SYG9 - PART VI Individual and Collective Agency and Empowerment “The curse ofpoverty has a0 justification in our age It is socially as cruel and

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Unformatted text preview: PART VI Individual and Collective Agency and Empowerment “The curse ofpoverty has a0 justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization . . . the time has comefor as t0 civilize Ourselves by the total, direct, and immedi- ate abolition of poverty. ” Martin Luther King, Jr. (1967) ' Eiizm ‘Dfi 5mm” and mug Efiunfismrwfi ll s imunff) in. 193 CHAPTER 10 _ Changes from the Bottom Up The discipline of sociology focuses on the social context and the social forces that so strongly affect human behavior. But Wlule society and its structures are powerful, the members of society are not totally controlled. We are not passive actors. People can take control of the conditions of their lives. Human beings cope with, adapt to, and change social structures to meet their needs. Individuals acting alone or with others, can shape, resist, challenge, and sometimes change the social inStitutions that impinge upon them." These actions constitute human agency. The essence of agency is that mdividuals through collective action are capable of changing the structure of society and even the course of history. But While agency is important, we should unrurnize the power of the structures that subordinate people, making change difficult or, at times, impossible (Eitzen and Baca Zinn, 2007:521—527). _ At the mdividual level, the poor and the near poor can use various strate- gies to supplement their meager resources... Single mothers, for example, can do income-producing work such as house cleaning, laundry, repairing clothing, childcare, and selling items they have made (Harris, 1996; Schein, 1995),as well as giving and receiving help from family, friends, neighbors, boyfriends, and absent fathers. Those strategies are ways to cope with and adapt to the existing structural limitations. The focus here, however, is on joining with others to change social structures, to make them more equitable. Individual actors seeking change will have little affect as individuals. It, how- ever, they join With others who share their convictions and goals, and if they orga— nize and map out a plan of action, they can make a difference (Kamrneyer, Ritzer, and Yetman, 1997:632—633). In doing so they have created a. social movement. A -- social movement is an issue—oriented group specifically orgaruzed to promote? or resist change. These movements arise when people are sufficiently discontented that they will work for a better system. At various times and places the poor and the near poor have organized to change oppressive situations. Janitors, hotel maids, garb-age collectors, welfare mothers, farm workers, and others have sometimes succeeded in making the pow- erful meet their demands. Historically, the most successful social movements by the poor and powerless were the Montgomery bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950s and the organization of farm workers by Cesar Chavez in the early 1960s. King and his organization of African Americans broke down segregated busing in the South with a Supreme Court decision and led to many more civil rights victories (Branch, 1988).. The campaigns by Chavez and his farm 195 19-6 PART SIX J INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE AGENCY AND MOWERMENT workers, through grape boycotts and other tactics, led to an agreement in 1966 with the farm owners requiring that the owners provide clean drinking water, rest periods, and other benefits to the workers, and to the 1975. passage of the Cali— fornia Agricultural Labor Relations Act—the first law in the nation to guarantee farm workers the right to form unions and to bargain collectively (Griswold del Castillo, 1995).. I I . _ . _ _ Campaigns by the poor and the nonpoor have resulted in over 60 cities-(includ- ing Baltimore, New York City,. Boston, and Los Angeles) instituting living-wage ordinances to help lift low—paid workers out of poverty. These efforts continue as well as collective efforts such as the removal of pesticide exposure to farm workers and the elimination of sweatshops. NOTES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING ' Branch, Taylor (1988). Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon and Schuster Touchstone Books. :_ Clark, Christine, and James O’Donnell (1999). Becoming and Unbecoming White: Owning and Disowning a Racial Identity. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey. ' ' ' " Eitzen, D. Stanley, and Maxme Baca Zirm (2007). In Conflict and Order: Understanding Society, ' 11th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. GrisWold del Castillo, Richard (1995).. Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ' - ' '- 1 - . j _ ' Jennings, James (1994). Blacks, Latinos, and Asians in Urban America: Stat-as ana’ ProSPeCtS for Politics and Activism. Westport, CT: Praeger. - Jennings, James (Ed) (1997). Race and Politics: New Challenges and Responses to Black Activism. London: Verso. Kammeyer, Kenneth C. W., George Ritzer, and Norman R. Yetrnan (1997).. Sociology, 7th ed. _ Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Kern, Jen (2001). “Working for a Living Wage.” Multinational Monitor 22 (January/Febru— ary):14—16. . . _. . Lofland, John (1996). Social Movement Organizations: Guide to Research on Insurgent Realities. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. ' ' ' Piv‘en, Frances Fox, and Richard A. Cloward (1977). Poor People’s Movements: Why They Sac-'- ceecl, How They Fail. New York: Pantheon. ' - ' -- Pepe, Jackie (1999). "Women in the Welfare Rights Struggle,” pp. 287—304 in A New Intestian tion to Poverty: The Role of Race, Power, and Politics, Louis Kushnick and JameSJennings (Eds). New York: New York Uruversity Press. - Schein, Virginia E. (1995). Working from the Margins: Voices of Mothers in Poverty. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. _ Wright, Carter (2001). "A Clean Sweep: Justice for Janitors.” _Maltinational Monitor 22 (J anu— ary/February):12—14. ' ' ' ' Wright, Talmadge (1997). Out of Place: Homeless Mobilizations, Subcities, and Contested Land-— scopes. Albany: State University of New York Press. Surviving Chicago’s Toxic Doughnut HAZEL IOHNS ON Hazel Johnson, a 64—year-old African American woman, talks here about her fight against the toxic environment surrounding public housing in Chicago. This selection is an example of environmental racism/classism { the concentration ofpoor and racial minorities near hazardous and toxic environments). Carr you think of other examples of environmental rac~ ism in dfiereat areas of the country? What does her organization (PCR) I do to promote social change, and how does this demonstrate collective empowerment? the Altgeld Gardens community for 37 years. Altgeld Gardens is a public housing development located on the Southeast side of Chicago. I became a community rep- resentative, taking children on field trips to the amusement park and other places, during the summer months. I volunteered at the local parent school council and was elected to the Altgeld Local Advisory Council. I started PeOple for Community Recovery (PCR) in 1979. It was started as a group of women organizing on environmentally—related health problems in this community PCR was incorporated October 25, 1982.. Our organization is one of the first African American grassroots community—based environmental organiza— tions in the Midwest. Our mission is to address multiple exPosures to harmful toxins and pollutants surrounding public housing. For the past 20 years, I have been active in environmental issues in my community and other communities of color around the country. I got involved in environmental issues While Watclfing the news and learned that the Southeast side of Chicago had the highest incidence of cancer of any community in the city. Later, I connected with the city and state health departments. These agencies mailed me many reports on environmental problems in Southeast Chicago. PCR conducted its own land use survey of the neighborhood. We began knocking on my SOURCE: Hazel Iolm‘son, “Surviving Chicago’s ‘Toxic Doughnut: ‘” Environment Justice Resource Center (March 24, 2001), www.cjrc.cauedu/voicesfromthegrassroots.htm. Reprinted by permission of Robert Bollard. 197 193 PART SIX i INDIVIDUAL AN D COLLECTIVE AGENCY AND EWOWERMENT neighbors’ doors asking them to fill out the health survey. We learned that peOple were suffering with severe health problems, including asthma, cancer, skin rashes, kidney and liver problems. To no one’s surprise, we found alarming patterns. The Southside neighborhood, Altgeld Gardens in particular, was surrounded by all kinds of polluting industries, landfills, incinerators, smelters, steel mills, chemical companies, paint manufacturing plants, and a municipal sewage treatment facil— ity. My neighborhood is also surrounded by more than 50 abandoned toxic waste dumps. We live in a “toxic doughnut.” Despite poor environmental conditions in our community, this did not dis— courage our group from wanting to learn more about the environmental condiw tions and the possible impact on residents’ health. PCR began organizing residents to get the neighborhood cleaned up and treated fairly. For the past decade, we . pressured corporate polluters, the city, and state officials to make them aware of their negligence and make them accountable. It has not been easy going up against the giant corporations, but we are fighting a life-and—death struggle. Through per~ severance .and dedication, we have successfully brought the needed attention to the environmental issues in Southeast Chicago. We have to fight for our children. We have educated ourselves on environmental issues and the health threats from nearby polluting industry. We have not waited for government to come in and determine the “cause” of our illnesses. We may not have PhD. degrees, but we are the 147 “experts” on our community. In 1992, PCR undertook its own health survey of 825 Altgeld Gardens" resi- dents. We were joined by volunteers from the University of Illinois School of Pub- lic Health (designed the survey instrument), Clareitian Medical Clinic (conducted training of interviewers), and St. James Hospital (designed the graphs). Their goal was to follow up on the long—standing anecdotal evidence of health. problems. The results of the survey were no surprise. In addition to heightened risks of troubled pregnancies, the survey revealed a high incidence of chronic pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Thirty-two percent of men and 20 percent of the women surveyed had asthma. Sixty—eight percent of those surveyed indicated that they experienced health problems that disappeared when they left Altgeld Gardens. More than 37 percent of the respondents cited noxious odor when asked to comment generally on their most common complaint. -. The environmental justice work that we started in Chicago has allowed me to testify before Congress and meet two presidents of the United States. Our group has sponsored “toxic tours” of the COmmunity with dignitaries from around the world. We have hosted two environmental conferences. We are often asked to speak at universities and colleges, at workshops and training programs about urban environmental pollution and racism. Our environmental justice work has kept us busy. More importantly, it has paid off. PCR’s organizing efforts persuaded the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Board of Education to remove asbestos from the homes and schools in Altgeld Gardens. We assisted elderly tax-paying residents of Maryland Manor, another Chicago housing deveIOpment, in getting water and sewage services. Our comprehensive health clinic in the southside neighborhood. PCR along with other people of color grassroots groups took their struggle to the Rio Earth Summit where they were joined in solidarity with other brothers and sisters around the world who are experiencing similar environmental and econorrd-c mjustices. It did not take me long to realize that the environmental, ecow nomic, and health problems in the favelas of Rio de Ianeiro looked a lot like the problems in my Southside Chicago neighborhood. now is for them to “do the right thing,” by making the polluters clean up their act on the Southside, . ...
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This note was uploaded on 01/26/2011 for the course SYG 2000 taught by Professor Joos during the Spring '08 term at University of Florida.

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SYG9 - PART VI Individual and Collective Agency and Empowerment “The curse ofpoverty has a0 justification in our age It is socially as cruel and

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