Social change before your eyes



This past Thursday, teachers and other school employees all around the state of West Virginia walked out and began a strike in response to inadequate pay and benefits. As I read the news and even heard from a few friends who are teachers, I began to think of how exactly these protests will enact change. After all, it is illegal for state employees to strike, and yet the law seems to have no power over this situation. In this, we see a struggle for power that is important, and we learn that change is possible.

Eric Liu, former speech-writer for President Bill Clinton and founder of Citizen University (an organization that trains people in the arts of citizenship), defines power in a TED Talk titled “How to Understand Power.” He said, “Power is the ability to make others do what you would have them do.”

Liu then details what he thinks are six sources of power: physical force, wealth, state action, social norms, ideas and numbers. Of these, there are two sources of power at play regarding the school employee strike, which are in opposition to one another. The first is state action, which is simply the law. For school employees, the law is what dictates their pay and benefits, as well as the legality of their strike.

The second source of power is numbers, which opposes the laws involved. In this situation, the law is being overpowered by the banding together of the sheer number of teachers and other school employees who are taking a stand against not only the laws governing their pay, but the laws saying that they cannot fight.

These teachers are risking their jobs to fight for what is important, and they are succeeding. School employees are already beginning to see change, as last Friday, the West Virginia State Senate approved a 1 percent increase in pay in each of the next five years (though it remains that this change will not be enough).

And all this is simply the result of our educators understanding that taking a stand is a powerful privilege guaranteed by our First Amendment — a privilege that makes a difference.

This has far reaching applications for us, the public. If the public understands the capacity of its power in numbers, there will be change. If we take a stand against racial inequality, sexual assault or inequality of the sexes, we will see change.

Liu said, “In a culture of democracy, power is supposed to reside with the people.” There is no room for apathy; it is the responsibility of the public and of our generation to continue to fight against the ways of the world, understand the power of numbers and to realize social change.