"People power" is a political term denoting the populist driving force of any social movement which invokes the authority of grassroots opinion and willpower, usually in opposition to that of conventionally organised corporate or political forces. "People power" can be manifested as a small-scale protest or campaign for neighbourhood change; or as wide-ranging, revolutionary action involving national street demonstrations, work stoppages and general strikes intending to overthrow an existing government and/or political system. It may be nonviolent, as was the case in the 1986 Philippines revolution which overthrew the Marcos régime, or may resort to violence, as happened in Libya in 2011. The term was first used by members of the 1960s "flower power" movement which initially protested against the Vietnam War.
In the Roman Republic the power of public opinion was a constraint on the Roman Senate; according to Polybius, "the Senate stands in awe of the multitude, and cannot neglect the feelings of the people."
- What then are the true boundaries of the people's power? The answer cannot be simple. But for a rough beginning let us say that the people are able to give and withhold their consent to be governed — their consent to what the government asks of them, proposes to them, and has done in the conduct of their affairs. They can elect the government. They can remove it. They can approve or disapprove its performance. But they cannot administer the government. They cannot themselves perform. They cannot normally initiate and propose necessary legislation. A mass cannot govern.
Notes and references
- An example is the use of popular petitions and media techniques, as by Greenpeace in Australia (2012) to oppose the deployment of a giant-size fishing trawler. See People power wins! Super trawler banned at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, 2012
- Polybius on the Senate and People (6.16) from Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University
- Walter Lippmann (1955) The Public Philosophy, page 14, Little Brown & Company
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