Today, I was sitting and eating lunch and I noticed something. A man entering the restaurant quickly glanced around, then tossed him cigarette on the ground and squashed it with his foot. He headed inside and left it there. I wanted to call him out right away. Then I thought I would wait until he left. I briefly considered picking it up and bringing it inside to his table and handing it to him. Instead, I left. I find that confronting people abruptly is not effective. On my walk to my car, I saw a cigarette get tossed out of a truck at a stoplight. I saw two other car tosses on my drive home. And it got me thinking. I was enraged at first, and couldn’t imagine how people can do that. The first guy walked passed a trash can on his way in 6 seconds after stepping on his butt. What is the underlying issue that these people don’t care? If you say apathy, I wouldn’t disagree but we have to go deeper.
When we have given most of our power up to the state and capitalism, how can we not feel helpless? How can we feel empowered to make any change when all the power is consolidated in the hands of a tiny percentage of the population? Some days I have to fight with everything in me to not feel totally pessimistic, and I am lucky to have a steady job and roof over my head and a strong community for support. If I were missing any of those, I could see giving up. If my vote doesn’t matter and my words don’t matter and the amount of money I make doesn’t matter, why would I think picking up a cigarette would matters?
What does reclaiming our own power back, taking back what we have conceded, look like? Often it looks so scary to the forces in power that it is violently squashed. It looks like people organizing locally and spreading power horizontally instead of vertically. I have seen it referred to as “horizontalidad” and it is the equitable distribution of power among all people involved.
Even when I think of my favorites groups or community organizations that I have been a part of, none of them stick out as having horizontal power. It is definitely a concept I would love to act out and participate in and experiment with. I have no illusion that is it instant utopia, but I think everyone involved in a group that is structured in this way has the potential for a lot of growth. I am sure there are a lot of hard lessons to learn, but the idea would be that it could get smoother as people involved have more experience.