Power from the People

“Something needs to be done, and something needs to be done now!” Reverend Booker Steven Vance’s canorous voice enveloped the crowd that filled West Point Missionary Baptist Church in Bronzeville. “Something needs to be done now,” repeated a rather tall, middle-aged man in a black wool coat, turning to a young college student beside him. He punctuated the comment with an emphatic nod. Around the two, others seemed to be equally taken with the pastor’s words, and the call to action reverberated through the church, passed between friends and strangers.

Members of Southsiders Organizing for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) gathered eagerly on Sunday afternoon to hear hard-earned promises by their politicians–promises to “do right by the people,” as state representative Ken Duncan proclaimed. In a question-and-answer session led from the pulpit by SOUL leadership, Alderman Will Burns acceded support for a Bronzeville arts and recreation center, and Alderman James Balcer answered the impassioned chant to bring back the 31st Street bus with three affirmatives. Pledges to mitigate some of the damage from the foreclosure crisis were made in answer to the call for a land bank.

The politicians presented their “yeses” as a crucial part of the path to realization for these South Side community projects, but at the meeting, everyone could feel that the real efficacy came from the people. From the choir platform, the heads in the choir swayed; among them two masses of earthy yet elegant red curls and a striped headscarf bobbed soulfully to the rhythm of the music. The crowd stood and sang–“Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ‘cause the power of the people won’t stop”–but the energy in the room carried the message more than the words. And as the song finished, a tall man with wiry glasses turned to the unfamiliar, fair, dark-haired girl standing next to him, eyes twinkling, and declared, “That’s right!”

SOUL members did not spend this commemoration of Dr. King enumerating his accomplishments to an audience to elicit awe and applause; instead they used it to mark the progress of his continued crusade–combing words and actions to broaden the reach of justice and equality in the United States. Last Sunday’s words fortify the ongoing organizing by SOUL, calling on democracy to power the dreams of a community. They await democracy’s answer.