"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 protest attempts to make changes in the political process of a given state - it refers to “revolutions driven by civil society mobilisation” which result in a reconfiguration of political power in a given state. As denoted by the name, this method is reliant on popular participation “civilian-based” and therefore does not include isolated acts or protest without an overarching organisation by a group of people. People power can be manifested as a small-scale protest or campaign for neighborhood 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. With regards to tactics employed by People Power movements, both nonviolence and violence have been used throughout history: as was the case in the non-violent 1986 Philippines revolution which overthrew the Marcos régime, or the violent uprising 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
- Fukuoka, Y 2015, ‘Who brought down the dictator? A critical reassessment of so-called ‘People power’ revolutions in the Philippines and Indonesia’, The Pacific Review, vol.28, no.3, p.411
- Schock, K 2005, Unarmed Insurrections People Power Movements In Non-democracies, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, USA, p.xvi.
- 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