Power and Politics as Mechanisms of Influence

Last week I served as the keynote speaker for the Ronald E. McNair Undergraduate Luncheon at the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc’s 10th District Meeting in Detroit, MI. I spoke about the impact of politics as a fluid business. I wanted to share with these young men how politics is a contact sport and how you must participate to make a difference. However, organizations, businesses and individual citizens must have a clear understanding of the constant interwoven relationship between government, politics, and power. 

Government is an institution that is permanent. It is not a temporary structure. It lacks independent purpose. It must be empowered (through policy) and given direction. In essence, government is like a bus. It lacks fuel and a driver. Government does what it is told to do and is driven in whatever direction as determined by the person in the driver’s seat controlling the wheel. 

Politics is what Harold Lasswell refers to as the process by which we as Americans determine who gets what, where, when, and how. The fight to determine who drives the bus based on which direction or destination we want the bus go is the politics. 

Power is the ability to influence others to do something they would not normally do on their own. Therefore, those considered to be powerful can quantify and document how they have influenced others to do what they would not normally do to support their successful ability to control or influence the process by which it is determined who gets what. 

Power is more influence than emotion, more preparation than protest, and more strategic than reactionary. Reflecting on my undergraduate days at Grambling State University, I recall one of my professors saying, “politics in practice is the art of persuasion and compromise.” Without these two elements he said, you have something, but you can’t call it politics. As involuntary passengers on the bus of state, we pay our fare and thus we pay for the fuel. Therefore, we all have a vested interested in the driver and direction of the bus

Too many organizations confuse hollering with power and politics. I told the young men in Detroit to never confuse hollering with progress. Progress is a stubborn thing. It is measurable over time. Inputs versus expected outcomes. Relationships, alliances, strategic partnerships and coalitions of shared interests are extremely important in today’s political climate. Organizations must not get distracted with the personalities of politics. To be distracted by the personalities of the players is to take your eye off the objectives of the game. Be it community based non-profit organizations or private enterprise, each must understand how government works and the mechanisms that influence its direction. When we understand the fundamentals of the government’s operational process, then disciplined and useful methods of advocacy can be employed to achieve an organization’s intended outcomes.