Monday, December 10, 2007

Do What You Have The Power To Do

You don’t even have to be a starry-eyed Oprah follower to know how much medial mogul Oprah Winfrey respects Maya Angelou, writer, activist and poet. She quotes from Maya Angelou on her show and has had the Poet Laureate on many times over the years. Maya Angelou was one of the 25 honorees at Winfrey’s Legends Ball earlier this year, and Oprah has even given her mentor a weekly radio show on her “Oprah & Friends” satellite radio channel.

But when it comes to politics, evidently friendship has its limits. And that’s a good thing, I believe.

Close friends Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey – mentor and protégée, godmother and adoring daughter-like figure —have decided to use their star power to lend their support to their favorite presidential candidate. The problem, for some, is that the two friends disagree on which candidate should become president. Oprah Winfrey has decided to go all out for Barack Obama's campaign by throwing a Hollywood studded fundraiser for him back in the fall and this weekend joining him in Iowa and South Carolina at his stomp speeches. Maya Angelou, 79, who was the poet at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in January 1993, makes it clear that she's ready to pen another poem for a Clinton presidency

Speaking to the throngs in Iowa and South Carolina who, like myself, have doubts about Obama’s experience, Winfrey said: “Experience in the hallways of government isn’t as important to me as experience on the pathway of life...The amount of time you spent in Washington means nothing unless you are accountable for the judgments you made with the time you had.”

Frail, but undaunted, poet Maya Angelou has taken her support of long time friend from Arkansas, Hillary Clinton, to the airwaves in a 60-second radio spot running throughout South Carolina entitled “My Girl.”

"Each generation of African Americans stands on the shoulders of those who came before," says Maya Angelou." Today, the challenges facing us threaten the dreams we have had for our children. We need a president with the experience and strength to meet those challenges. I am inspired by Hillary Clinton’s commitment and courage … a daughter, a wife, a mother... my girl."

It's a lesson in the use of power. We are witnessing two African American women using their power as cultural icons to make the changes they want to see in the world.

You remember the story in Mark 14 of Jesus’s anointing at Bethany by the woman with an alabaster jar filled with costly ointment. When some of the guests treated her rudely, Jesus replied, “Leave her alone." (I like that part.) Then Jesus told them, "She has done what was in her power to do.”

Do what you have the power to do.

Power. Influence. Charisma. Seniority. Wisdom. Capital-- financial and moral.

Certainly, power is difficult to define and takes many forms. In the past power has been defined in the male sphere as having control. But as more and more women stretch out and begin to use their moral, economic, political, and intellectual influence to change the way things are done, perhaps it's time to redefine power itself as having the energy, influence, vision, and the courage to risk becoming a change agent.

I admire Oprah Winfrey. I like what she has to say about Obama's candadacy in her stomp speeches. (Too bad Obama has to take the mic after Winfrey.) I agree with her that values and vision matter. I just disagree with her on how very much experience matters when it comes to the highest office in the land. Too bad she’s not running for president. I trust her experience in effecting change more than I do Obama’s.

But that’s a point for another day.

For now, I am just enjoying watching two powerful black women go out on a limb for who they believe in. Angelou and Winfrey, two women at the height of their careers, one in media and the other in art, each using her seniority, making use of her influence and visibility, and tapping the moral and political capital she's amassed over the years in her career, to get her favorite candidate elected. I’m delighted to have lived long enough to see black women making it clear where they stand by playing an important role in reimagining and redefining power in all of its contexts—not only for the sake of women, or for blacks, but also for the well-being of all people, all cultures, and the earth itself.

Do what's in your power to do.

What's the point in having seniority if you're going to play if safe, like you did when you were an upstart and were afraid to make waves? What's the point in climbing to the top of your profession, if all you're going to do when you get there is to continue with business as usual? What's the point in having power if you're not going to use it?

Do what's in your power.

Leave the rest to God.


wisdomteachesme said...

sisterguurrllll, if i don't slap somebody...hahaha

i have been just thrilled to see all this...this...'stuff' going on in the world of politics. i follow the news and will give a slight listen to inhabitants of that world, bits of what is going on, but too much of it, shuts me down and i find myself using my power and strength trying to block too much negative instead of basking in the positives.

but when i saw oprah walking here and there speaking for obama-- i just could not contain myself! not because i am a huge oprah fan- i'm not- i love her for what she is and where God has taken her-but i have a few differences of opinion on some things- and it's really cool-hers is not my life...OK. :)

but just the shear 'balls' on the 'o' and Mother Angelou sent me laughing -falling on the floor thinking about All the faces and comments that "the other groups" must be saying and displaying! i just had to stand up and HOLLAR giving God the credit here-with such strength when i heard about what these 2 are doing!

i'm loving this post sister weems, and also the last one. very good -very good...

i tell you this, i may be paying a bit more attention to the telly now that these 2 women of color have stood up and people are making a wide space for them to walk through--

ok, let me stop, oh yes, hahahaa, i know they are just 'tow'up' behind this display of God's power!!!!

Concerned said...

It is indeed a great day when women of color, Black women can stand up and make a difference in the world. I love Maya Angelou she is just a tremendous woman who has helped Black women appreciate their God-given beauty (well at least she has done that for me). And in this particular case I have to side with her. As much as I want to support Obama mainly because he is a Black man with the courage to run for President in this racist “united” States of America, I think Hillary is far better equipped to actually get some things done. Unfortunately, this country and particularly those people who live in the hills of the red states will not allow a strong confident educated Black man to lead this country. I appreciate Oprah’s support of Obama, but unfortunately her passion for him is greater than I find his passion for the Presidency. Now, if she were to run, then no question she would get my vote. What am I saying? Well, I am saying that Obama has not convinced me that he can do the job and that I can trust him to do what is in the best interest of this country. I am not sure where he stands on the issue relevant to those in the most need in this country. What will he do about healthcare other than to identify that it is a problem? We all know what they say about the war, but will he do to end it and how and when? What he do to restore hope for the millions of hopeless impoverished people in this country? Immigration, please? Is he going to tell the truth about immigration? The list goes on and on. And yes, experience in Washington might not be the leading criteria according to Oprah and other Obama supporters, but let us not forget what inexperience has gotten us the past 7 years. We cannot stand a repeat of that! And yes, I know that our current President suffers from more than inexperience, but let’s play nice on this blog

Anonymous said...

Okay. I had to weigh in. The requirement for US President: 35 years of age and US born citizen. That's it.

Now, the history books tells us that a number of presidents have had far fewer "qualifications" than Obama brings to the table.

The, what the questions? In contemporary life, every and any one who becomes president will have sufficient advisors to handle any and all issues that arise. Therefore, the question of experience in this arena, is not really important. But, vision, values and how the persons sees the world and the US place in it, is of greater import. None of this suggest that I think Obama is intellectual inferior to any one in the race and I am glad that experience, on this issue, can be obtained on-the-job.

what Obama brings that Clinton does not is freshness and the lack of history. This is important only if we as Black women believe past actions is a guide for future actions. Hiliary Clinton's role in the dismantling of public assistance as we had known it has caused unbearable pain and suffering for poor women. Perhaps, if this is not sufficient, Black women could look at who she advocated for while as a board member of Wal-Mart; one of this country's most egregious companies when it ocmes to sustainable wages, health benefits and outsourcing of goods. I could go on. This history had said to me that, regardless of the Clintons public relations, the walk has not met the talk and has not addressed most women who look like me.

So, before we go for anyone of the candidates, let us be clear what electoral politics really mean today and what, if anything, it can offer to our communities?

rjweems said...

I don't usually come back into the comments, unless charmed back in, certainly not until 7 or 8 comments have been posted, lest I misuse my power .

But I see Obama's people, I mean his watch puppies, have their browsers & feeders configured to swoon down quickly and pounce as soon as articles raising doubts about his candidacy are loaded onto blogs.

Freshness and lack of history, huh? Uh huh. That's fine for someone applying for a tenure track faculty position. Not a good qualification for someone applying for the position of President of the US. Still, he's a nice guy.

Clinton's role in dismantling public assistance and her role on the Wal-Mart board? There's more to both those stories.

Let's just say that while I may not agree with some of the things on her record, at least Clinton has one. She's definitely the best and most qualified of those running.

But let us not digress from the point of today's blog piece, shall we?

Woman in Transition said...

I, too, have enjoyed sitting back quietly and watching the influence of these 2 outstanding women on voters in Iowa and SC. I remain cautious and prayerful in my decision of just who will get my vote. I am not moved by either of them as of yet. I have always hated this process of pitting party candidates against each other. I wish each party would just choose a candidate from day one and get behind them right up until it's time for voters to go to the polls and elect their president. But "they" (whoever they are; a masochist, perhaps) has to make things interesting, I guess.

I wait with bated breath....

P.S. to RJW: I'm glad to see that you've enabled comment moderation on your blog. I don't think any blog should have open and anonymous comments these days. Too many crazy cyber-stalkers out there.

wisdomteachesme said...

one other thing that came to me after reading this post is Matthew chapter 25, and how 3 stories were given to make one point.
there will be an accounting.

thank You Lord for your guidnce!

Kesha Boyce Williams said...

And still we is blog commentaries like this that show how we've overcome even as we still climb. AMEN Dr. Weems!

ombrown said...

RJWeems, Thank you for your comments. Let me take a few minutes to respond. I am the anonymous writer from last evening (12/10).
First, I recognize my digression from the stated title of your blog. If your blog had solely rested on Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey's relationship, I would have perhaps chimed in with a mother/daughter, aunt/niece (fictive or kin) relationship of growing, developing, changing in a myriad of nuanced ways. perhaps I would have talked about being very deliberate and on-going with my daughter to create and have her own voice, even when it differs or challenges me. Perhaps I would have talked about what a great day it is that we no longer demand a monolithic representative voice for and among black women. While your blog celebrated this, it left me with Maya Angelou as the sage whose wisdom, knowledge, right decision-making choice(s) flow from the core being (and I would mostly agree with this and/or give her the utmost respect because of who she is and what she has represented). Oprah, on the other hand, comes off as the upstart, not having this depth. Now, in my opinion, the unspoken text: "Who then is making the better decision in the presidential bid?"

If I follow this argument as you go on to compare with a junior faculty member and on-the-job training as okay. I can't help but disagree. I would my child have an experienced teacher, whose influence and impact is much more long lasting and indelible than the president. Yes, the president has tremendous power, much of which is in the vision arena. A vision that can permeate the land, indeed, the world. (My first memory of this is JFK-1960 and the exuberance in my family and community regarding his presidential bid and vision for this nation).

This discussion, therefore, is not about presidential experiences, but about who brings what visions to the table. If it were about experiences, then Hiliary and Barack are on similar territory, unless there is an argument for her role as wife of governor/president. Both are graduates of Ivy League Law Schools; Hiliary became a US Senate member in 2000; Barack in 2002. Yes, she is older than he, which should account for additional experience; not necessarily a greater vision. By the way, I am not a puppy or people of any candidate, nor have I ever been. I am, though, a black woman who has hope and faith and have been thinking for quite a while now, hold degrees in political science, and have worked hard in my communities for change for the good.

Yes, there is more to the dismantling of AFDC; her Wal-Mart Board experience; her venture into healthcare reform; her initial support of the war in Iraq; the Africa Trade agreement; her Iowa staff sending out emails on Obama's supposedly Muslim faith; We can go on, but this is the discussion we should be having to determine who best respresent the issues that effect and impact our communities.

I want to see the vision that will bring about new paradigms. I've got better sense than to look to electoral politics to bring about justice, truth, righteousness, love, wholeness. Elected officials cannot do this. I need to know where they enter to assist in building this paradigm.

rjweems said...

This blog piece was not about Clinton and Obama. I regret that Obama's followers insist upon trampling over that point to go on and on about their candidate.

But I'm such a good sport.

So, let me see if I can find another way to say what I wasn't trying to say.

I'm a minister. I like visions as much as the next person and have been known to traffic in en-vision-ing a few times myself.

The sight of Oprah Winfrey, with her rags to riches story, and Barack Obama, mixed heritages make good story, standing together on a platform fill me with good feelings too. Pass the offering plate.

Hillary Clinton has neither vision (certainly nothing that match up with the embodiedness of mixed heritaged Obama), nor does she have the poetry of Winfrey (neither does Obama for that matter).

If her personna in her husband's administration was like that of Laura Bush and other wives (shallow and in the shadows), I wouldn't even be considering Clinton's bid. That wasn't Clinton's role during her husband's administration. She was vocal, active, and took her licks for being so.

I guess I prefer a scrappy, tough, guarded white woman who has experience with presidential politics (and a history of relationships with blacks dating back to Arkansas) to a well meaning, but untried, inexperienced, mixed-heritaged Obama. Congress would tie him in knots and shut him down within his first year.

For the record, JFK had vision too, yes, along with 13 years of experience prior as a Congressman and Senator.

Here's what I can promise you: I won't flee to Canada in protest if Obama is elected. We survived Bush. We'll survive Obama.

Fal said...

Unfortunately, I feel the need to weigh in on this conversation of Obama and Hillary even though the blog piece is about mentoring relationships and the use of one’s power.

Unlike many people who are enthralled with the pending democratic primary, I am not.

As a trained albeit reluctant political scientist, I know how voters think when making decisions in primaries. Often the decisions are based on the idea of Big Mo (i.e. Momentum, the Underdog story, and the Horse Race), availability of information regarding candidates’ policy preferences, experience, a candidate’s demographic cues (i.e. Race, Gender, etc.), and who’s likely to beat the opposing party in the presidential race.

All these variables give some purchase in understanding how voters behave in primaries. As much as people “publicly” love Obama it would be hard for him to receive the democratic nomination because racially he is seen as a Black person.

Some people would love to say that Racism is no longer an issue, but tell that to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina or tell that to the hundreds of thousands of young children of color who are uninsured.

Racism exist!
White Supremacy exist!
Racist Stereotypes Exist!

Of course, some would argue that the same argument could be rendered against Hillary based on her gender, perhaps. But the one thing she has that Obama does not have is . . .


No, whiteness and whiteness goes a long way.

I think it is hilarious how we haven’t had discussions “publicly” about the race of Hillary and the race of Obama. Of course, we have discussed is Obama black enough, but that is a different type of conversation in comparison to a conversation about Hillary’s whiteness and Obama’s blackness.

Because at the end of the day when people are not informed they rely on heuristics, in this case the race and gender of the candidate.

In general, even if Hillary or Obama become president there policies will not differ much. Because at the end of the day ideology is ideology . . . words are just words and what matters most to politicians are moneyed interest groups and attentive publics.

Yeah, did I mention how unexcited I am about the pending primary season?

Georgia's Angels said...

Dr. weems;
The thing that I have benifited from in all your writing, is your attempt to get women to reconize their power and become more respectful of the power that our sisters possess regardless of status. I recently had a meeting with a group of health care professional on the issue of mammograms for women over 70 years of age. When I threatned to boycott the hospital and called several of my friends for their support the sisters delivered. The adminisrtation has since offered me a position on the board of concerned citizens, I refused I don't want to lose my power. However, this movement has taken on it's own life, we are now organizing in every store front church (most people ignore the little church's) and we are asking the women to attend meetings for Senator Clinton. I too would love to see an african american president in my life time, but chances are it won't happen in this election. What concerns me is that while the democrates ight over Clinton and Obama, the republicans have posed a united front for Rudy, now I agree that we have survived Bush father and son. But RUDY! I think
it will take sometime to undo what he will do. Therefore here in our little corner of the world we are going to put all our eggs in one basket Hillary.

stillwater2 said...

Dr. Weems,
I have utmost respect for you and your work. Whenever you come to Chicago I am there hanging on your every word. On this topic you have surprised me. Is experience really that much of a factor? A president is surrounded by advisors, strategists, diplomats and career civil servants. Is it experience or is it proper selection of those who surround the president? I believe it is the latter, resulting from the values of the person making the selections.

Asantewaa said...

Thank you Sis. Fal, you gave me an opening . . . and Sis. Rev. Weems, you continue to make us think AND pray . . . hard, too! :) While I greatly admire Mother Maya Angelou
and her artistic and political contributions to our Movement and I admire the long way that God has brought Sis. Oprah, we must ask ourselves some hard questions about any candidate running for office. The fact that we are only discussing candidates from the
Demo-publican Party speaks volumes about our politcial vision; can we not have the courage to imagine ourselves outside the "plantation" of the Demo-publican Party?
Shouldn't some of us remember what Malcolm X taught us about the difference between a fox and a wolf? "They both bite and they both have fleas." In my political opinion, neither Miss Hilary nor Brotha Pretty Boy have the substance necessary to advocate for working class/poor folks, or for justice in general. BOTH SUPPORT THE CURRENT OCCUPATION AND WAR AGAINST IRAQ. Ms. Hilary and her husband, Slick Willie? Federal Mandatory minimums prison sentencing/three strikes you're out, "we will dismantle welfare as we know it", the first war against Iraq, Bosnia/Yugoslavia, the
decline in labor union power, etc. Ms. Hilary's stance against the striking transit workers of NYC two years ago; did you know that approx. 23 percent of those transit workers are women/single mothers? Ms. Hilary should explain her acceptance of money and other political support from the Republi-crats and other corporate interests and her reactionary, facist support of Israel's invasion of Lebanon last year. Brotha Pretty Boy's comments a while back, stating that "military options against Iran and/or Pakistan are not off the table." I also used to work on Capitol Hill and last fall
when the Senate was discussing continued funding for the war against Iraq, every member of
the Senate voted to continue such funding, including Brotha Pretty Boy. He's not even a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus. Lastly, taking a cue from former pres Slick Willie Clinton, if you read the portion of his book "Audacity to Hope" (I think that is
the title) he says something to the effect about how he wished young girls would not have
babies out of wedlock, and how this would improve the economic conditions in our community, etc. I guess he's never studied political economy, he's never heard of "free enterprise zones", gentrification and outsourcing. (And what about all those homophobic gospel singers, including wife beater Rev. Hezekiah Walker, in that
gospel/political tour in South Carolina?) Respectfully, let's have the courage to be visionary, study politics and ORGANIZE OUR VOTE. If we say we will only vote for the person who will win, what does that say about us and our appreciation of Ella Baker,
Fannie Lou Hamer and the Miss. Freedom Democratic Party? After Mother Fannie was beaten in jail, she still pressed forward; they told her, "Fannie, you can't win, what's the point?" ARE WE TOO AFRAID TO EVEN CONSIDER FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSWOMAN CYNTHIA MCKINNEY AS SHE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT IN THE GREEN PARTY? The bottom line for me, is that I will not vote for any candiate who supports the current war against Iraq and Afghanistan. And as far as a truly "Black" candidate, one that is honest, sincere and tries to advocate for working class/poor people, the closest we have to that in the Demo-publican Party is Dennis Kincinich. Better still, please, let's politically educate ourselves, politically
organize ourselves and examine all other options, all other political parties or create our own. I apologize for the length here, but let's continue to study politics AND our Bibles! :)

rjweems said...



I love my friends there in Chicago, and I trust that we are willing to give each other permission to disagree, perhaps even vehemently, about some things. I think my support of Clinton is quite in keeping with my work, evidently others see it differently.

If it's any comfort to you: it's not that I'm anti-Obama, I'm just pro-Clinton.

And to answer your question about experience: yep, experience, along with other stuff, matters a whole heapa lot to me when it comes to the president of the U.S. Now, if this were an election of the president of the island of Turks & Caicos...

Fal said...

Ashe Asantewaa!!!

I could not have said it better myself.

mz.p said...

I admire and appreciate Black women who do what they have the power to do from the high-profile personalities of women like Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey to the less well known sister in my neighborhood who runs the only safe haven for battered African-American women in middle Tennessee. Women walking in their authority and not just pontificating about it inspire me. The fact that they can also agree to disagree and continue to love and respect each other is a wonderful example for us on healthy relationships/friendships. And, in today’s world of politics, I tend to think a candidate who exercises good judgment far outweighs another’s experience. Bill Clinton has shown me that experience can’t hold a candle to good judgment.

wisdomteachesme said...

it seems that we may have a few women of color posting here that could possible be advisors, representatives, canidates, etc... for different offices. such passion displayed.

that is the great thing about living, everyone has their opinion of so many different subjects and topics that we all face in this world-and it's ok not to agree with each other and still respect anothers opinions and choices.

as sister weems stated at the end of her post =

"Do what's in your power.
Leave the rest to God."

TGP said...

After reading your post Dr. Weems I thought the underlying message was about using what you have to do what you can do. It was about putting to good use your abilities to provoke change or whatever it is you are attempting provoke, and then when you have done all you can then you leave everything else to God. However, after reading all of the comments I got so caught up in the debate over Senator Obama and Senator Clinton that I almost forgot the message of the original post which truly is about service and a love of God. I just wanted to say that we should not get so caught up in the media’s candidates and who’s campaigning for whom that we miss the opportunity to see God move and work through these beautiful women who are out on the campaign trail and through the candidates they are supporting. Three women, one man, three of whom are African American, and so much national influence between them… As to the discussion here on the comments page, I am mostly decided on who I am voting for, but I have almost a year to change my mind and so do all of you. The thing is, I hope we as Christians, women (men), and people of color choose someone who has the plans which you believe will be in the best interests of your communities and whose ideals are consistent with your love of God. Please don't vote without taking a look at all of the candidates on both sides of the aisle. History has shown that neither democrat or republican have always done right by the people especially people of the African Diaspora. So it is important for us as voters to choose based on more than just our party affiliations or our allegiances to women or African American candidates solely based on their race and gender. Choose Clinton because you believe she will do good for the country and your community, choose Obama if you feel he will do it, choose Edwards or Dodd or Huckabee or Giuliani or someone else…but be mindful that it is not their experience which will lead them to the right decision on all things, some but not all, and experience can vary issue by issue. Senator Clinton is a good politician and candidate and so is Obama but who has a vision that will change the direction of this nation. Look at their platforms, read their books, review their voting records and policies, don’t listen to the sound bites on televisions or rely solely on opinions. Most of all please don’t get so caught up in the politics that you forget that God leads your life, your government, and everything that moves, breathes, or blows. Debate can be spirited without taking the focus from God…pray about even who to vote for… study and learn then pray…“Do what’s in your power and leave the rest to God”

Dr. Margaret said...

Yesterday on WAOK a commentator posted that what he saw was a black woman who had made her career on white women stumping for a black man running for president to try to woo the black women who were otherwise going to vote for a white woman...

Made me holla.

To your point, Renita: we--all of us--frequently have more power than we recognize. Kudos to Oprah and Maya for using that power to take a stand--as, to their credit, they have both done in the past also.

As for selecting a president, I choose one with whom I can agree--not one with either scrappy backbone or "vision." GWB claims to have "vision" also... But it is good to see Angelou and Winfrey doing the same thing that I'm doing--race and gender notwithstanding.

Fal said...


hm, yeah I understand the tone of my previous post a few comments up may lead people to think I am indifferent and nihilistic about the pending primaries and general election, but I am not. I think a choice between a Republican and a choice between a Democrat matters, if not only symbolically.

Yes, both parties have shunned African Americans in various ways, but I don't think God would want a Huckabee in the White House who wants to abolish the IRS meaning no more social programs and the little money schools receive already.

It is amazing your comment reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my friends' mom on the eve of the 2004 election. She said she was voting for Bush because Gore was pro-choice and at the end of the day God's will will prevail. Of course, the election of Bush meant the appointment of Supreme Court justices who are anti everything that gives some breath to human rights.

Yeah, leave it up to God, but don't allow the issues of ABORTION, HOMOSEXUALITY, SEX, SEX, SEX, keep you from choosing between an evil (Democrats) and the anti-Christ (the Republicans). Because I have come to find when Christians say choose a candidate that is consistent with God’s love and principles that usually means a candidate or party that is anti-abortion, anti-gay and lesbian couples, anti-SEX. In general, at the end of the day the current Republican ideology is inherently RACIST among other things.

Once again, let God, but don't be naive because if we have another republican administration-- A Giuliani or A Huckabee –going to Hell is the least of your worries.