Empowerment: An Introduction

Throughout modern history humans have allowed an individual or small group of individuals to determine what the idea of progress is. Whether in the form of religion, state or economics, humans have allowed and empowered institutions with no connections to community or individual (aside from laws, regulations and manipulated commerce) to dis-empower the community and individual for another group of actors’ greater good.

This blog is meant to offer a political perspective based around empowerment of community and individual that goes beyond the basic binary approach to politics (left v right/Democrat v Republican) that dominates our US and even international politics and society. In future releases this blog will focus on popular topics and policies and how empowerment applies or could be applied. For now, we will look at how I view empowerment of individual and community in a broader sense with a basic traffic policy examination to show real world application of empowerment/dis-empowerment.

Julian Rappaport, credited with the modern psychological view of “empowerment” says in the American Journal of Community Psychology (Vol. 15, no. 2, 1987) that empowerment is “a pervasive positive value in American culture. The concept suggests both individual determination of one’s own life and democratic participation in the life of one’s community, often through mediating structures such as schools, neighborhoods, churches, and other voluntary organizations. Empowerment conveys both a psychological sense of personal control or influence and a concern with actual social influence, political power, and legal rights. It is a multilevel construct applicable to individual citizens as well as to organizations and neighborhoods…” Rappaport goes on to point out that empowerment varies from individual to individual and community to community, but that this helps us solve problems at a more manageable level and efficient manner instead of through a “monolithic ‘helping’ structure.”

The current model of US governance requires dis-empowerment of self and community by voting for a small centralized group of actors that in turn give your power to foreign actors, corporate actors, and bureaucratic institutions through various military, trade and regulatory policies. Most of the institutions, private and public, are unaccountable to and unrepresentative of the majority of citizens (see any approval rating of congress or USG in general). And as Martin Gilens and Benjamine Page empirically demonstrate in “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interests Groups and Average Citizens,” even before the Citizens United v FEC ruling, the US government rarely enacts policies that are campaigned upon or empowering to the average citizen, much less so to the poor and minority classes.

Also, US societal attitudes, even when dominated by elitist class controls of information flow, routinely change and adapt long before ruling religious and state institutions’ policies and laws. Societal issues become highly politicized, lumped with other unrelated issues and debated in a cyclical manner that detracts/distracts from other seemingly more important issues (rights, liberties, food security, water security and energy security). Thus, modern systems are further dis-empowering to individual and community based on inefficiency alone.

A modern example of dis-empowerment of individual and community could be something as basic as victim-less non violent primary offense traffic laws, in other words, when an armed government agent has legal authority to stop and issue a monetary fine (or worse) for nothing other than an individual deciding to not wear a safety belt, or not fully stopping at stop sign. The majority of citizens didn’t vote for (empower) a member of ruling class to create more laws allowing for average citizen to be stopped and fined on a daily basis by armed government agents for victim-less non violent behaviors. And the politician when running for office probably didn’t campaign on that basis either. The problem with these primary offense laws based on victim-less non violent action is fact that government agents are far more likely to stop the poor class or minorities, as almost all studies both government and non government show. Not to mention an epidemic of armed government agents, depending on source, killing 1-3 US citizens every day – higher than all other developed nations. Examples of this abuse of power include Lavar Jones of South Carolina, who was pulled over because of a primary offense seat belt law – he survived being shot in the hip while gathering his auto registration documents. Others, who were confronted by armed government agents for victim-less non violent traffic related infractions, like Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Rexdale W. Henry, and Deven Guilford were killed or subsequently died in government custody.

In a world made up of individuals and communities first, these dis-empowering traffic laws and regulations shouldn’t exist. We have technology, like seat belt sensors and smart cars, that make driving safer than ever. Not to mention our ability to educate on a multitude of media platforms, and the drivers licensing process should make informing populace on traffic safety easier as well. These progressive technologies and ability to communicate should allow for individual and community to remain empowered in daily lives by limiting unnecessary interaction between citizen and armed government agents, and also lessening burden of monetary fines in an age of growing inequality and shrinking middle class.

Empowerment, regardless of your personal beliefs, means focusing on you and those around you that you directly affect in your daily life. It means not giving away your power as a human to archaic violent institutions until you’ve exhausted all other options, and addressed the still remaining dis-empowering issues. Empowerment means focusing on individual and community policies, which can be achieved faster and more efficiently locally, as opposed to waiting for a “monolithic” and archaic imperialist institution to enact societal policy preferences that invariably are beneficial and favoring in some way to ruling and elitist class.

We will further examine the concept of empowerment and its application in various forms – sometimes based around governmental policies and other times based on current events.

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Thanks for reading!

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