In the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown, many activists took to the streets of Ferguson to protest the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police officers across the United States. Many have criticized these protesters for their tactics, some of which have involved violence, describing the protesters as “thugs.” In this way and in many others, the Black Lives Matter movement is similar to any other movement attempting to bring about broad, systemic change. Piven and Cloward write, “[I]t is inevitable that beliefs and rituals reinforce inequality, by rendering the powerful divine and the challengers evil,” just as has occurred in this recent movement (1). Lasting change is hard to accomplish and maintain due to institutional structures that discourage or prevent marginalized groups from having their voices heard. Specifically, change is limited by a lack of representation from marginalized groups and these groups’ lack of power to enact change, which combine with the general difficulty of straying from the status quo. Because these problems are at the systemic level, systemic reforms need to be made to ensure greater opportunities for representation from marginalized groups.
One barrier that stands in the way of bringing about change is marginalized people’s lack of power. Piven and Cloward argue that, through capitalism, “those who control the means of physical coercion, and those who control the means of producing wealth, have power over those who do not” (1). People who are marginalized have inherently less power than those who are above them and control them. Therefore, due to this power differential, marginalized people have little opportunity to bring about change. Further, acco...
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...ange, especially until these reforms can take place.
Using Piven and Cloward’s argument, it is easy to understand why so many have joined in the Black Lives Matter movement, and why the movement has taken the course of action that it has. Other potential alternatives were not addressing these concerns and issues, so people turned to protest and mass movement. Piven and Cloward’s argument can also be used to ensure that the Black Lives Matter movement is successful; they argue that in order for mass movements to succeed, “[S]trategies must be pursued that escalate the momentum and impact of disruptive protest at each stage in its emergence and evolution” (37). If organized and well-executed mass movements are combined with future political and electoral reforms, it can be ensured that the voices of the marginalized and oppressed are heard, and true change can occur.
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