(and why we have forgotten our strength against institutions of power)
Have you heard the story of the elephant?
See, this elephant was a big, powerful, mighty elephant. An elephant whose girth, and density would make the ground shake. An elephant whose strength could not be obfuscated and whose might was obvious to all who met her.
But this elephant was unaware of her own strength. In fact, tying her to a mere fence post would be enough to discourage her. Never would she even try to tug, because a futile endeavor was all she saw.
What could have happened to an elephant with such grandeur to be blinded to her power?
When she was a young calf, you see, she was tied to the tallest and thickest of trees. She would tug and tug, and the tree would simply not relent. The bigger and stronger she got, the weaker her spirit became. “Why even bother?” she began to ask herself. “There’s nothing that I can do to change the fact that I’m tied down.” And that’s how I found her one day. A giant elephant she was. No longer tied to the thickest of trees, but instead tied to a single fencepost by a thin unraveling rope. But there she sat broken, blinded to the power inherent to her body, feeling powerless against the brittle and flimsy structure that kept her bounded.
We are all the elephant.
We’ve become so intransigent and placated in the belief that we can’t do anything to topple systems of power that year by year have weakened tremendously relative to our collective strength.
What would it take for this poor elephant to realize her physical fortitude, and understand her power could never get potentialized with her broken, dejected spirit?
It is time for radical empowerment — a kind of empowerment which involves nothing more than reminding ourselves of who we are, and how strong we have become. A simple reminder is all it takes to break the shackles of learned helplessness. This is our mirror, and we need to look into it as much as we can. Without it, we’ll quickly forget the inherent strength that’s belied by the stories of helplessness that society told us when we were small. We are the elephant. Institutions of power are the fence post.
Shine the mirror onto those who have forgotten their power. Shining mirrors onto others is what turns individual power into collective power. If we are ever to achieve a catalytic moment of radical empowerment, we must remind others of their strength too.
Art is the mirror. Music is the mirror. Activism is the mirror. Advocacy is the mirror. Poetry is the mirror. The way in which we carry ourselves relative to the way that we have been “taught” to carry ourselves is the mirror. The way we defy systems of injustice and oppression is the mirror.
The story of the elephant is the mirror I’ve chosen in this moment to reflect onto you the power that you hold within. Now go on, move forward, and tug a little on the fence post and string, and see what happens.