Person Power

From People Power to Person Power

The term “people power” was coined during the successful Philippine insurrection of 1986, to indicate the impressive power available to citizens when acting collectively. But as Cardinal Sin pointed out during that mass uprising: “It was amazing. It was two million independent decisions. Each one said, in his heart, ‘I will do this,’ and they went out.”

In other words, even the collective power of people requires individual contributions, or what we at Metta Center like to call “person power.” Gandhi, Thoreau, and others saw that even one person’s witness can confront state power and carry the day when circumstances are right (think of the still-anonymous “tank man” at Tiananmen Square). More, there is a practically unlimited potential within the human individual, and the recognition of that potential is the main feature of the “new story”: the discovery of often-overlooked capacities within us, especially the capacity for “soul force,” which, as Gandhi said, is our defining characteristic as human beings. “Soul force” is a common English translation of Satyagraha. Individuals have souls—corporations do not!

In stressing the central importance of person power, we do not overlook the significance of numbers in certain circumstances, but we do not see only numbers as the resource of oppressed groups. Numbers, when needed, often collect around key individuals—think of Gandhi and his 70 fellow marches leaving the ashram on the famous Salt March. Their numbers swelled close to 70,000 by the time they reached the sea at Dandin. Numbers can be critical, but in the end, Gandhi felt, “cowards rejoice in numbers; the brave delight in fighting alone.”

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