Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence

By Fred L. Pincus; Howard J. Ehrlich | Go to book overview

PART 7
Electoral Politics or Direct Action?
This section concerns politics and activism. When most people think of "politics," they probably think of working within the traditional structure of government to achieve some end. The main political action, in this view, is selecting representatives for office at the local, state, or federal levels by means of elections.Racial and ethnic minorities, according to this view, can achieve more power in the society by participating in the political process. Thus, minority candidates should run for office, and minority communities should organize voter registration campaigns to support candidates who are sympathetic to their interests. The underlying assumption here is that the electoral system will be responsive to the needs of minority communities once those communities get mobilized.When politics are defined more broadly, the traditional conception seems far too restrictive. We define politics as any collective action that is intended to support, influence, or change social policy or social structures. This goes beyond simply working within the existing system of government. Consider the following list of political actions:
• Predominantly black and Latino hospital workers go out on strike against a national chain of private nursing homes to force their employer to recognize their union. After two weeks, the employer agrees to collective bargaining.
• Asian students at a large West Coast university refuse to leave the president's office until he agrees to provide funds for an Asian studies program. After several days of negotiation, the students are arrested by police and charged with trespassing.
• A multiracial group decides to establish an alternative school for adults who want to learn more about how left-wing perspectives and political activities can lead to racial equality. Classes are held in teachers' homes, and the small tuition is divided between the teachers and the school organizers.
• Armed Native Americans in the Northeast patrol roads leading into their reservation to prevent state police from entering in search of a Native American activist. They claim that the reservation is a sovereign nation and that the state police have no jurisdiction. After several days, the police leave.

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