Volume 13, 2007


Concepts for Revisioning Power for Justice, Equality and Peace

Valerie Miller, Lisa VeneKlasen, Molly Reilly and Cindy Clark

Just Associates





Background: Why Power, Why Now?

Context: A Social Fabric in Need of Repair
The Challenge of Power
Did we forget about power?

Basic concepts of power
Sources and Expression of Power

     Power Over

     Vital Power

     Power With

     Power To

     Power Within

Power Over: Multiple Dimensions and Responses
Visible Power: Observable Decision-making
Hidden Power: Setting the Political Agenda
Invisible Power: Shaping Meaning, Sense of Self and What’s ‘Normal’
Correcting Strategic Power Imbalances
Power and Knowledge: Contemporary Dilemmas
Knowledge plus Noise
Too much institutionalization?

The Power of Numbers and Movement-building

Returning to the Personal is Political
Multiple Spaces of Power: Local to Global Dynamics
9 Things to Remember When Taking Power in Account for Strategies and Action
About the Authors


Still I Rise

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

- Maya Angelou

Background: Why Power, Why Now?

Over the last 15 years, people and organizations concerned about social justice, equality and development have increasingly turned to policy advocacy and campaigning to promote change. Despite the promise of these approaches for advancing people- and planet-centered agendas in public policy, many activists find themselves holding the line against further rollbacks of important economic, environmental, racial justice and gender equality gains, and searching for more effective ways to engage and transform power. This search is leading to deeper inquiries about the nature of change and power, inquiries that revisit past history and approaches, while tapping new energy, ideas and opportunities for revitalizing social movements and change strategies.

In this quest, we find people asking themselves hard questions:

As these concerns deepen, new sources of inspiration and inquiry emerge. For example, in September 2006 a group of diverse women leaders from Mexico and Central America1, came together to examine some of these questions in light of their experiences as feminists and human rights activists. The contradictions and unfulfilled promises of the region’s revolutionary struggles gave their inquiry both an uncommon depth of analysis and sense of perspective and hope. Many of the ideas and questions presented in this edition of Making Change Happen were sharpened by those rich discussions and draw from the work carried out by JASS’ members over several years, some of which is distilled in the book, A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics: The Action Guide to Advocacy and Citizen Participation, VeneKlasen and Miller, World Neighbors, 2002; Reprinted by ITDG:UK, 2006.

We will dedicate two editions of Making Change Happen (No. 3 and 4) to an examination of the complexities of power and opportunities for constructing and transforming power. This edition looks at concepts and ways of understanding power with the hope of contributing to debates on how to strengthen analysis, action and movement building. Building on this conceptual basis and debate, a second companion piece will focus on empowerment and action strategies.


We are struggling for the heart and soul of community – community built on a commitment to the common good and cooperation … upheld by solid bonds of human relationships that respect diversity and human rights, a weave of justice woven with multiple threads of power and people…


Mexican and Central American Women Leaders

JASS Movement-Building Institute, September 2006


Let us teach both ourselves and others that politics does not have to be the art of the possible…but that it also can be the art of the impossible, that is, the art of making both ourselves and the world better.


Vaclav Havel, President of Czechoslovakia 1990


Context: A Social Fabric in Need of Repair

The global context shaping current possibilities for change presents a challenging panorama. Advances of corporate globalization, neo-conservative politics and fundamentalisms are tearing apart the social fabric of societies around the world, dislocating communities and ravaging notions of the common good and human solidarity.

These forces have eroded the role of the state as upholder and protector of human rights and undermined the idea of the public good in both the Global North and the Global South. Reinforced by the US administration’s vision of power and morality, widespread violence and a focus on national security has bred new forms of militarism, eating up public budgets and intensifying divisions between nations and peoples. For women, this has meant dramatic reductions in basic freedoms and particularly virulent attacks on their reproductive rights. In most countries, public services aimed at addressing inequities have been drastically cut. Dominant ideology de-legitimizes the mediating and redistributive role of the state, emphasizing private philanthropy as a substitute for government guarantees of basic well-being and further weakening the state’s capacity to govern and contribute to a healthy social fabric.

With the unraveling of the social fabric, a profound sense of isolation and alienation permeates many people’s lives across class, race, gender and national divides. In the face of terror attacks, war, every-day violence on the streets and growing inequality, governments use fear and intolerance to control and manipulate people, increasing anxiety and alarm. To cope with insecurity and fear, people in all corners of the earth are seeking some sense of community. Under such conditions, any form of community can seem better than none at all. Fundamentalisms of all kinds have provided comforting worldviews that buffer and simplify the complexities of the world and promise some sense of community, and connection. These simplifications attempt to homogenize life, reinforcing stereotypes, “natural” hierarchy and privilege, obscuring difference and diversity. They reduce life’s complications to a simplistic vision of right and wrong, good and evil, where power relationships embedded in patriarchy, race and class are made invisible.

When democratic politics can no longer shape the discussion about how we should organize our common life, when it is limited to securing the necessary conditions for the smooth functioning of the market: in these circumstances the conditions are ripe for talented demagogues to articulate popular frustration. We should realize that to a great extent the success of right wing populists… is due to the fact that they provide people with some form of hope, with the belief that things can be different. Of course this is an illusory hope, founded on false premises and on unacceptable mechanisms of exclusion in which xenophobia usually plays a central role. But when these parties are the only ones offering an outlet for political passions their claim to offer an alternative can be seductive.

Chantal Mouffe2



The increasing concentration of mainstream media outlets has facilitated the spread of western commercial culture and consumerism, further fueling anti-western and fundamentalist backlash. A trend toward sensationalized info-tainment has reduced the availability of thoughtful and rigorous information and news. Adults busy with economic survival and family responsibilities often have little time to seek out alternative explanations for what’s happening around them.


Evolving communications technology and immigration have allowed people to connect globally forming new virtual and transborder communities that call into question fundamentalisms and build bonds that redefine and help to mend the social fabric. The ability to tap multiple sources of knowledge in exciting ways and build alternative networks offer enormous promise for justice as witnessed in the extraordinary work of the International Land Mines Campaign, the growing power of transnational people’s movements and the thriving energy of the World Social Forum processes. Yet the ability to fully realize this potential for connection requires more equitable access across class and geography, and the strengthening of critical thinking skills to analyze the quality of information and develop alternative visions, ideas and strategies.

Given the centrality of dominant ideologies in the current global landscape, activists point to the need for developing strategies that tap into widely held values of dignity, fairness and community, and reinforce alternative worldviews and agendas for inclusive social, economic and environmental wellbeing. This renewed energy and more holistic vision of change provides inspiration and opens up fresh possibilities for revitalizing strategies and social movements. How we tap this power of heart and soul and community in the face of seemingly overwhelming counter forces becomes the challenge of our time.


People are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

The Earth Summit’s Agenda for Change, Rio de Janeiro, 1993


The Challenge of Power3

Our physics lessons failed us – we forgot the basics that for every action there is an equal or greater reaction,


Mexican feminist activist on the backlash against women’s rights.

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.


Blaise Pascal


While power is an integral dynamic of any change, it turns out to be one of the more difficult and unsettling topics to address. Power can seem especially monolithic and impenetrable for individuals who have lived under regimes that deny freedoms or repress people’s voice and participation. Power is seen as a win-lose kind of relationship. Having power is a zero-sum game, involving taking it from someone else, and then, using it to dominate, subordinate and prevent others from gaining it. Such a one-dimensional view can paralyze analysis and action. When people see power as sinister and unchanging, they are unable to recognize their own sources of power.

In reality, power is dynamic, relational and multidimensional, changing according to context, circumstance and interest. Its expressions and forms can range from domination and resistance to collaboration and transformation. This is good news for social justice promoters whose strategies depend upon new opportunities and openings in the practice and structures of power.

Did we forget about power?


Despite the dynamic nature of power, programs and strategies promoting human rights, equality and justice the world over have seemingly gotten stuck in superficial approaches to power relationships and interests, and an over-reliance on policy and technical solutions. The failure to deal with the complexities of power can lead to missed opportunities and poor strategic choices. Worse, it can be risky and counterproductive.

Common approaches to citizen engagement such as the World Bank PRSP
4 process and the plethora of “citizen summits” and “listening sessions” emphasize bringing everyone to the table as ‘stakeholders’, but fail to recognize that underlying power dynamics between conflicting interests have a huge impact on people’s capacity to participate and influence outcomes. All stakeholders are not equal, yet they are treated as such, while agendas and parameters of discussion are defined in ways that leave out crucial issues5. Consequently, these processes usually produce neither new policy directions nor real changes in the way decisions are made and can reinforce people’s cynicism about the value of “participating”. In fact, they often reinforce, rather than alter, the profound power dynamics around race and ethnicity, class and gender that shape people’s expectations and behavior concerning whose concerns get heard and addressed.

Internationally, the 1990s were the hey day for civil society activists who utilized important UN conferences and international gatherings to achieve critical policy successes and shifts in discourse in a range of issues from the environment to women’s rights. Today, many realize that they did not fully anticipate the backlash or diversionary forms of power that got triggered by their victories. In recent years, advocacy experiences raise questions about the continued relevance of these types of policy openings for advancing social justice goals.
6 Some global activists believe that these are becoming ‘black holes,’ diverting advocates and resources from national-level opportunities for change and more pressing political concerns. What’s more, many feel that the focus on policy and campaigning has contributed to the general depoliticization of social justice strategies and a growing disconnect between local, national and global work, and between advocates and social movements.


The current context presents considerable challenges for activists. New bold efforts are needed to reclaim the power and vision of movements for justice. Yet among busy and pragmatic organizers and activists, there is sometimes resistance to re-examining basic assumptions about power and change, or studying theory and history, which are considered impractical abstractions. There is often a sense that concepts are for researchers, not doers. This false dichotomy can have crippling effects since it denies activists the systematic analysis and knowledge of past experience. Having a conversation, in a deliberate and collaborative way, about how power and change operate in light of real-life politics and organizing experiences is absolutely necessary in order to articulate how we expect to promote change. This conversation is in itself an organizing and empowerment strategy.


Basic concepts of power

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the US civil rights leader who challenged racism and economic injustice during the mid 20
th century, defined power as “the ability to achieve a purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change.” Whether power promotes changes that advance justice and transforms inequities depends precisely on its purpose, the values guiding it, and the way it is used.


“Power can be defined as the degree of control over material, human, intellectual and financial resources exercised by different sections of society. The control of these resources becomes a source of individual and social power…. The extent of power of an individual or group is correlated to how many different kinds of resources they can access and control. Different degrees of power are sustained and perpetuated through social divisions such as gender, age, caste, class, ethnicity, race, north-south; and through institutions such as the family, religion, education, media, the law, etc…There is a continuous process of resistance and challenge by the less powerful and marginalised sections of society, resulting in various degrees of change in the structures of power. When these challenges become strong and extensive enough, they can result in the total transformation of a power structure.” Srilatha Batliwala, Indian feminist7


Sources and Expressions of Power


Power is categorized in many ways, often as economic, political, social, or cultural. Women’s rights advocates and feminists have developed other types of categories that clarify the diverse sources and expressions of power – both positive and negative. These include the most common controlling forms of power --power over-- and more life-affirming and transformational forms – power with, power to, and power within. Naming such dynamics can be liberating and mind-expanding. By using these types of analytical categories, people can better understand how forces of subordination and inequity operate in their own lives and envision alternative strategies and visions of power through which they can challenge injustice.

Power Over

The most commonly recognized form of power, power over, has many negative associations for people, such as repression, force, coercion, discrimination, corruption, and abuse. At its most basic, it operates to privilege certain people while marginalizing others. In politics, those who control resources and decision-making have power over those without and exclude others from access and participation. When people are denied access to important resources like land, healthcare, and jobs, power over perpetuates inequality, injustice and poverty.


In the absence of alternative models and relationships, people repeat the power over pattern in their personal interaction, values, communities, and institutions. For example, to maintain emotional relationships with men that are crucial to their family stability and economic survival, women often feel they must give up much of their own power or use it in a manipulative way. When women or people from marginalized or “powerless” groups gain power in leadership positions, they sometimes “imitate the oppressor.” For this reason, activists cannot expect that the experience of being excluded prepares people to become democratic leaders. New forms of leadership and decision-making must be explicitly defined, taught, and rewarded in order to promote democratic forms of power. As part of this process, values need to be challenged, reclaiming those that support justice, equity and compassion.


One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic … power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Vital Power

Practitioners and academics have searched for more collaborative ways of exercising and using power. Feminists and women’s rights activists are seeking alternative paradigms and ways of understanding power that promote more equitable and cooperative relationships and values. Drawing on their own experiences with power and rejecting the idea of power over, some women use the notion of vital or life-affirming power. They see this form of power as a way to focus on building alternatives that emphasize the affirmation and development of life, based on the responsibilities involved in caring for life in all its forms. The parameters and ethics for using such power come from a focus on both rights and responsibilities and its emphasis on the renewal and regeneration of life with all its energies, forces, creativity and chaos. It envisions multiple forms and hubs of leadership emerging from different places according to needs, events, moments and language.8 This quest for alternatives is ongoing and offers new insights on how we can express and use power as seen in the three visions presented below.

…forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

bell hooks


These alternatives offer positive ways of expressing power that create the possibility of forming more equitable relationships and structures and transforming power over. By affirming people’s capacity to act creatively and collectively, they provide some basic principles for constructing empowering strategies.

Power With

Power with has to do with finding common ground among different interests in order to build collective strength. Based on mutual support, solidarity, collaboration and recognition and respect for differences, power with multiplies individual talents, knowledge and resources to make a larger impact. Power with can help build bridges across differences by openly acknowledging conflicts and seeking to transform or reduce them for a larger aim. Power with can generate a larger impact but can also provide a grounding sense of community and spiritual connection. At this moment when social justice efforts feel over-institutionalized, fragmented and disconnected, deliberate strategies to construct and promote power with are vital, including alliance-, coalition- and movement-building. All of these require processes to acknowledge diversity and disagreement while seeking common ground around values and vision.

Power To

Power to refers to the unique potential of every person to shape his or her life and world. Education, training and leadership development for social justice are based on the belief that each individual has the power to make a difference, which can be multiplied by new skills, knowledge, awareness and confidence. When based on mutual support, it opens up the possibilities of joint action, or power with others. For organizing and advocacy efforts to succeed, they must tap into and nurture people’s power to potential. This is especially critical coming on the heels of an era that emphasizes top-down expertise and technical solutions. These have tended to negate people’s sense of power to – deepening withdrawal from public life and producing a sense of resignation.

Power Within

Power within has to do with a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge. It is grounded in an ethical value base that fosters a vision of human rights and responsibilities and an ability to recognize individual differences while respecting others. Power within is the capacity to imagine and have hope; it affirms the shared human search for dignity and fulfillment and is strengthened by an understanding of power and the common good, and a constant practice of questioning and challenging assumptions. Spirituality, story telling, music, dancing and critical reflection can affirm people’s power within which can serve as a nourishing force behind the tireless efforts of social justice activists. Effective grassroots organizing efforts use such methods to help people affirm personal worth, tap into their dreams and hope, and recognize their power to and power with.

All these expressions of life-affirming power are fundamental to the concept referred to as agency – the never-ending human capacity to act and change the world—a term used by scholars writing about social change and development. The notion of agency draws on sources of power implicit in these different expressions such as the power of numbers, confidence, experience, critical thinking, knowledge, organization, vision, humor, persistence, commitment, solidarity, song, poetry, and story. Seemingly simple, these positive ways of thinking about people’s power can lead to more effective and integrated movement-building strategies. They help to ensure that strategies for change aren’t reduced to lobbying or a mechanical formula but consider and account for the ways people feel empowered, fired up and connected. In tapping into power to, power within and power with, strategies must deal with the psychological and social dimensions of oppression and subordination that – because of race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation and other factors – leave people feeling inferior, isolated, cynical and often angry.

Discrimination is embedded in all societies in a variety of ways so that resources and benefits are distributed unequally according to race and ethnicity, gender, class, religion and location primarily. Discrimination and exclusion depends on who has access and who has control of these.

Access: the opportunity to make use of something for a larger gain

Control: the ability to define its use and impose that definition on others

Resources can include:

economic or productive resources, such as land, equipment, tools, cash, employment

political resources such as representative organizations, leadership, education and information, experience in the public sphere, self-confidence and credibility

time which is particularly scare and critical for women


Benefits serve basic needs – these benefits include food, clothing and shelter, income – and provide less tangible advantages that improve a person’s position – such as education, asset ownership, political power, prestige, connections and opportunities to pursue new interests.

Equality of opportunity – a common policy for facilitate access -- usually fails to rectify discrimination because people are not in the same position to be able to take advantage of the opportunity due to historical disadvantages. Socialization play a big role in keeping things this way by normalizing inequality as “natural” and having to do with individual ability, including traits people are born with. .

Because of deeply ingrained social structures of discrimination and oppression, people experience power dynamics differently according to the social characteristics or identities that make up who they are. Everyone of us has multiple, often nuanced identities– based on gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, education, age, sexual orientation, ability, etc. Because of this, we can experience privilege and subordination simultaneously. For example, anywhere in the world, a medical doctor or an NGO leader who is respected in her profession may suffer domestic abuse at home. In one setting, a person may be more powerful while in another setting, face discrimination. For example, in the United States, a powerful African American professional may find himself unable to hail a taxi successfully because he’s stereotyped as dangerous by the media and popular culture.

Understanding these interactions of power and identity can help untangle the contradictory dynamics that confuse and confound people as they work for social justice and equality. By naming differences and commonalities, this intersection of personal characteristics, sometimes called intersectionality, allows us to find points of unity and common action. It helps us move away from the either-or thinking that can oversimplify people’s experience, the roles they can play and their strategies for change.

White privilege is as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was meant to remain oblivious.

Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege".


Intersectionality is an analytical tool that helps us understand and respond to the ways in which each person’s social characteristics or identities interconnect and contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege. The concept of intersectionality helps to move beyond overly simplified conceptions of identity—“women” or “working-class” or “indigenous”—to surface the complexities of privilege and subordination that are sometimes ignored or glossed over. Disparities in power and privilege within a group cannot be addressed unless they are first surfaced and acknowledged. Feminist interpretations of women’s experience over the years offers rich insights into the dynamics of power and oppression. While class remains a powerful determinant of inequality and people’s sense of power, gender and race are often equally potent given the powerful biases of socialization that “keep people in their place.”

I don’t want to be a full time Roma smart-ass.

Enisa Eminova, Macedonian feminist on being reduced to a single identity, 2005.


Some well-intended efforts to develop new consciousness and affirm people’s sense of self-worth and pride in their identity have inadvertently isolated people and led to a political dead end. This kind of identity politics fails to affirm people’s multiple identities and basic sense of responsibility to one another, and hinders the growth of thoughtful and inclusive alliances where people engage as active agents and citizens, rather than victims. In this way, an over-emphasis on identity as the basis for political action has contributed to the fragmentation of social movements, including the women’s movement, and the demobilization of potentially vibrant constituencies.


The challenge of identity and intersectionality lies in recognizing and addressing differences and inequalities, but not allowing them to become unbridgeable chasms that prevent people from identifying common ground and building relationships of solidarity. Potentially powerful alliances for social justice—from North-South coalitions to linkages between grassroots constituencies and global policy advocates—confront important questions connected to privilege and control. For example, the emerging food sovereignty movement is piecing together common ground among diverse groups, tapping into the needs and concerns of small-scale farmers, anti-hunger activists, peasant federations and middle-class consumers worried about health and food quality.

See Making Change Happen 4 for tools and steps for integrating intersectionality into planning, leadership development and action strategies.


Power Over: Multiple Dimensions and Responses9

During the last decade or so, rights and social justice strategies have increasingly focused on a single aspect of power -- the most visible (see below). This focus on policy goals, litigation, elections and the mainstream media has been encouraged by different factors, including earlier successes in this arena and donor priorities, as discussed earlier. But as we enter the 21
st century, the palpable force of ideologies in shaping the possibilities and directions of social justice remind us that power over operates on multiple levels. Activists are realizing, once again, that social justice is ultimately a battle of hearts as well as minds, and they are looking for ways to understand and address the multiple dimensions of power.

To help navigate power more effectively, we present three interactive dimensions of power over that shape the parameters of political action, participation and change. These range from the more obvious and visible to those hidden and invisible that operate behind the scenes. While they are presented separately, in practice they interact and reinforce one another and need to be viewed holistically as do strategies for challenging their webs of discrimination and subordination.


Visible Power: Observable Decision-making


A conventional understanding of power assumes that contests over interests are visibly negotiated in public spaces with established rules. These public spaces are often viewed as an even playing field – where logic, factual information and the power of persuasion and persistence are vital to winning compromises. Much current advocacy and campaigning focus on these visible faces and arenas such as public policies, legislatures, government agencies, court systems, political parties and elections, corporate by-laws or non-profit policies. Strategies such as lobbying, media, litigation, research and analysis are crucial.


Yet contrary to the belief in the even playing field, there are two main ways that visible power discriminates against certain interests and people:

Advocacy strategies that target this dimension of power often try to change the ‘who, how, and what’ of policy-making—the decision-makers, the transparency and inclusiveness of the process, and the policies—so that decision-making is more democratic and accountable, and people’s needs and rights are addressed. However, challenging and focusing on one dimension of power is never enough to promote or sustain change over the long run.

First they gave us a day for women. Then they gave us a year. Then they gave us a decade. Now we’re hoping for a century – and maybe then they’ll let us in for the whole show.

Bella Abzug, US feminist.


Hidden Power: Setting the Political Agenda


Certain powerful actors that may not be formal decision-makers (elected, appointed or otherwise) nevertheless maintain their influence by controlling who gets to the decision-making table and what gets on the agenda. Hidden power works to exclude and devalue the concerns and representation of other less powerful groups, like women, racial minorities, peasant farmers and the urban poor. Difficulties in gaining positive and fair media coverage can further inhibit visibility and legitimacy, and leave ordinary people confused and misinformed. As the mainstream media is increasingly controlled by a small set of corporations, the potential for getting a balanced view or any coverage at all shrinks. Media analysts and critics show how limited, negative coverage of women, workers, immigrants, ethnic and racial minorities and their issues reinforces stereotypes and biases that play out in the ways that police, courts, employers and other treat people.


How issues and ideas are framed and presented illustrates how this type of power operates behind the scenes to exclude and minimize alternatives. For example, feminism is deemed elitist or a western import that destroys families. Blaming the changing status or women or ideas about women’s equality deflects attention from the economic realities that break families apart. Similarly, environmentalism is painted as an impractical, academic exercise that destroys good jobs. Many political leaders frame policy decisions in terms of security interests, manipulating fear and anxiety to wage war, justify reduced freedoms and obscure the real interests for resources or control.


He/she who names it, conquers it.


In addition, public and private institutions are often structured to systematically exclude and discriminate against certain types of people and ideas. By preventing important voices and issues from getting a fair public hearing, policymaking can be skewed to benefit a few at the expense of the majority. To strengthen and gain legitimacy for marginalized groups and their issues, strategies aimed at challenging hidden power dynamics often stress leadership development, organizing, coalition-building and research and public education efforts. By combining actions that build and utilize the power of numbers, solidarity, and information with “name and shame” tactics, these types of initiatives can expose who’s under the table calling the shots and reveal their real interests.


Invisible Power: Shaping Meaning, Sense of Self and What’s ‘Normal’


Probably the most insidious of the three dimensions of power, invisible power shapes the psychological and ideological boundaries of change. Significant problems and ideas are not only kept from the decision-making table, but also from the minds and consciousness of the people involved, even those directly affected by the problem. By influencing how individuals think about their place in the world, this level of power shapes people’s beliefs, sense of self, and acceptance of the status quo – including their own sense of superiority or inferiority as ‘natural’. Processes of socialization, culture and ideology perpetuate exclusion and inequality by defining what is normal, ‘true,’ and acceptable. These processes also operate in ways to make injustices like poverty, racism, sexism and corruption invisible to the society at large, and make those who experience systematic discrimination the object of blame, including blaming themselves.

Similarly key information is kept secret from people so that issues remain invisible and cannot become part of the decision-making process. For example, tobacco companies knew for years that cigarettes and second-hand smoke caused cancer, yet their research was concealed from people. Hence cigarettes and its fumes were not deemed a health issue until that information was finally uncovered through other sources. The fact that weapons of mass destruction did not exist was kept from the world and used to justify the war on Iraq with dire results. Similarly the US administration supports the powerful oil lobby by concealing and downplaying information that demonstrates the dangers of global warming to the planet.

Change strategies to counter invisible power target social and political culture and seek to bring alternative values and worldviews alive and visible through public education and creative media and communications strategies, using poetry, theater and music as well as news. Most importantly, empowerment strategies focus on confronting dominant ideologies and strengthening critical thinking skills, visions of the common good, and individual and collective consciousness. These strategies can help transform the way people perceive themselves and those around them, and how they envision future possibilities and alternatives. In addition, research to uncover and publicize concealed information, such as the many right to know strategies used to expose dictators, polluters and corporate corruption, can be invaluable for exposing and challenging this type of power.

Below is a matrix that presents how different dimensions of power interact to shape the problem and the possibility of citizen participation and action.. It can be applied as a tool for joint analysis for planning and assessment.

Note: The distinctions among the different dimensions are not neat or clean. The arrows are intended to indicate the interactive nature of these various manifestations of power.

Correcting Strategic Power Imbalances

In the current political context, it is nearly impossible to make policy headway on issues such as health, education, housing or water without challenging the multiple dimensions of power at work—for example, the neoliberal worldview which narrows budget and policy options, downplays the notion of rights and leaves fulfillment of basic human needs to the vagaries of the private sector. These battles cannot be fought without re-claiming the concept of the common good and re-focusing attention on the long-term strategic importance of government as a guarantor of basic rights, especially economic and cultural rights.


People of color and the poor have been laboring in a society in which many believe that we have transcended our racist past and can blame poverty on personal failure. As we think about racism, we look for the individual engaged in a discrete act or acts; we understand racism as primarily a psychological event located in the mind of a racist actor. Similarly, when we think of poverty we primarily think of either an individual’s bad choices or bad luck. These individualist approaches not only affect how we understand issues of race and poverty, it also affects what issues we see and don’t see, and the solutions that we support.

John Powell10

From a pragmatic standpoint, many organizers and activists are re-focusing their efforts on invisible and hidden power because the current potential for real gains with formal institutions and structures is sharply limited.11 Rather than an obstacle, this closing off of opportunities in the visible realm of power presents big possibilities for re-energizing education and organizing strategies that nurture new leaders and voices. Organizing around worldview involves the creation of new spaces for inclusive, empowering community reflection and dialogue about what’s going on and why. By challenging dominant ideologies, people not only deepen their understanding of power dynamics and themselves, they can begin seeing the potential of solidarity and the common good. These processes can build movements of active, informed citizens with the power and organization needed to reclaim the policymaking desert and transform it into fertile soil for action that truly responds to people’s interests and needs. These processes also help to answer the question “what do we stand for?” by supporting the articulation of alternative worldviews and agendas that incorporate rights, justice, equality and democracy.


Creating new spaces for the articulation of alternatives is an increasingly urgent task, because submerging the debate about the neoliberal and fundamentalist worldview presents troubling implications for democracy as well as rights. Without channels for surfacing and resolving conflicts through collective mobilization and engagement in democratic politics, there is a danger that anger and frustration will curdle into extremism.

Power and Knowledge: Contemporary Dilemmas

“Knowledge is power!” has been a universal mantra for social justice activists for decades. Over the years, revelations of truths about powerholders have sparked many social justice struggles, from the battles fought to clean up toxic waste dumps led by working class housewives in the US in the 1970s to the Right to Know movements that have galvanized poor communities in India to confront corruption in local and state governments in recent years. Knowledge is a crucial element of building and transforming power, but it’s also a powerful tool for domination and oppression. Much depends on how it is used and generated.

In today’s political context, power over is frequently exercised through the production and control of knowledge. In the USA, the Bush administration has proven adept at the manipulation of information and perceptions about the events of 9/11, openly promulgating misinformation that casts responsibility for the tragedy on Saddam Hussein and the previous administration, despite clear evidence to the contrary. One Bush aide publicly stated “We create our own reality.”


As the ever-expanding market economy and Information Age converge, knowledge becomes a highly valued commodity. In the knowledge market, corporations and entrepreneurs compete to patent, own, sell and control information, making intellectual property a global trade priority and contentious debate. Huge profits are gained from the control of information on seeds, drugs, weapons, software, herbal remedies, music, fashion and even, social change, generating big winners and big losers. These include small farmers who are forced to buy patented seeds each planting season rather than generating their own seeds from harvests12, and indigenous women who risk violating patent laws if they continue to use their own herbal remedies handed down through the generations because they are now packaged by powerful pharmaceutical companies.

There is a profound disconnect between these large global campaigns and women in the village. The distance between Delhi and New York is easy to overcome but the distance between Delhi and the Indian village keep growing.

comments by a global advocate, 2006.

Economics is politics in technical drag

British feminist economist, 2005.


Civil society advocates and organizations are not immune from the pressures to compete in the knowledge market. Indeed, larger NGOs increasingly use the gathering of data and packaging of information as their primary strategies to win-over policymakers and the public. While a critical part of the political game, a troublesome by product of this approach is the increasing emphasis on the top-down delivery of expertise – in messages, values, slogans and simplified pamphlets -- as the focus of education activities with communities and the public. NGOs continue to assume -- usually incorrectly -- that information alone will empower and motivate people to act in disregard for the many other power dynamics shaping disengagement. Effective popular education and communication strategies offer innovative approaches for combining reflection that validates what people already know from living injustices with new information and ideas. 13

These alternative approaches draw from the notion of knowledge democracy14. In contrast to the knowledge economy where knowledge is bought and sold, knowledge is viewed as a shared resource, jointly generated and publicly owned. It is a tool for empowering and mobilizing marginalized groups, and therefore, recognizes that there are different kinds of knowledge (from experience, from reflection, from intuition, from culture as well as expertise) and each must be respected and integrated into movement-building. Knowledge is also used to advocate and negotiate justice-oriented change, including reforming the patenting laws that steal cultural heritage for profit!

Knowledge plus Noise15

Policy choice is the product of competing political interests in an uneven playing field. Policies and agendas change little without significant sustained political pressure on policymakers and powerful interests that drive the policy process and control the agenda. Knowledge, facts and information are important tools for creating pressure, but insufficient for holding powerful interests accountable or shifting the policy agenda to accommodate new issues and alternatives. Policymakers and others in power can be masterful at spin and use or invalidate demands if there isn’t a larger political force of organization and legitimacy behind them. For most marginalized groups, the only way to create meaningful pressure is by building broad-based organized alliances and movements capable of mobilizing informed, active people combined with strategic public media attention to create “noise”. Creating “noise” is a matter of building people power through popular education, leadership and organization to develop and carry out a range of strategies that push (with numbers, persistence, credibility, creativity and media) from the outside and engage strategically on the inside (with legitimate connection to the ‘outside’). For all of these strategies and more, all kinds of NGOs, grassroots organizations and social movements use and generate facts and analysis to strategize, build alliances and develop their positions, demands and alternatives. These are also distilled, re-crafted and framed for forward-looking and empowering education efforts, messages and media to reach and build support from different audiences and for more ‘noise.’

How knowledge is produced and used has a big impact on the level and depth of noise you are able to create and sustain. When information is gathered, analyzed and transformed for strategic action by citizens themselves, it can build leadership, organization and mobilization capacity more than top-down messaging and media strategies which can be used for other purposes. People tend to be moved by ideas and information they discover in pursuit of demands and solutions to practical issues rather than by abstract facts. Similarly, for research to be useful for advocates, it must firstly, be relevant to (or help define) the core issues and solutions on their agenda, and secondly, be synthesized for the various advocacy tasks of strategizing and developing positions, messages and alternatives. In order for research to be used and help strengthen movement-building and advocacy strategies, advocates, organizers and leaders need to be involved in defining the goals and priorities of the research and analyzing the findings.


Too much institutionalization?

The NGO Industrial Complex. Not a very flattering term for the growing population of big civil society organizations or non-profit institutions working at national and global levels on a range of concerns from economic development to human rights to HIV/AIDs.

This is good news and bad news. Good, because well-functioning large institutions are needed to ensure the effective delivery of services to those who need it, and make an impact on the world’s worst problems. Bad because, at a certain point, institutional interests may collide with social justice goals and opportunities. When an NGO’s budget passes the $20 million mark, it’s not surprising that demands for fundraising and branding overwhelm the behind-the-scenes, long-term community work and potentially more risky social justice strategies, particularly at a difficult political moment. A splashy rock concert with appearances of Hollywood stars is a terrific public media draw, and thus, can be an easier investment to justify to board members who care about “bang for the buck” than investment in elusive and more controversial strategies like women’s empowerment and land rights for small farmers.


While applauding the large-scale NGO campaigns that draw public attention to the perils of poverty and war, many worry that over- institutionalization (NGO-ization) has created troublesome tensions and fragmentation among civil society actors working on different issues, levels (local-national-global), and strategies. These disconnects translate into a lack of effective linkages to constituencies in both the Global North and South – undermining the political clout of organizations’ messages and lobbying. NGO dominance has generated debates with other important civil society actors, like social movements (peasants, trade union, indigenous, immigrant) and grassroots groups. Concerns about the concentration of resources and visibility in a few players and the political compromises they’re forced to make are top among these debates. In this way, NGO-ization -- while tapping into various kinds of power – is a challenge for building the power of numbers, unity and collectivity discussed below.


When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” Ethiopian proverb


The Power of Numbers and Movement-building


There is probably no more compelling form of power than the force of large numbers of different people united in a collective cause for justice. Current challenges with fragmentation and disconnection have generated renewed interest in movement-building. Movements are fundamentally made up of people and communities who share a common concern. They can include organizations like NGOs, but clusters of NGOs are not movements.16 One long-time rights activist points out that, “NGOs are made up of managers, employees, boardmembers and beneficiaries. It’s very hard for them to connect to a political cause without having their institutional interest block the way. It happens, but with the rise of the NGO professional, not that often or for long periods of time.” Even NGO networks struggle to generate the collective social justice energy needed at this moment in history.17

Respect for diversity among social justice actors is critical, but it also presents new challenges with regard to building bridges for collective, unified action. But fresh commitment to re-building movement has produced innovative alternatives, such as the Women’s Network within the MesoAmerican Peoples Gathering, which brings together women from across social movements, from grassroots as well as policy and research groups, to develop a women’s agenda as an integral part of a people’s agenda. Rather than get bogged down in institutional representation debates, activists explain that “she who volunteers and stays involved” is a member. Similarly, the emergent Autonomous Women’s Movement of Nicaragua defines membership purely on an individual basis, though recognizing that its more than 100 members are employed primarily in women’s NGOs.

These activists shared their ideas about the ideal characteristics of women’s movements to work toward:18

In order to build agile, collective power, many women’s rights and social justice activists feel that more structured spaced for political education and conversation are essential. They emphasize the need for new ideas and vision that bring people together across differences to a larger purpose. They highlight the need to improve ways of dealing with and negotiating disagreement and conflict.


Returning to the Personal is Political

Rebalancing strategies on the less visible dimensions of power brings back the well-known feminist adage: “the personal is political”. One would think that the HIV/AIDs crisis – a disease transmitted through sexual contact -- would have helped to refocus change efforts on the personal and the public dynamics of power. But in fact, programs that emphasize condoms and abstinence have failed to protect women, particularly married, women who are unable culturally to negotiate safe sex with their partner.

Practitioners and scholars familiar with the challenges of women’s empowerment explain that power takes shape in three interacting levels -- the visible or more public arenas as well as the private and intimate realms. The public realm of power affects women and men in their public life at work and in their community. The private realm of power refers to relationships and roles in families, among friends, sexual partnerships, marriage, etc. The intimate realm of power has to do with one’s sense of self, confidence, psychology and relationship to body and health.

Acknowledging the layers and contradictions of people’s experience with power and powerlessness can be helpful in understanding the tensions and contradictions generated for women by a political empowerment process unleashed by organizing, education and leadership. Similar processes can be unleashed in working on racial justice and with indigenous communities. Political change strategies that focus solely on the public realm will overlook some critical challenges facing women who are leaders, active citizens and public officials when they return to their homes and families. It is from this perspective that women activists argue that good citizenship for women and for men is not solely about public behavior.

Multiple Spaces of Power: Local to Global Dynamics

In addition to multiple dimensions of power, fast-paced globalization has changed the territorial or spatial relations of power.19 As such, key powerful actors are increasingly geographically distant from the local injustices they produce, as is the case with factories or oil companies whose shareholders and corporate decisionmakers are far from the environmental destruction or labor violations they are responsible for.


….increasingly discussions about public authority have moved from government to governance, which consist of multiple intersecting actors, arenas and networks, and in which the decisionmaking arenas in which power may be found become more varied and porous. Political power may be understood not only in the state arenas, be they city halls, parliaments of the World Trade Organization, but also through a variety of other quasi-state and non-state spaces for decisionmaking (or in the hidden faces of power for non-decisionmaking). ..this broadens considerably where we study power, and for activists seeking to challenge power, it challenges received wisdom of where and how they should focus their attention in changing the status quo…

John Gaventa 20

Local-to-global advocacy is not new. For example, transnational women’s rights networks have worked for decades to fight violence against women, using and reforming international human rights law and mechanisms to gain recognition and push for national remedies for this very local violation affecting women worldwide.21 For decades, African activists have targeted bilateral aid organizations and other international institutions to bring about change in their own, relatively weak or unresponsive governments. Similarly, activists throughout the Global South have fought for more public resources for education, healthcare and development by collaborating with activists in wealthier countries to persuade the their governments to cancel “odious” debt, throwing the fiscal accountability for supporting corrupt dictators of the past back back onto the lenders.


Corporate globalization has reshuffled power such that it is almost impossible to fight local issues without taking into account and targeting global power dynamics and actors. To some extent, governments and inter-governmental bodies have been weakened by neoliberal policies, making large private and non-profit corporations and global trade actors a critical target for social, economic and political justice agendas. The opportunities to link and expand the power of consumers, shareholders and even, investors, are growing, where coordinated groups use boycotts and other actions to get the attention of companies that violate labor rights or pollute the environment. The South-Africa Treatment Action Campaign working on HIV/AIDs, mobilized from local to global levels to successfully pressure “big Pharma” (the largest pharmaceutical transnational corporations) to reduce the price of anti-retrovirals and to enable countries like South Africa to produce low-cost generic drugs to address the HIV/AIDs health crisis. The pharmaceutical companies had threatened to seek global trade sanctions against the South Africa government, saying that the production of generics would violate intellectual property rights.

Today, as the assembly process or supply chain scatters key economic actors over many countries, strategies work to target supply chains. For example, the Taco-Bell boycott led by the Immokalee workers, a coalition of immigrant farm labor in Florida (US), targeted the global giant, Yum Brands which owns Taco Bell, the global fast-food restaurant, as the major buyer of tomatoes from agribusinesses violating workers rights. Their campaign galvanized support from a wide range of transnational groups and led to multiple victories. Today, Immokalee workers and their allies are taking their boycott higher up the food chain to McDonalds. Similarly, shareholders have been mobilized by unions, environmental and social justice activists to shift investment patters of pension funds away from countries and companies that violate and pollute.

While corporate accountability strategies have achieved important successes, the corporate sector is adept at making minor adjustments to deflect public criticism, and slipping back into business as usual when activists aren’t looking. Thus, ensuring that governments and intergovernmental bodies like the UN, have the capacity and clout to make and enforce laws that protect the rights of people and the health of the planet remains vital to achieving justice.

Global power also places new demands on activists for information-gathering, communication across borders and effective, empowering education and leadership strategies. Communities and social justice leaders need to know about the local-to-global dynamics to be able to engage critically over the long-haul. (See Making Change Happen 2: Citizen Engagement and Global Economic Power, for more discussion of popular education strategies and advocacy on local to global issues.)


Those who profess to favour freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning, they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle….Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and it never will.


Frederick Douglass

Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.


Bertholt Brecht


9 Things to Remember When Taking Power in Account for Strategies and Action

In the subsequent edition of Making Change Happen, we apply these ideas and concepts about power to strategies and action. But, we would like to share a few thoughts to move us in that direction.

  1. Analysis and concepts are necessary ingredients for effective activism! Remember that “Just do it!” is a slogan to sell gym shoes not a vision of strategy. Researchers and academics can help in the process, but activists and communities involved in change need to do the analysis and reflection themselves. This helps ground strategies, and develops critical political analysis skills.

  1. All forms of power usually operate simultaneously. At a given moment, we may choose to focus on the policy (the visible dynamics), but it’s important to not overlook the others.

  1. Most groups do not have the full range of resources and skills to undertake all of the necessary activities to maneuver and engage power dynamics effectively. Effective change strategies require both a division of labor among activists and effective linkages between efforts forged by a shared political vision and commitment to synergy between diverse actions.

  1. To achieve this level of coordination and political agility, activists (and their donors) need to give more time and energy to the face-to-face structured conversations required to coordinate action, get on the same page about the political context and negotiate difference.

  1. Inequality is not solved by widgets. Widgets (like seeds, technology, vaccines, etc.) are a welcome and essential part of addressing the poverty and disease that inequality produces, but they will fail to achieve their potential if complex political realities of human interaction and social structures are not addressed in some way.

  1. Policy change is a necessary but insufficient avenue to achieve justice.

  1. Technical information is vital to effective political work but will not motivate people to act. A song or a poem might.

  1. Persuasive, bold messages will capture public attention and help to build support for new alternatives. But the world can’t be re-explained by a slogan. People are willing to hear more and participate in that conversation with their own views, especially if we tap how they feel.

  1. Affirming and recognizing the human search for meaning and dignity, is a critical aspect of movement-building.


Batliwala, Srilatha (2002), “Grassroots Movements as Transnational Actors: Implications for Global Civil Society”, Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations.

(2005), “From Evaluation to Learning in Social Change”, PPT presentation, (www.

(1995), “Women’s Empowerment in South Asia: Concepts and Practice”, New Delhi: Food and Agricultural Organization/Asia South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education.

Bradley, Alexa (2005), “What is the Organizing Work of Reshaping Political Debates?”, memo for Grassroots Policy Project.

Brock, Karen, Andrea Cornwall and John Gaventa, (2001) Power, Knowledge and Political Spaces in the Framing of Poverty Policy, IDS WP 143.

Coria, Clara (1996) Las Negociaciones Nuestras de Cada Dia.  Ediciones Paidos Iberica.

Cornwall, Andrea and John Gaventa (2001) Power, Knowledge and Political Spaces in the Framing of Poverty Policy, IDS WP 143.

de Montis, Malena and Sofia Montenegro (1997) “Transgresion y Cambio, Imagenes Desde Liderazgo Feminino, Cuadernos de Trabajo, Managua, Nicaragua: Cenzontle.

Edwards, Mike and John Gaventa (2001) Global Citizen Action, Boulder: Colorado: Lynne Reinner Publishers.

Gaventa, John (draft 2006) “Linking the local and the global: the levels, spaces and forms of power”, in Power in World Politics, Berenskoetter and Williams, eds, Routledge: 2007.

(2006) ‘Finding the spaces for change: a power analysis’, in Rosalind Eyben, Colette Harris and Jethro Pettit (eds) (2006) 'Exploring Power for Change', IDS Bulletin 37.6, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.


(1980) Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Community, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Guinier, Lani and Gerald Torres (2002), The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy, Harvard University Press.

hooks, bell (2002) All About Love, William Morrow and Company.

Just Associates (2005) Strategic Opportunity or Black Hole? and My Net, Your Work: Pitfalls and Lessons Learned from Experiences with Coalitions, Alliance and Networks, AWID Forum: How does change happen?

Just Associates, Institute for Development Studies-Participation Group, Action Aid International (2002)Making Change Happen 1: Citizen Participation and Advocacy and (2006) Making Change Happen 2: Citizen Engagement and Global Economic Power;

Lukes, Steven (1974) Power: A Radical View, London: Macmillan, (Reprinted 2004 Basingstoke: Palgrace Macmillan.

Mayo, M. (2005), Global Citizens: Social Movements and the Challenge of Globalization, London, Zed Books.

McIntosh, Peggy (1988), “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account”, Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies, Wellesley College Center for

Research on Women, Wellesley, MA

Miller, Valerie (2002) Political Consciousness: A Perpetual Quest,

Mouffe, Chantal (2002) Politics and Passions: The Stakes of Democracy, Centre for the Study of Democracy, London.

powell, john (2003) Race and Poverty: A New Focus for Legal Services, 27 Clearinghouse Review.

Rowden, R. and Irama, J.O. (2004) Rethinking Participation: question for Civil Society about the Limits of Participation in PRSPs, Washington, DC: Action Aid International USA and Kampala: Action Aid International Uganda.

Roy, Arundati (2004) Public Power in the Age of Empire, Seven Stories Press.

VeneKlasen, Lisa and Valerie Miller, (2002) A New Weave of Power, People and Politics: The Action Guide to Advocacy and Citizen Participation, World Neighbors; reprinted by ITDG Publishing 2006.

VeneKlasen, L. (2003) “Some Research Gaps in Gender Budget Work from An Advocacy Perspective”, published in Gender and Budgets, Cutting Edge Packet on Topical Gender Knowledge, BRIDGE, Institute for Development Studies, UK.


1 Convened by Just Associates (JASS-Asociadas por el Justo) with support from Hivos and the Global Fund for Women, this 4 day workshop was entitled ‘Imagining and Rebuilding Women’s Movements” in Panama. It is the first in a series of regional movement-building institutes to be carried out over the next 3 years in response to demands from activists to reflect, re-tool and re-build.

2 Mouffe, Chantal, Politics and Passions: The Stakes of Democracy, Centre for the Study of Democracy, London, 2002.

3 Adapted from Chapter 3, A New Weave of Power, People and Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation, ibid.

4 The development of Poverty Reduction Strategies bring together representatives from government, private sector and civil society to discuss specific government anti-poverty policies and programs but disallow the discussion of other global policies that impact governments and their ability to respond to poverty and inequality.

5 Rowdin, R. and Irama, J.O., Rethinking Participation: question for Civil Society about the Limits of Participation in PRSPs, Washington, DC: Action Aid International USA and Kampala: Action Aid International Uganda.

6 Just Associates, Strategic Opportunity or Black Hole? AWID Forum: “How does Change Happen?” October 2005, Bangkok. Also see Making Change Happen 1 (2002) and 2 (2006), Just Associates,; A New Weave of Power, People and Politics, ibid; and Brock, Karen, Andrea Cornwall and John Gaventa, Power, Knowledge and Political Spaces in the Framing of Poverty Policy, IDS WP 143, October 2001.

7 From the “Women’s Empowerment in South Asia: Concepts and Practice”, Draft 1993.

8 Interview with Maria Suarez etc……See also Las Negociaciones Nuestras de Cada Dia, Clara Coria………..

9 This is adapted from A New Weave of power, People and Politics: The Action Guide to Advocacy and Citizen Participation (2002). Our thinking about power has been shaped significantly by John Gaventa’s writing, including more recent writing on the “power cube” which shows how power operates on different geographic levels and in different kinds of policy spaces. Also see Making Change Happen 2: Citizen Engagement and Global Economic Power, and references for a summary of the power cube.

10 John Powell (2003).

11 See Alexa Bradley, “What is the Organizing Work of Reshaping Political Debates?”, Grassroots Policy Project, 2005.

12 One of the biggest global trade battles has pitted small –scale farmers and peasant movements against the likes of agribusiness giants like Monsanto for the creation of the “killer seed”, a genetically modified seed that is sterile and cannot be harvested for planting.

13 See Chapter 4 of A New Weave of Power, People and Politic: The Action Guide to Advocacy and Citizen Participation, 2002, and Making Change Happen 2 and 4 for examples, insights and strategies.

14 Batliwala, Srilatha: “From Evaluation to Learning in Social Change”, 2005 (www.

15 From, VeneKlasen, L. , “Some Research Gaps in Gender Budget Work from An Advocacy Perspective”, notes for presentation, published in Gender and Budgets, Cutting Edge Packet on Topical Gender Knowledge, BRIDGE, IDS, UK, 2003.

16 Batliwala, Srilatha (2002), Grassroots Movements as Transnational Actors: Implicartions for Global Civil Society, Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations.

17 See My Net, Your Work: Pitfalls and Lessons Learned from Experiences with Coalitions, Alliance and Networks, Just Associates, 2005.

18 From ‘Imagining and Rebuilding Feminist Movements”, a JASS Meso-american Movement Building Institute, Panama, 2006.

19‘ Gaventa discusses power in relation to Lukes and the impact of globalization.

20 Gaventa, “Linking the local and the global: the levels, spaces and forms of power”, Draft October 2006, in Power in World Politics, Berenskoetter and Williams, eds, Routledge, 2007.

21 See Global Citizen Action, Michael Edwards and John Gaventa, eds., Earthscan: 2001


About the Authors


Dr. Valerie Miller, JASS senior advisor and co-founder, has worked in advocacy, international development, gender, and human rights for more than 30 years. She has collaborated with grassroots organizations, NGOs, and international agencies from around the world as an organizer, trainer, advocate, evaluator, and researcher. In the mid eighties she served as co-coordinator of a national human rights coalition composed of main-line churches and independent labor groups dedicated to ending US military support to Central America. Over the past 15 years, she has been policy advocacy director at Oxfam America, director of policy and exchange programs at the Institute for Development Research, and advisor and associate of a wide variety of organizations including the Global Women in Politics Program; Women, Law and Development International; and the Highlander Center. She has also served on the boards of Cenzontle (a Nicaraguan NGO focused on women’s economic and political empowerment) and Grassroots International (a US-based group supporting social movements around the world). Her doctorate is in adult education and she has published numerous articles and books on issues of advocacy, development, education, and politics, including the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade, Between Struggle and Hope and (with Lisa VeneKlasen) A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics.

Lisa VeneKlasen, JASS executive director and co-founder, has been an advocate and advisor in a variety of women’s rights and social justice efforts worldwide for over 25 years. In the early 1980s, fresh from student activism, she worked with the Sandinista government's renowned adult literacy program in Nicaragua. Back in the US, she became a community organizer and later the media-outreach coordinator for the National Central America Peace Campaign. Lisa led 30 fact-finding missions of opinion leaders to Central America, served as Legislative Aid for a US Congressional Representative and then went on to work with numerous women’s rights and development organizations in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Through her work with Women, Law and Development International, Lisa coordinated a program to extend the Latin American Committee for Women’s Rights (CLADEM) to Central America, and in 1988 relocated to Zimbabwe to coordinate a 10-country training and networking project to create the pan-African Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF). Building on that effort, she prepared women rights organizations in eight African and Eastern European countries to participate in the UN Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995.  From 1997 to 2001, she was the assistant director of the Asia Foundation’s Global Women in Politics program. Lisa is the co-author (with Valerie Miller) of A New Weave of People, Power and Politics: The Action Guide to Advocacy and Citizen Participation (2002), which has been translated into 5 languages. She is an advisor to the Nobel Women’s Initiative and holds a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

As an associate within the JASS network, Molly Reilly coordinated JASS' Education Rights and Resources Project on governance and public school reform in Washington, DC. Previously, Molly was the Director of Programs at Women, Law and Development International from 1998-2001 where she coordinated a multi-country learning and action program, using human rights as an advocacy tool. In addition to strengthening leadership and transnational women's rights networks, she also coordinated the documentation of experiences which were compiled in Becoming an Advocate Step by Step, co-edited with Margaret Schuler. From 1996-1998, Molly served as the Assistant Director of the Global Women in Politics program where she oversaw strategic grantmaking and capacity-building to groups working on gender violence, migration and women's political participation. Molly teaches a Masters course on advocacy for the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. In the late 1980s and early 90s, she served as a Legislative Aid and worked with the US State Department. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she has a law degree from the University of Michigan.

Cindy Clark manages two programs at the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) – Where is the Money for Women's Rights and Building Feminist Movements and Organizations. The former program coordinator for JASS, Cindy has worked closely with numerous coalitions, NGOs and community groups in the US and Latin America to strengthen their ability to connect citizen engagement with long-term human rights advocacy strategies. She played an important role in launching JASS’ movement-building initiative, was the lead researcher and key facilitator in the partnership with AWID on Money and Movements, and served as strategic advisor to the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Previously, she was the program coordinator for Women, Law and Development International, coordinating capacity-building in women's human rights advocacy worldwide. She lived in Chile for four years where she worked with PARTICIPA, an NGO dedicated to promoting participatory democracy. She holds a Bachelors degree in International Relations and Economics and a Masters in Human and Organization Development.




This publication was made possible with support from Hivos, a Dutch international organization, guided by humanist values, and committed to building a free, fair and sustainable world. Ideas and inspiration from John Gaventa, Srilatha Batliwala, Malena de Montis and others.