Poor People’s Movements

The title of today’s topic is taken from Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward’s book, Poor People’s Movements. At that time, social sciences scholarship focused on the role of elites in influencing policy. Piven and Cloward instead focused on movements that were driven by ordinary people. A key argument is that ordinary people’s ability to influence the political system occurs through disruptions: strikes, penny auctions, civil disobedience, etc. Inevitably, elites work to neutralize disruptions by directing protesters to the normal channels: the ballot box or creation of an advocacy organization. But in refocusing attention in these areas, the leverage that ordinary people had to force the political system to make changes–the disruptions they were able to cause–disappears. And when that leverage disappears, everything stays the same.

What can be accomplished within the normal political system (elections, advocacy organizations, etc)? What are the limitations of using these outlets for social change–outlets which have a prove track record of accomplishing very little?