It is hard to imagine anything more dangerous than ignorance in action, but when combined with governmental power, history tells us that the results are devastating. Countless wars have been started by men unable to manage or comprehend the great responsibility that comes with their positions of power. As we have heard many times, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” For this very reason, our governmental system has put checks and balances in place to protect us all. Sometimes, though, that’s not enough, and it takes the courage of individual citizens to hold up the mirror to injustice and expose it to the world.
It seems that chasing power, political or otherwise, has become an all-consuming obsession for too many people. They forget that the achievement of power is not an end in and of itself, but far greater, is the responsibility that comes with power. How you use it, then, is what makes the difference. Obtaining power in life does not make you a better or worse person; it just makes you more of what you were before you had it. In other words, power just magnifies the very essence of your being. For example, if you are a malicious person, power gives you more resources to do immoral things at a greater level, and, if you are a loving person, power gives you more access to do more caring things at a greater level.
Most importantly, power can never be taken lightly nor should it ever be used to destroy or diminish others. Just as a palm tree grows taller it must learn to bend more and more to accommodate the wind, people who grow powerful must learn to become even more humble, compassionate, and understanding towards others.
As elected officials, we can never forget that we borrow, by permission, the power of the people when we are voted into office. We can never forget that it is not our own power that we wield, but it is theirs. Elected officials have authority only because the citizens have temporarily entrusted their collective authority in us. Citizens who cast their vote are trusting that we will not abuse that authority and believes that we are truly capable of handling this power given for the single and sole purpose of charting a course to a better life for them. Elected officials, then, are granted an extraordinary opportunity with immense responsibility to serve honorably and with integrity. But what do we do when that power is misused?
This past week, a young woman by the name of Miesha Stokely completely immobilized the misuse and abuse of governmental power here in Mount Vernon. She demonstrated what sometimes the just is forced to do when faced with the unjust. Ms. Stokely operates a small business in Mount Vernon, selling cupcakes. Under the auspice of a questionable “city wide sweep,” she was harassed by government officials to produce paperwork or face the threat of having her business closed. Even after producing the necessary papers, certain Mount Vernon elected leaders sent police officers to padlock her business and shut her down. And, in an act of singular bravery in the face of power, Meisha Stokely simply refused to leave the premises of her business.
Ms. Stokely’s actions reminded me of a young Rosa Parks who on December 1, 1955 refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama; a simple action which would later become a lighting rod for change far beyond Montgomery. Likewise, Ms. Stokely’s refusal to bend to abusive power can catalyze the removal abusive elements from our government. If nothing else, this incident should wake us up Mount Vernon! Even if you don’t own a business this could happen to you in your homes, in your cars or just walking on the streets of Mount Vernon. I am truly inspired by this young woman, and horrified by the circumstances that led to her actions and I’m not alone. Other elected officials (not involved in the conspiracy to harass her), clergy members, business owners, and Mount Vernon citizens have also been inspired by her act of resistance to unchecked power designed merely to harass.
Since taking office in 2016, I have continuously quoted Dr. King’s call to action that “injustice here is injustice everywhere,” and some have taken issue with my firm stance against civil rights violation by the misuse and abuse of our government’s power and authority. Opposition to abuse and unchecked injustice is the people’s imperative. And, for my part, I will never apologize for taking the side of justice over injustice, no matter whomever it offends. Unfortunately, the illegal closing of businesses has happened far too many times in Mount Vernon. In the past couple of years, I’ve witnessed the illegal closing of Kela Tennis Center, OK Freddy’s, Mega Beverage, Levister Towers, and many others. This has to stop, and stop now!
Our collective voice is the most powerful weapon we wield against injustice. My appeal to you, Mount Vernon, is this: If we continue to say nothing or do nothing when faced with injustice then our silence will be construed as an acceptance of injustice. If we want to see change then we have to speak up. If we stand up on the side of justice and simple common decency and respect then we will find that we will not be alone because I and a great many good people will stand together. Like Ms. Stokely’s or Ms. Parks’ example, sometimes it just takes one person to remind all of us that real power belongs to the people who loan it to the government, and it is use it for misguided purposes.
Our institutions were designed with checks and balances to thwart the corrupted and to help the people. Our constitution bestows freedom equally to speak up. Ours is a democracy that holds elected officials accountable to the people and to the courts. Ms. Stokely stood strong against an injustice and has made a difference for everyone. Her justice is your justice, as well. Mount Vernon residents should never be afraid to challenge their government or stand up for what is right. Shared power is safe power.
Let's get to work!