Do You Have Power?
Do You Have Power?
The neighbors were walking through the neighborhood checking out the damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias. I asked them if they had power and they shook their heads. None of us had power.
And of course, I’m talking about electricity. I was staying at my friend’s place and the storm had brought down trees all over the area, knocking out power lines everywhere. Rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, the power grid was out for everyone.
There’s an idea that’s been making its way around the internet during these global pandemic times, about how we’re not all in the same boat, as some have said, but we are all in the same storm. How the storm impacts us depends greatly on what kind of boat we’re in to weather it. If we’re on David Geffen’s yacht, we’re probably okay. If we’re on a rubber raft, we’re in for some trouble. The week-long power outage on Long Island was a result of a literal storm and the metaphor applies to its aftermath. There were those with generators whose lights only dimmed for a moment as they switched from one power source to another and those for whom the loss of a fridge full of goods may have meant ruin. Your access to power could allow for a cramp in your lifestyle or a full-on shut down.
Our lives are so dependent on electricity and the ways we rely on it are legion. You discover how much when you are without it. It’s not just lights out at night. It’s hot water heaters powered by electric switches. It’s refrigerators and freezers. It’s your phone and your computer and your tablet that become bricks when you run out of batteries. The all-powerful internet is meaningless when you can’t turn anything on that will get you to it. You cannot grind your coffee beans. You cannot run the air conditioning. You can’t turn a fan on. When it’s hot, you’re going to stay hot.
The fact that we call electricity “power” strikes me with great force after a week without it. I walk around in my daily life with extraordinary power at my fingertips. I turn lights on, grind coffee, charge my devices, heat stuff up in a microwave. It is non-stop power. I don’t think of myself as powerful but I do have access to power. There are those that do not have that access.
There’s something about the literalness of this metaphor — something about those with access to power and those that do not have access — that lines up perfectly. When you have power, you take it for granted. I was cavalierly freezing food, running fans and letting my phone run out of battery because I knew I could just plug it in and charge it some more. I previously did not think I had power because I didn’t have artistic access or couldn’t get my art sold or produced or whatever. But I did have access to the sort of power that powers a modern life and until I lost it for a significant period of time, I took it entirely for granted.
When you have power, it is largely invisible to you and highly visible to the people without it. I was acutely aware of the neighbors’ generators — how loud they were, sure — but also how some would power even their driveway lights with them, while others just lit up their kitchens. The house I was in was entirely dark and became invisible to those WITH power at night.
This dynamic is at play with less literal power as well. The powerless can track the levels of power they do not have while the powerful don’t see power at all, they’re just using their juicer at breakfast or investing their money or taking that meeting with that VIP, no big deal.
I feel like this is a central difficultly when trying to make social change. The invisibility of the power structure to the those that benefit from it is one of the largest obstacles to making it more fair.
I wonder if we need these occasional power outages to at least just remind us that our hold on power is not something to be taken for granted. It is not a given.
It makes me think of the charitable donations of solar powered lanterns. The ones that are given so students can study, so doctors can practice even when there is no light. They’re particularly useful in disasters. A little solar lamp is not a big dose of power but it is a start. The lights are powered by the power source we all have access to. Sometimes I think this is why the powers that be are so dead set against solar and wind power — because our current leaders are power hoarders. If we powered our electricity with wind and sun, they could not so easily control the power source.
I don’t think of myself as someone with power but I can use what little bits of electrical power I have to type into this machine that I plug into the wall where I get that electricity. And then I post onto the internet which I can access because of power and receive support through that same electric internet for my work. I will then, with the support I receive for this post, buy someone, without power, a light. I want to give power, not just take it. If you want to join me, here are the lights I’m going to buy when my electric powered payment comes in.
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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on September 1, 2020.