Is There Hope in Social Movements?

Is There Hope in Social Movements?

November 8, 2013 | Gara LaMarche, President, Democracy Alliance

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NCCD Board Member Gara LaMarche is a senior fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. LaMarche was recently appointed as the new president of the Democracy Alliance, a network of individuals devoted to building the infrastructure needed to execute and advance a progressive agenda. This blog is the fourth in a series of excerpts from a lecture LaMarche gave at the University of California, Berkeley titled “Is Prison Thinking Infecting Public Policy?”.

NCCD Board Member Gara LaMarche is a senior fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. LaMarche was recently appointed as the new president of the Democracy Alliance, a network of individuals devoted to building the infrastructure needed to execute and advance a progressive agenda. This blog is the fourth in a series of excerpts from a lecture LaMarche gave at the University of California, Berkeley titled “Is Prison Thinking Infecting Public Policy?”.

Hope exists in the strengthening of social movements that can hold the state accountable. I described the development of such a movement around mass incarceration, and clearly there is one around immigration—if you think the enormous shift in public and legislative opinion toward a path to citizenship came about as a result of the 2012 election returns, you need to take a look at the years of organizing that played such a large part in the election returns. Now a movement is beginning to take shape around the school-to-prison pipeline.

A key element of these movements, since safety is a powerful need and desire—otherwise, why would fear be so effective?—is to show that alternative approaches can work. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform found, for example, that schools without police or metal detectors actually have higher graduation rates and lower truancy than their heavily policed counterparts. Attorney Chase Madar points out that Columbine High School itself is today “an open campus with no metal detector at the front door. Instead, its administration has worked hard to improve communications with the student body, trying to build an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Columbine parents have supported this approach for a simple reason: They don’t want their children treated like criminals.”

Educator and author Herbert R. Kohl, the longtime chronicler of hope, writes that his “comes from the young people who, themselves, have been victims of boring and authoritarian schooling, are developing new media and becoming adapt at grassroots organizing for democratic reform. They do not want to reproduce the same schooling that they had, and I feel a movement to revitalize and transform progressive educational ideas and create democratic schools whose curriculum and style is more fitted to life in a flourishing democracy.”