Two weeks ago today, 4:53 p.m. Haiti time, Port-au-Prince (Potoprens in Kreyol) was devastated by a massive earthquake. Today, two weeks later, coverage of the disaster is decreasing; finding fault or blame is increasing; and the attention of the world and U.S. body politic is shifting back to more mundane things, like the Super Bowl.
It will take years for Haitians to recover and the international community will be central to their recovery, but how long will people care? It’s an important question.
Long before the latest catastrophe struck Haiti, I’ve been thinking about what I believe is a pertinent and basic “conversation” in, particularly, westernized society…and that is the conversation about power.
Boiled to its essence, I believe there are two classes of people: those with power, and those without. Those in power presume they have the right to control agendas and conversations. They do this in sundry ways: controlling information, money, and on and on and on. You can be born into power, work to get into power, or be identified as useful to power. But it’s a club entered by invitation only.
The official Haiti conversation is almost totally dominated by traditional power.
Power isn’t a partisan deal, and it isn’t Republican or Democrat either. It can be cliques who through one means or another control access or agendas. It can be seemingly out of power people who have a following. Power is ubiquitous. One way to stay out of the power circles is to diss power… power people prefer followers.
In Haiti, most of the people are about as powerless as any people are anywhere in the world. Most are illiterate (I’d maintain this is far more by design of the Powerful rather than lack of motivation of the powerless). Educated people can be troublesome. The language of the ordinary Haitian is Kreyol; the official and international language of Haiti is French…. Even language disenfranchises the ordinary Haitian.
Of course, there are decent power people, and indecent ones. It is a complicated process to identify the difference, so usually everyone in a particular class is typecast in various ways, as “good” or “bad.” Such simplicity is not helpful.
The out-of-power people far, far outnumber the people in power, and the powerful know this: thus the strategies to disempower those not in the inner circles, by disinformation, or discipline or otherwise. If one’s neighbor ends up in jail for no good reason, one notices.
There’s a way out of powerlessness and that is by no longer being willing to play by the rules established by power. If the folks in the neighborhood were challenged to play a National Football League team, using NFL rules and criteria, one knows the result…but if the NFL rules and criteria were thrown out and replaced with the neighborhood rules, the results could be very different. But one first of all has to be believe that there are other rules of engagement than those mandated by the powerful.
I’ve long been enchanted by the mantra I hear at demonstrations: “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, like the power of the people, say WHAT? There ain’t no power….” The chant is delivered with gusto, but I have come to believe that the chanters really don’t believe it. And they leave their power on the street, unrealized.
The ordinary Haitians, the ones who will disappear soon from the media screen, but are there in the neighborhoods, will be the salvation of their country. All one can hope is that the commitment of the powerful will be a bit more toward justice than the traditional charity*.
Stay engaged. If you feel you have no power, try to look at your power a bit differently.
It’s 4:53 p.m. Haiti time. Time to click on Publish.
* My own interpretation on charity vs justice was written on return from Haiti in December, 2003. It is accessible at this link page 17.