Social Movements Term Paper

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Social Movements

Social reformers recognized very early that the causes for which they sought change, namely equality and equal representation were seriously stymied by poverty. The condition of poverty unfairly stilted individuals in their ability to seek change as being in the state of poverty leaves one with limited time, energy and ability to fight for or even get behind social movements that would help the very people fighting for equal rights and representation. Early civil rights organizations recognized the stark connection between poverty and disenfranchisement. This can be seen most easily with a clearer understanding of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign. The Poor People's Champaign as will be explained later was a radical departure from traditional historical civil rights actions as it expanded the concept of civil rights beyond race to the social depravity that was caused by economic injustice. This work will serve as a brief review of literature surrounding the poor people's campaign and briefly reviewing literature associated with the development of the campaign's ideas and concepts.

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The Southern Christian Leadership Conference headed by MLK jr. developed a proposed march on Washington that was nicknamed the Poor People's Campaign and scheduled it for March of 1968. McKnight contends in his full length book about the Poor People's campaign that MLK Jr.'s development of the ideas surrounding the expansion of the civil rights movement followed his outright condemnation of the Vietnam War and president Johnson's decisions involving it. McKnight claims that;

King had concluded that America was a sick society unable to be reformed by piecemeal measures. The civil rights leader was convinced that a revolution in values, one ignited by a profound societal reorganization resulting in a redistribution of economic and political power, was essential to redeem the soul of America.

(McKnight, 1998, p. 11)

Term Paper on Social Movements Assignment

The difference in this action and the historical ideology of the civil rights movement was a shift away from the often racially driven campaigns to one that would include all who were in poverty a clear social justice cause that was far more enveloping than the previous arguments of the movement. McKnight also makes clear that the program was a departure in tactics for King and the SCLC as previously the movement had stressed peaceful actions and this movement was remarkably militant in potential, an issue that was not lost on Hoover (then director of the FBI) who chose to use the Poor People's Campaign as proof positive of the growing potential for social unrest and racial criminality.

King was not optimistic about the outcome of this planned campaign in confrontational politics. He knew this was a desperate gamble in domestic brinkmanship, but he was driven to the conclusion that there were no viable alternatives: It was either massive civil disobedience or riots.... The planned Poor People's Campaign became the major front in the FBI's stepped-up campaign to contain the rising tide of black militancy and intensify the bureau's secret war against King. (McKnight, 1998, p. 22)

Despite the official campaign against King and the SCLC and a generalized fear of the transformation that the campaign would make on Washington the Campaign planning went on and then even despite King's assassination the SCLC reiterated King's message by continuing to plan and enact the different aspects of the campaign.

The Poor People's Campaign was to include; "southern rural and northern ghetto blacks, Appalachian whites, Mexican-Americans, and Native Americans." (McKnight, 1998, p. 4) the plan, drafted mainly by King was to bring thousands of poor people to Washington and create a camp literally on the doorstep of the government, to attempt to force congressional reforms that would amount to what King envisioned as an "Economic Bill of Rights." (McKnight, 1998, p. 4) This newly conceived call for social justice would include; "...sweeping reforms in employment, education, welfare, and housing that President Lyndon B. Johnson's National Advisory Committee of Civil Disorders urged in its 1968 high-priority report to reverse the deepening racial and economic divisions plaguing American society." (McKnight, 1998, p. 4) These divisions had been evident throughout the historical civil rights movement as the elements within society that were most likely to create further division and continue to support social inequality and disenfranchisement. In short the Poor People's Campaign was a demonstrative call to challenge the institutions of capitalism that favored some and fully alienated others. Though economic disenfranchisement was an essential element of the civil rights movement it was not the driving force behind it as early in the movement many beelived that with the changes that would be brought about by civil rights laws that were being proposed, the elimination of segregation laws, the reestablished rights of blacks to vote, the elimination of anti-miscegenation laws and other legal and social reforms the disenfranchised would then have the rights they needed for full representation and potentially success in the capitalistic culture. Realization of the lengths in which the movement would have to go to achieve this later plan was realized in the hopes of those who planned the Poor People's Campaign, which challenged the disturbing results of capitalism to create a very large population of poor people who did not by any means have equal opportunity, regardless of law.

By 1967 King had changed his earlier convictions that white racism could be overcome by appealing to the nation's moral conscience with the positive and creative force of Christian love. He was no longer certain that Vietnam War-era America had a moral conscience. In concluding his testimony before a Senate committee at year's end, King voiced his somber perspective on the country's racial dilemma when he said that "America as a nation has never committed itself to solving the problems of its Negro citizens." 8 (McKnight, 1998, p. 14)

According to King and his followers the Poor People's Campaign was an expansion of the ideology of social equality to a point where the inception of King's "Dream" could come to pass and where less racial and social strife would occur as more people had the ability to, on a daily basis support social progress rather than fighting over limited resources and ultimately being brushed aside as a result of their socioeconomic status. Though King did not live to lead the Poor People's Campaign as he was assassinated just weeks before it was to begin, April 4, 1968 saw the death of MLK jr. And April 22, 1968 was the beginning of the campaign. (Hon, 1997, pp. 186-187) Linda Childers Hon recognizes that the Poor People's Campaign was one of the many SCLC publicity campaigns that successfully altered the state of America and sought to broaden the scope of the civil rights movement to include not only blacks but many other disenfranchised members of society, that was sadly curtailed by the untimely death of MLK jr.

The text of a SCLC flier about the campaign said that "we, the poor people of America, demand decent jobs and income" and "the right to a decent life" (SCLC, 1968a). (Hon, 1997, p. 187)

The campaign developed an extensive set of documents that attempted to move individual to action, despite the personal sacrifice that would be involved in such a demonstration. (Hon, 1997, p. 187) Additionally, McKnight notes that the poor were responding in droves to the campaign, conceived by the new Martyr in MLK Jr. And in addition to this the coffers of the SCLC were being filled generously by people who wished to be a part of the continuation of MLK Jr.'s mission to develop greater social equality. (McKnight, 1998, p. 84) Sadly, as Hon and McKnight reiterate the campaign turned out to be a frustrating failure, as the coordination of a shanty town affectionately known as Resurrection City, in Washington, during a rainy season, with greater numbers than had been expected showed the staggering inability of the SCLC to organize such a large scale experiment in the human condition. (McKnight, 1998, p. 107)

The change in the direction of one of the core institutions of the civil rights movement, the SCLC was an extension of the goals of the movement to create real and lasting social change that would in the end hopefully allow the disenfranchised masses to become educated and eventually earn a living that brought them to the forefront of representative citizenship and social justice. The situation in Washington and the recent death of MLK jr. created what many consider a cumulative failure of the campaign as the weather stymied progress and created disorganization and unrest in, "Resurrection City," a plywood and canvas town situated near the Washington Monument." (Hon, 1997, p. 187)

According to Jalata an expert in social justice movements the Poor People's Campaign was conceived after the passage of the civil rights laws, as it became more and more clear that the issues that separated those protected by civil rights laws from the larger society were greater than the aspects that had been addressed by these laws. It also became clear to King and others that there was… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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