The Purpose of Power: a book review

“To build the kind of movement that we need to get the things we deserve, we can’t be afraid to establish a base that is larger than the people we feel comfortable with. Movements and bases cannot be cliques of people who already know one another. We have to reach beyond the choir and take seriously the task of organizing the unorganized—the people who have everything at stake and are looking to be less isolated and more connected and who want to win changes in their lives and in the lives of the people they love.”  (p. 216-217)

Alicia Garza’s 2020 book, The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart, is a timely and valuable contribution to not just the Black Lives Matter movement, of which she was one of the initial founders with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, but for all who believe in and are working for a truly just world.

The book is very personal. The first half of it is primarily autobiographical. However, because she has been an activist and organizer and movement leader for about 20 years, it is full of insights and observations for anyone who is or who wants to be an effective social change agent. In the second half, “Notes on the Next Movement,” the specific focus is on how we can build a winning movement in the USA.

One thing I appreciated was her well-grounded understanding of what is necessary for fundamental social change to occur. One of them is “shifting people from spectators to strategists, from procrastinators to protagonists. Movement building and participation require ongoing engagement, and the levels of engagement must continually shift and increase.” (p. 144)

She is also clear that to win we need a multi-racial movement, at the same time that the organizing of a strong and powerful Black movement as a leading component of that alliance is absolutely essential. My experiences over the years as an activist and organizer bear this out. Whether it be the civil rights/Black freedom mass movement of the 50s and 60s, the Jesse Jackson/Rainbow movement of the 80s, the Obama Presidential campaign of 2008, or the tremendously broad, massive and multi-racial movement of millions last summer sparked by the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, there is no question but that when Black people as a people stand up strong, the whole country changes.

That is why people of European descent, as well as people of other nationalities, need to take seriously all forms of racism, including anti-Black racism. From my experience and study, within US society the darker your skin color, the greater the likelihood that you will experience more discrimination and injustice than those with a lighter complexion, with white people, of course, generally most guilty of that discrimination or oppression, especially but not only rich white men.

I don’t think this “colorism” is talked about as much as it should be on the Left and in the society. It’s a real thing.

Garza addresses what she calls the “racialized patriarchy,” and she is explicit that it’s an issue that all men, of whatever color, class or caste, need to take seriously.

She identifies political education as an essential component of the multi-racial movement necessary. She defines it as: “a tool for understanding the political contexts we live in. It helps individuals and groups analyze the social and economic trends, the policies and the ideologies influencing our lives—and use this information to develop strategies to change the rules and transform power.” (p. 220)

She takes on the issue of the need for public spokespeople who are able to get on national TV or in other major media forums and articulately and clearly explain the issues, demands and perspectives of the movement or organization they are representing. For some dedicated activists, this is more a problem than a good thing. There is understandable concern that mass media attention to individuals can have negative impacts, that US corporate culture is way too much into the cultivation of personal fame and power instead of highlighting the work of organizations and movements.

Garza puts it this way: “Movements that are afraid to enter the mainstream will have an increasingly hard time being relevant or accessible to the millions of people who are looking for them, and some movements are in denial about that. In many ways, we are more comfortable talking to one another and to people who already agree with us than we are with taking on every corner of society, the economy, and the government. We need to push past our comfort zones and get creative about how to use our platforms and profiles for politics and power rather than as pedestals.” (p. 267)

This is a valuable book at a critical time in US and world history.

Ted Glick is a volunteer organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy and author of Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War, published last year. Past writings and other information can be found at, and he can be followed on Twitter at