If the voices and concerns of ordinary Americans aren’t at the center of this debate, we can expect the ticking time bomb of urban unrest to explode in more and more communities. Without major reforms, the recent upheavals in Ferguson and Baltimore may simply be a precursor to a wave of 21st century riots.
Hope turns to frustration, and then anger, unless there’s substantive-action to change conditions.
The turmoil in Baltimore follows the trajectory of the urban-riots of the 1960s (in Detroit, Newark, Los Angeles, and 161 other cities) and subsequent civil disorders in Miami (1980), Los Angeles (1992) and elsewhere. It begins with an incident of police abuse against a black citizen. Outraged members of the black-community organize nonviolent protests; police over-react; and the protests turn violent, threatening, and deadly.
We need to fix racist police practices and bias in our criminal justice system and address the underlying-cause of riots… the hopelessness that comes with persistent-poverty, unemployment, slum-housing, widespread-sickness, underfunded-schools and lack of opportunity and resources to escape such intolerable-conditions.
Riots are not truly political protests. They are expressions of hot anger – outrage about social conditions. They do not have a clear-objective, a policy-agenda or a strategy for bringing about change. They are a wake-up call to those in power.
In contrast, social movements reflect cold-anger. They are intentional and strategic. They take place when people are hopeful – when people believe not only that things should be different, but also that they can be different.
Riots tell us what desperate people are against. Social movements tell us what hopeful people are for.
To avoid a long hot summer this year and in the future; first, strengthen and invest in the social movements – grassroots organizing and coalition building – that have emerged in cities across the country. Second, engage the country in a policy conversation about full employment, and take action to guarantee every American a good job.
• Guaranteeing Good Wages and Benefits. Requiring every job in the United States to meet a minimum standard of quality – in wages, benefits, and working conditions – and offer unhindered access to collective representation and a real voice for workers.
• Unlocking Opportunity in the Poorest Communities. Investing resources on a large-scale to restart the economy in places where racial-bias and sustained-disinvestment have produced communities of concentrated-poverty.
• Taxing concentrated wealth. Funding new investments in job creation, care, and economic renewal by taxing those who benefit most from the current economic model – investors, financiers, wealth managers, and individuals in the highest income brackets.
• Building a Clean Energy Economy. Using the large-scale investments required for transition to a clean energy future to create millions of good jobs that are accessible to all Americans, especially those hardest hit by hard times – workers of color, women, and economically-distressed communities.
• Valuing Families. Ending the systematic-devaluation of care work, which disproportionately keeps women in poverty, by making high-quality child care available to all working parents, raising the quality of jobs in the early childhood education and care fields, transforming homecare and providing financial support to unpaid caregivers.
○ Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. ○