In the summer I had the opportunity to be a participant in the Truth to Power Cafe at Hebden Bridge Trades Club. The original event was not filmed, so here is a video I recorded of my poem Testimony, which I wrote and performed in response to this question posed by London Artists Project, the creators of Truth to Power Cafe, ‘Who has power over you, and what do you want to say to them?’ It’s a very cathartic and personally empowering experience to answer this question. The participants all answered the question from their own perspective and experience, which made for a very interesting, varied and heartwarming event. Whether or not you are a writer or performer, if you are feeling frustrated and disempowered, you may find it therapeutic to have a go at answering this question for yourself. It can be a way of releasing anger and despair, reflecting on your situation, and finding a way to move forward with hope. If nothing else, venting in a nonviolent and creative way enables us to let go of some negative emotions, which helps to free up our energy. London Artists Project are very clear that hate speech is not acceptable. Even when we are writing in rage, it’s important to keep our humanity and intent to create a better world for all. We can raise up ourselves and each other, without putting others down in a destructive way. In her book ‘Dreaming the Dark’, Starhawk describes the difference between what she calls ‘power-from-within’ and ‘power-over’. The first is a healthy form of power, building our inner strength by working on ourselves, and the second is destructive and unhealthy. Power-from-within takes work but is nourishing to self and others. Power-over is a form of violence sadly too common in this world, which requires constant battling to be maintained, and which does not ultimately satisfy those who practise it, so that, like any addiction, their desire for it becomes insatiable as they keep on trying to fill a need by the wrong means. It is possible to be strong and powerful without needing to dominate and control others. Part of finding our power-from-within is increasing awareness of power dynamics. How can we feel more in charge of our own lives? As well as realising where we are failing to act consciously, we may discover we are feeling controlled by others. It is a lifetime’s work to free ourselves, and in some situations we may always have limited freedom, but within that we can still find a freedom to act with integrity in accordance with our values. Even if our words do not bring instant external change, we feel an inner shift of energy and perspective, and a strengthening of purpose. We also find solidarity with other who feel the same. I surprised myself as I wrote my poem, in finding a sense of sorrow towards those who hold power over my life—not sorrow for myself, but for them, in their ever unsatisfied need to be so grasping. In this process we are transforming ourselves, finding our voices of power-from-within by speaking our truth to those who hold power-over us. This is what it means to speak truth to power.
©️Janey Colbourne 2019