Archive for September, 2006

Decline of the Civil Rights Movement

I’m almost done reading Doug McAdam’s Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency. The book is a very in depth analysis of the development of the Civil Rights/Black Freedom Movement. It seems to me that in the public schools, we often get a rather surface explanation of this movement- the “Disney version” of Civil Rights, as it were.

We can use this information as a cautionary tale for other movements- for one- it’s unwise to rely too much on outside support, lest the political winds change. In-fighting among various organizations, rather than collaboration also led to the downfall of the movement. Pretty much every left-wing movement has way too many redundant organizations. Ideally different organizations in a movement can have different focuses & tactics, and appeal to different people- thus complementing each other- but often instead they compete with each other for members, funds, media attention etc.

Another problem is that, once the more obvious aspects of oppression are dismantled, or legal protections are established, it’s difficult to keep the momentum going. Sympathetic whites (or straights, or men as the case may be) think that it’s no longer a problem. The younger generation takes the rights that their elders fought for granted. It is one thing to change a society’s laws, it’s quite another to change the culture, the whole attitude people have toward a marginalized group.

It seems now we are losing some of the gains of the Civil Rights movement. Reaction against immigrants, “welfare queens”and crime reveal the still close-minded attitudes many whites have toward people of color. Cries of “reverse racism” and legal suits are destroying affirmative action. De-facto segregation in housing and education is quite extreme in many places. Interestingly the Twin Cities still seem fairly integrated compared to many other cities- Detroit for example basically has an inner core of blacks, and an outer core of whites. Whereas many T.C. neighborhoods are pretty mixed, and even some of the suburbs are becoming more multicultural.
One more positive note I can say is that, the younger generations are quite accepting of inter-racial relationships. Again, according to a recent study Minnesota has one of the higher rates of inter-marriage in the country. Given the many such couples I know in my own neighborhood alone, not too surprised by this. But this alone isn’t going to solve our problems.


September 28, 2006 at 11:28 pm 1 comment

The Sword That Heals

Ch. 2 Why We Can’t Wait, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In this chapter, MLK lays out his argument for the use of nonviolent resistance, the sword that heals.  

 “Acceptance of nonviolent direct action was a proof a certain sophistication on the part of the Negro masses; for it showed that they dared to break with the old, ingrained concepts of our society.”- p. 23

The very idea of nonviolent resistance is rather counterintuitive to American culture. We think the only ways to respond to aggression & repression are “fight or flight” –it represents a rejection of that kind of all-or nothing thinking. Perhaps those who are marginalized by society are more likely to question assumptions that more mainstream individuals take for granted.

In my time as an activist, I’ve noticed organization tend to either rely heavily either on lobbying/legal action or protesting/direct action, while seeing the other tactic as not being useful. I have argued that both are necessary in certain circumstances. I was excited to see, that long before me, MLK came to the same conclusion.

“Direct action is not a substitute for work in the courts and halls of government.  Bringing about passage of a new and broad law in Congress or pleading cases in the courts of the land does not eliminate the necessity for bringing about the mass dramatization of injustice in front of city hall. Indeed, direct action and legal action complement each other; when skillfully employed, each becomes more effective.” –p.28

September 28, 2006 at 12:51 am Leave a comment

Class & Disability

Economic class plays a very pervasive role in disability. The most obvious factor of course, is that many disabled people live in poverty, off federal subsidies or even in homelessness, unemployed or underemployed.

But beyond the surface there is a more insidious truth- conditions of poverty often cause disabilities. Lower income people are more likely to have disabilities- some of them are poor as a result of being disabled, but some are disabled as a result of being poor. In low-income neighborhoods, there is more exposure to toxic chemicals, that can cause brain-damage, learning disabilities, and disease. Also pregnant mothers who use drugs (alcohol as well as illegal ones) cause their children to be born with disabilities.

Finally, lower paid jobs tend to have a higher risk of injury. Also if someone cannot afford health care, they are only likely to get treatment for an injury or illness when it becomes extreme, early treatment which can be so crucial in slowing or even curing a medical condition is not affordable to many people, thereby worsening their condition, making their life more difficult and less employable.  Low-paying jobs are more likely to just fire you once you become disabled, rather than trying to accomodate the disability. Undocumented workers are not even entitled to worker’s compensation.

The number of disabled children born or diagnosed continues to increase- what relationship might this have to the increase in poverty, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor?

*Middle and upper-class parents can afford to have their children identified with learning disabilities, and get help at an earlier age. If the school district does not give appropriate services to their child, they can hire a lawyer and fight for their rights. The more money you have obviously, the wider range of treatment options and assistive technology you can afford. (*Even then only _some_ who would be considered middle-income can afford such service)

I know I would probably not be as successful as I am socially, academically and professionally if were not for much of the help I received that was accessible due to class privilege. I have noticed that many successful disabled people of relatively privileged backgrounds do not acknowledge this.

According to my research:

The federal government, it seems would rather put people on the disability rolls than fund community-based job programs. They would rather keep people in institutions and nursing homes than pay for personal care assistants so they can live independently. At least, that is the impression we get from how they spend our tax dollars.  Also many people need assistive technology in order to live independently and become more employable, but many of them cannot afford it.  Some 10 years after the passage of the ADA, our society still deems the empowerment of people with disabilities to lead independent lives not worth the investment. It’s rather strange too, considering paying for such services would actually be cheaper. I guess this is a reflection of the prejudice people still have.

September 26, 2006 at 8:22 am Leave a comment

Sept 23 Anti-War Protest

Yesterday I went to an anti-war protest/march in Minneapolis. It was organized by the Iraq Peace Action Coalition, a group which I’ve never heard of, but there are so many of them. I found out about from this socialist e-mail list that I’m on. Anyways, the plan was that people were going to gather at noon at this plaza at Hennepin & Lagoon, and then march to a military recruiting station and protest there. We got there an hour late, so they had already marched away, but there were still people milling about the plaza with signs, tabling with info about their groups and such.

One of the first things we noticed when we got there was a big, hand-lettered banner that said “Really Really Free Market- brought to you by Your Friendly Neighborhood Anarchists” People brought stuff they didn’t want, or wanted to share, and anyone could come up and take as much as they needed. I went thru the piles of clothes, and found a couple of cool books that I took, and there was also a stand of free fruits and vegetables, so I helped myself to a peach. There was a table of free anarchist literature as well. This is, in a way a political action- it is intended to create a community-based, economic alternative, and conserve natural resources. They are planning on doing this once a month, so I’m going to find out where they have it, and bring some of my stuff too. Also there was this guy who had this bike that could carry 7 people, and he was letting people ride it with him, so my brother & I tried it out. We had fun doing all that stuff, and talking with people, and then the marchers came back and had a rally. We chanted, people spoke out against the war, announced upcoming protests and events. People held up signs and cars honked in support.

Chants: The People United, Will Never be Defeated!

This is What Democracy Looks Like- Bush is What Hypocrisy Looks Like!

It was a pretty good turnout- the organizers estimated about 320 people. The space was not large enough to accomodate a huge crowd. I felt like I was doing something to voice my opposition to the war, though I don’t know how effective it was- I wonder if there was any media coverage, it may not have been big enough. I had fun, and felt connected to the community and the peace movement.

*My brother took some pictures at it, so maybe I can post some of them here later.

September 25, 2006 at 4:25 am Leave a comment

What is a Social Movement?

This semester I’m taking a class called Protest and Social Change: the Sociology of Social Movements. The whole reason I majored in political science is because I wanted to study this stuff, but we’ve never covered it in depth in any of my poli sci classes. I think it should be a requirement for the major actually. Anyways, I’ve been thinking about definitions.

It seems to me that the way we use the term “social movement” in class I would use the term political movement (PM). “Social movement” to me has broader connotation- it would include phenomena like the hippie movement, the homeschooling movement, the polyamory movement- groups that, while they might have political aspects and implications to them, are not as directly political as the civil rights, labor, women’s, environmental (etc.) movements. However, such movements can become PMs.

A social movement is a type of collective behavior, in which people are trying to change (or preserve or revive) some aspect of the culture or social structure or at least get the culture to accept or tolerate it.
A political movement, is a particular kind of SM, in which people are trying to change or preserve laws, regulations, governmental structures etc. Political aspects of the society/culture.

This is also related to difference between the phrases “social change” and “political change”. For example, a political change would be outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A social change would be social acceptance of gays and same-sex relationships. They are related but they are different, and the second is often much more difficult and pervasive.

(P.S. it’s the 24th, not the 25th. WordPress is being weird. )

September 25, 2006 at 3:52 am 1 comment

Thoughts on Leadership

Growing up a social misfit as I did, I never expected to be a leader of any sort. Since coming to college, I’ve ended up in a couple different leadership positions, and found myself filling leadership roles at various times. I’ve come to realize that leadership is not necessarily something you choose, often the role is chosen for you. A need or an opportunity opens up, and wanting to help out, you volunteer. In fact, I think often those who go out seeking leadership are doing so for the wrong reasons. A leader, to me is not someone who gives orders and sits around while others do the work. Rather, a leader is a guide and facilitator who makes sure someone shows up to meeting or event, things get done, communication is running smoothly. A leader is there to serve the members of an organization or community and so s/he should try to seek, and act on as much input as possible from the members.

At the same time, every minor decision can’t be voted on by the whole membership, and if something comes up, and something needs to be changed at the last minute or there is crisis of some sort, the leader(s) have to make a decision without the input of the membership.

Student leadership is a kind of “training wheels”. You are trying to figure out how to run an organization, put on events, recruit members, publicize the group & it’s events, and at times, educate the public. Sure, there are official college rules you generally have to follow, but beyond that it’s pretty much trial and error. We do (to varying degrees) have the support of staff, but for the most part we’re figuring things out on our own. I have learned a lot of skills from both participating in student groups as a member, and as a leader. I hope I can put those skills to use in helping the greater community after I graduate.

September 17, 2006 at 2:21 am Leave a comment

Mental Illness in the Pagan Community

I suspect that a _significant_ portion of the Pagan community suffers from various forms of mental illness. Of course a large portion of the American population suffers from depression and other disorders, but in some ways Pagans are uniquely predisposed to depression. Many people are undiagnosed and untreated, or inadequately treated.

(I also think a lot of Pagans have undiagnosed learning disabilities but that’s a topic for another essay) I’m by no means an expert on this subject, but here are some observations I’ve made.

While the often tolerant and nonjudgmental nature of the Pagan community is greatly beneficial to many eccentric but sufficiently sane people, we may be enabling some bizarre behavior that is a cry for help. Some of these people who think that they are elves and vampires really need to be on medication. Undiagnosed people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can mask their behavior with some kinds of spiritual practices.

Then there’s Gothic subculture in which being depressed can be considered cool or normal.

Environmental Factors

Many people come to Paganism partially because they feel alienated from and out of place in society. An emerging discipline known as Eco-psychology also posits that people’s mental health is adversely affected by their separation/alienation from nature and destruction of the environment. Many Pagans are liberals, and liberals have plenty of things to be depressed about.

Economic Factors

Many Pagans are struggling financially, which can be both a partial cause and effect of depression. Stress and difficulties experienced by poor people can lead to depression, being poor often means going without health insurance. Keep in mind however, that many middle class people don’t have health insurance either. Consequently untreated depression makes more difficult to stay employed, and having difficulty staying in job makes it harder to advance. Others who do have health insurance often have inadequate mental health coverage. Other groups that experience oppression also disproportionately suffer from depression- women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people and people of color.

Spiritual Factors

People who have psychic abilities and openness to the spirit world who are not identified and trained are vulnerable to being deemed insane by a society that does not understand them and actually going insane because they cannot deal with the seemingly unexplainable things they are sensing. Likewise practicitioners of magic, energy work, divination and such often do not feel safe mentioning this aspect of their lives to mental health professionals, lest they be deemed crazy. Psychiatry, which is very much shaped by the assumptions of a secular/materialist, scientific worldview, needs to learn to be more understanding of metaphysical beliefs and practices.

Relation to Other Problems

Depression and other forms of mental illness can lead to, or be caused by other problems, as can alcoholism and drug abuse, insomnia, eating disorders. It is very common for people with learning disabilities, such as ADD, dyslexia and autism to also have depression and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.


Many religious communities have support groups and other resources for members who suffer from mental illness. These kinds of services are desperately needed in the Pagan community. We need to learn from other religious communities and adapt to the needs of our own community.

Edit: changed “large portion” to “significant” 10/05/06

September 10, 2006 at 6:28 am 15 comments


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