I begin this blog by asking myself a question: how well have I shared power in my social change career? The answer to the question is probably good, bad and indifferent. I could have pushed at the structures that repress power sharing more forcefully. I should have taken more risks in empowering those with less power than me. I wish I had challenged harder those around me who wanted to keep out those who didn’t fit in.
So, what have I positively contributed to power sharing?
I have made it my mission to amplify the voices of those who are seldom heard by those in power. I have kicked at doors, facilitated opportunities for inspirational voices, asserted myself as loud as I can. I have told many to stop asking me about ‘them and their lives.’ They are here, just start listening. I have convinced the powers that be, both directly and through media platforms, that they need to sit up and listen because what they are hearing is the truth. Experts by experience are powerful, articulate, passionate and solution focused. They are bearing witness and I am so proud of my role in amplifying their voices. I have made sure that these people I have worked with are sat at the table, because as the saying goes, if you are not at the table, you are surely on the menu. And I have made sure all the witness bearers I have worked with are paid for their contributions. Just as we ‘professionals’ are paid, people with lived experience should be paid too. For me this is a deal breaker, an ethical bottom line.
I have worked with so many amazing people who have refused to give up their struggle for control of their lives. All of them possessed with a dogged and unceasing determination to empower those with similar experiences. Everyone of them has a fighting spirit far beyond my own, but the walls they struggle to break down generally don’t give way. Most often the place you started is usually the place you stay. Genuine social mobility is still a far-off dream. The meritocracy posited by activists like Michael Young is still a long way off. There are many exceptions. Lord Bird, founder of The Big Issue is one of them, an ex-offender and rough sleeper now with a Future Generations Bill currently going through parliament which places a duty on our lawmakers to protect the wellbeing and economic stability of future generations.
It is time to create a system that pays proper attention to the inequality we are not only creating now but far into the future. This is the way to go. We have to stop stoking the fires of the power structures that currently exist, both in terms of their impacts now and the future damage they will cause.
This awful time we are experiencing as Covid 19 reaps havoc with our physical and mental health lays bare how inequality hits the poorest and those suffering many other inequalities the hardest. But there is something else taking place too. Power sharing is happening across the UK. People who are daily taking matters into their own hands and reaching out to care for those around them. In this crisis this is becoming a mass movement. The challenge is to keep on building this movement to create a more equal and kinder society for all.
Being part of the Power Sharing Project community of practice is a privilege, a chance to really focus on how we can share power. One of my greatest disappointments in my years of interviewing job applicants is the inevitability of having to take the same people from the same backgrounds as me, because they are the ones who fit the person specifications best. They are wonderful, inspiring people, but like me they are all ‘representing’ those who lack power. Until we create a genuine power shift in this status quo we still have a long journey ahead.
Lucie Russell is a member of the Power Sharing Project’s Core Learning Group, hosted by SMK. Lucie is currently CEO of StreetDoctors, a youth movement of healthcare volunteers who teach young people affected by youth violence how to save lives, and keep themselves and others safe. She is also a trustee of Redthread Youth. Lucie started her career as a youth worker and then a social worker. She went on to co-found The Big Issue, and launch the The Big Issue Foundation, developing a range of support services to homeless people across the country. After leaving The Big Issue, Lucie created SmartJustice, a national campaign promoting community solutions to crime, and worked as Director of Campaigns and Media at YoungMinds.