. The first challenge was considering how I understood power. I wanted to make sure that my selection was an accurate representation of measuring power. Many of my opinions and beliefs have been shaped by my work in political campaigns and community organizing. I found that perspective to be the most appropriate for this challenge.
In those two types of fields, we learn that power is “organized people or organized money”. It is implied that there is a goal or purpose in leveraging people or money; meaning that there is a specific self-interest or outcome that is to be accomplished by using one of these types of power. Examples of organized people are labor unions, political parties, and collectives of people that have a common purpose or goal. These groups have some sort of common interest or outcome they want to achieve. Organized money is power to influence through the expenditure or investment of money. The result of the application of these actions is the manifestations of power. I thought of this while reviewing the vetted list of over 400 nominees but imagining why each person had been nominated quickly became exhausting, so using that principle was helpful to see each nominee's potential for influence.
Yet, power can reside in a neighborhood boy that has done good. I think of the story of a young man from Anacostia who graduates from an Ivy League law school and then works for the first black U.S.President. His influence is in the example that he represents to those young people growing up with the most difficult circumstances as a motivation that they can also achieve. Similarly, power can also reside in the immigrant from Central America, who against all odds reaches the pinnacle of their career as a young Executive Director. They do not represent “organized people or organized power” but “iconic power”. What they represent is powerful because it is not accidental but rather intentional. These type of leaders can be powerful because the image they project inspires others but at the same time they are also decision makers with a say in organizational budgets.