Volume 21, Number 4
War on Housing
Outside the (Ballot) Box
Aurora Levins morales
A Woman President
Immigration Reform Now
César cuauhtémoc garcía Hernández
Review: Challenging Authority
Review: Subcommander Marcos
Iraq's "Good News"
Recession Pt. 2
NYT & Trade
U.S. & Kenya
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Review: Challenging Authority
by Frances Fox Piven, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006, 220 pp.
Frances Fox Piven's book Challenging Authority is about how social movements are the pivotal force of social, economic, and political change in the U.S. By rising up in defiance of mundane rules that govern their social behavior and disrupting important institutions, Piven argues, ordinary people are able to wield extraordinary political power. Often through a combination of strikes, sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and riots, the oppressed force government officials to alleviate their grievances as a way to restore a sense of normalcy.
Piven explains in the book's opening chapter the inherently contentious nature of organized human societies. These societies are comprised of what she calls "networks of cooperation and interdependence," which "inevitably give rise to contention, to conflict, as people bound together by social life try to use each other to further their often distinctive interests and outlooks." Each of these networks garner disproportionate degrees of power.
An advantage to working class people in advanced societies is that they wield considerable power, sometimes more—a lot more—than they think they do. The leverage they have can be activated "by the withdrawal of contributions to social cooperation." This activation is defined by Piven as disruption. It is this force that makes social movements significant.
Piven's thesis is grounded in the realization that the political infrastructure in the U.S. was designed in such a way as to disempower the average citizen. Since its very inception, the U.S. government has hardly ever given a voice to the population at large. Instead, it has been consistently dominated and controlled by the wealthy, who use the apparatus of the state to pass and enforce laws that are conducive to a capitalist environment. Or, as Piven puts it, "the rules are fashioned to reflect prevailing patterns of domination made possible by concentrated wealth, force, and institutional position." Logically, in order to have any control over their lives the poor would have to effect change outside the modality of institutionalized social relations.
Piven examines four times in the last two centuries where Americans collectively defied laws, rules, and social norms on a massive scale. The first of these occurred around the time of the American Revolution. Then there was the abolitionist movement, the labor movement of the 1930s, and finally the civil rights and other movements of the 1960s. What do all of these movements have in common? They all coincide with every major reform our country has ever adopted. To Piven, this is no coincidence.
In all four cases, movements were able to disrupt society to the point where the power elites felt so threatened that they had little choice but to capitulate. In order to avert revolution and prevent electoral fragmentation, political parties grudgingly made some concessions to the discontented. At the peak of the civil rights movement, for example, the poll tax in federal elections was outlawed with the passage of the Twenty- Fourth Amendment. In addition, the poor also received benefits in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Equal Opportunity Act of 1964.
To further substantiate her theory, Piven then directs our attention to periods between the "big bangs," a term she uses to describe the mass movements previously mentioned. "If analysis of the moments of reform in American history reveals the important role of disruptive protest movements," she writes, "so does the analysis of the periods in which these reforms are whittled back reveal the weakness of electoral arrangements as an avenue for democratic reform in the absence of disruptive protest."
What is unique about Piven's method is that it attempts to explain the relationship between protests and government policy, which very few social scientists do. By analyzing the effects that disruptive protest movements have on political policies, she disproves the popular sentiment that protesting is ineffective. Consequently, she places ordinary Americans in their rightful and dignified place in American history as the central agents of change.
The message in Challenging Authority is clear: in order to create change, social movements must be disruptive. The strength of this book is in Piven's flawless analysis and persuasive arguments. At a time when protests in America seem to be increasingly conventional and therefore ineffective, this book becomes ever more relevant. If only social activists would read it.
Edgey Wildchild is the author of Fighting for Freedom (Planting Seeds Press), a devoted blues musician, and a social organizer/agitator from New York.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.