Extraordinary Politics: How Protest and Dissent Are Changing American Democracy

By Charles C. Euchner | Go to book overview

7
CONSEQUENCES OF DISSENT

The impact of extraordinary politics on the American system is complex. Extraordinary politics exerts considerable influence on the dialogues and coalitions of contemporary politics. But the nation's political and economic systems set the parameters of extraordinary politics. Extraordinary politics, then, transforms but is also transformed by the structure of the American system. Extraordinary politics also operates alongside other forces and processes. Political parties, mass media, intellectual life, and shifting settlement patterns--to name but a few aspects of modern life--occur at the same time that extraordinary politics rises in prominence.

Nonetheless, it is probably safe to say that extraordinary politics has contributed as much as any other single force to the transformation of modern American politics. Except in periods of major crisis, ordinary politics is incremental. Rather than confronting fundamental questions, ordinary politics alters the status quo through innumerable adjustments. Extraordinary politics, driven by a frustration with the limits of ordinary policy-making, challenges the political system. Extraordinary politics is visceral: By operating on the edge of questions of legitimacy, activism raises questions about the basic structures and everyday practices of politics. But to say that extraordinary politics has spurred major changes in the American system is to say curiously little. While extraordinary politics may spark the process of change, other political forces carry it forward. The role of extraordinary politics is ambiguous. Activists sometimes raise important issues and then get in the way of significant reform. Other times, the challenge of extraordinary politics meets an equally powerful backlash from ordinary politics. Activists might present an issue to the community only to see their ideas thoroughly rejected or coopted.

One student of extraordinary politics has noted the difficulty of measuring success and failure:

The disruptive and cultural power generated by movements engaged in grass-roots democracy has been the primary agency of reform in the United States. . . . Yet this decisive impact on positive social change is easily hidden,

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Extraordinary Politics: How Protest and Dissent Are Changing American Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS xi
  • 1 - Beyond Ordinary Politics 1
  • 2 - Life Cycles of Protest 29
  • 3 - Spurs and Limits to Action 65
  • 4 - Organization Matters 107
  • Dimensions of Strategy 147
  • 6 - Tactics of Activists 179
  • 7 - Consequences of Dissent 209
  • 8 - Beyond Extraordinary Politics 235
  • Notes 251
  • ABOUT THE BOOK AND AUTHOR 283
  • Index 285
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