Community Improvement at the SPCA

For my community improvement, I volunteered at the Fredericksburg SPCA, a local animal shelter. Through the volunteer work, I was able to talk to multiple employees in order to gather information about the services provided, power distribution, and other details about the shelter. For example, I learned that the shelter is a no-kill, independent organization, meaning they receive no funding or regulation from the local government. From my conversations with employees, I also learned that this granted them all of the decision-making power, allowing the shelter to create their own adoption policies, programs, et cetera. However, they also informed me that this meant the SPCA was also responsible for 100% of their own budget, which meant that fundraising and volunteer work were a huge part of the process.

By volunteering, I learned about the wide range of volunteer opportunities that are available. One can work directly with the animals through dog or cat socialization and dog walking, or they can participate in cleaning the facilities, doing laundry, clerical work, and many other jobs. The staff also informed me that they get many volunteers, meaning they have been able to establish strong connections with the community. These connections also play important roles in their fundraising, allowing them to organize with community members and provide many opportunities for them to participate in the events the shelter holds. I learned that they receive many donations, ranging from monetary gifts to cleaning supplies or dog/cat food.

Through this work, I was able to get a sense of how important volunteer work was for this organization, which showed me the distribution of power. Because their budget is limited, the shelter relies heavily on volunteers, creating a cohesive network between the SPCA and the community. The staff explained to me that their organization is different than others in the area, because they are a no-kill shelter and independently run. Because of the strong presence they have in the community, they are able to maintain a high adoption rate, meaning most animals do not remain in the shelter for more than a month or two. This allows them to be a no-kill shelter, since overpopulation is not a huge issue and they receive enough funding from the community to properly care for the animals that come through the shelter. Through this experience, I learned about the importance of non-profit organizations for animals, because as an independent organization, they are able to make their own decisions about the care of the animals. This distinguishes them from other shelters, who are often forced to put animals down if they are there for more than a week. The power in this case is distributed in the hands of the shelter and the community members who participate in the function of the SPCA.

Chicago & Ferguson: A Comparison

In Abu-Lughod’s chapters on the Chicago race riots, she discusses the grievances and triggers that contributed to the events that unfolded in 1919 and 1968. She points out that as a more Southern city, Chicago’s black population still suffered under “Black Laws” that prevented them from participating in the public arena and enjoying the same privileges as whites. Additionally, she points to tension between blacks and whites in the workforce as an underlying factor, asserting that the competition for jobs led to white violence against black workers. The local government was highly corrupted at the time, with Irish gangs being very involved in the politicians in the area. However, in 1968, as Abu-Lughod describes, racial tensions had changed as the black ghetto population expanded, displacing whites. It was also a time when the Civil Rights Movement was thriving, and Martin Luther King Jr. had chosen Chicago as a target area for expanding the movement. Before the 1960s, “race riots” were usually characterized by whites entering predominantly black neighborhoods, destroying property, and carrying out acts of violence against blacks. After the roots for the Civil Rights Movement began to take hold, however, blacks were beginning to mobilize and concentrate their power towards the goal of abolishing inequality and racism. Abu-Lughod points to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. as the main triggering event for the riot that broke out in 1968. The widespread anger and grief at the killing of such a prominent figure in the movement caused chaos across the country, and Chicago was no different.

In the events that have unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, similarities to the race riots in Chicago become glaringly obvious. As we have discussed in class, some of the grievances that contributed to the events that took place in Ferguson, including a suffering economy and lack of jobs, poor housing values, and tensions between residents and local police officers, are all parallels to Chicago’s grievances. The shooting of an unarmed young black teenager, Michael Brown, is generally identified as the triggering event, as well as police and politician’s responses.  When observing areas like this through a historical context, it is evident that the exclusion of blacks in housing markets, elections, and other public opportunities have led to many of the conditions that exist today. The characterization of race riots as being exclusively minorities rioting is a shift from 1919; riots were generally carried out by whites against minorities. Additionally, while the death of MLK led to a strengthening of the Civil Rights Movement, the death of Michael Brown led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, which aims to address the disproportionately high number of African-American deaths at the hands of police officers through activism and solidarity. Although laws specifically excluding blacks from public participation and equal rights have been abolished, the movement addresses the underlying structural factors, cultural and social biases, and unequal distribution of power that allows blacks to continue to be marginalized.

Collective Action in Baltimore: Student’s Voices

In an article written about the responses to the upcoming Freddie Gray trial, Karen Houppert follows a group of students participating in the public discussion about police brutality. As she describes, Baltimore’s high schools and colleges have formed multiple debate teams in order to learn how to eloquently speak out against these injustices. In light of the upcoming trial and in anticipation of heavy volume of protests, rallies, and rioting that may occur, a group of students from some of these debate teams called for an agreement with local police officers. They requested that police clearly show their badges, that they do not force protestors onto the streets which could lead to arrest for blocking traffic, and that they do not display militant weapons unless absolutely necessary in the case of a riot. They planned to present these points at a City Council meeting to Police Commissioners Kevin Davis and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. However, despite Davis’ claims just hours before the meeting that engaging with peaceful demonstrators was a vital part of his mission, the students’ request was ignored.

In response, sixteen of these students chose to occupy City Hall, staging a peaceful sit-in in protest of the lack of attention granted to their cause. After a few hours of this, one hundred police officers arrived to arrest them, escorting the teenagers out of the building in handcuffs. The students expressed frustration at the Commissioners’ blatant disregard for their opinions; one student claiming that it was clear that Davis “truly does not care about the voices of youth.” Many other residents also shared similar emotions, pointing out that if Davis is unwilling to listen to the voices of college-bound, highly educated students, where does that leave the more marginalized members of the community who want to voice their opinions on the trial? In summary, it is a commonly held understanding that through these debate programs, students are empowered, instilling in them the belief that their voices matter and deserve to be heard. For community members, the students, and those who are closely following the case, the treatment of these students is a blatant disregard for their right to actively participate in public discussions about issues they are passionate about.

According to a Resource Mobilization theory, collective action is defined by groups fighting for political advantages through organization and solidarity. As is asserted by Bert Useem, this theory arose in response to Social Breakdown theory, which claims that non-routine collective action is a response to marginalization and is characterized by chaos and the rejection of social norms, laws, and expectations. However, this instance of collective action can be categorized as routine based on the fact that it was highly organized, peaceful, and goal-oriented. Contrary to social breakdown theory, while this action occurred in response to the marginalization of a people, the students involved used planning and communication skills as well as a strong knowledge of governmental structure and function. While this theory offers some degree of perspective into the motivations underlying causes of this student led sit-in, it cannot fully explains the complexities of this instance. The students participating in the protest came from inner-city Baltimore, many of them growing up in impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods. As one student’s mother states, her daughter was “…born into struggle,” and “picked up that fighting in utero.” The girl’s mother goes on to describe how most of the family has been in jail, making the circumstances for her daughter’s success difficult to overcome. Social Breakdown theory, in this case, fails to recognize the ability of marginalized people to respond to oppression in a well-organized, peaceful manner despite their positions in society.

Resource Mobilization theory provides a more comprehensive explanation for the student-led protest. As multiple students point out, the connections they formed through debate have been powerful tools in allowing them to mobilize around issues like police brutality in their city. After graduating high school and college, many of these students have gone on to become influential figures in Baltimore’s Black Lives Matter movement as well as other smaller-scale protest movements centered around racial issues and police brutality. The partnering of educated, well-trained youth with various stakeholders and members of the community has led to a powerful collective movement which, as Useem points out in his discussion of resource mobilization theory, is characterized by solidarity and cooperation. However, despite their peaceful actions, the students continued to be marginalized by authorities who exercised their power by ignoring and then arresting the protestors. The power relations at play in this situation also offer some perspective into how these tensions could eventually escalate, resulting in more rioting, or non-traditional collective action.

Houppert, Karen. “Opening Arguments: High school students take their debate skills to the streets—and occupy City Hall.” City Paper. N.p., 21 Oct. 2015. Web. <>.

Useem, Bert. “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action.” (1998).

West Seattle’s Spokane St. Viaduct Project & its Power Relations

In Seattle, a transportation project called the Spokane Street Viaduct was recently completed. After more than three and a half years and multiple delays, the construction ended in July of 2015. The project consisted of a widening of the roadway to accommodate more traffic, a new eastbound lane addition, and a reconstruction of the lower bridge that included a new sidewalk and multi-use trail. Previously, the viaduct suffered from congestion, frequent accidents, and unsafe road conditions.  However, one of the most unique aspects of the project was the art that was added to the pillars of the bridge. According to the plan, the artwork will enrich the area, using concrete pillars in an innovative way that will enhance and brighten the space (“South Spokane Street Project”).

The art project created “zones” with each pillar representing a different area of the city and its rich cultural history. The artists aimed to represent the diverse identities and history of citizens of the area. This unconventional use of space is part of Seattle’s “one percent for art” ordinance, adopted in 1973. The law mandated that one percent of the city’s budget be set aside for public art distributed throughout Seattle in order to create a unique space. According to Seattle’s section devoted to Public Art on their website, the program is also valued for its ability to reach a diverse range of artists, allowing them to make their voice heard through the creation of artwork around the city. The artist is selected by a panel of “professional visual artists along with community and city representatives” who evaluate the artist based on a variety of criteria, including whether or not their particular style or ideas is representative of the public’s identities (“Public Art”).

However, in the case of the Spokane Street Viaduct, the artists, Franka Diehnelt and Claudia Reisenberger, were two white women from Santa Monica, California. In terms of representing the identity and cultures of Seattle, it is interesting that the artists paid to do the project were not residents of the area. Additionally, as we have discussed in class, incorporating artwork and murals completed by members of the community is a valuable way to represent the faces of everyone, rather than paying more noted artists to do so. Because the local government and other city officials are heavily involved in the process of choosing an artist, one can argue that there is a degree of disconnect from these officials and the members of the community. In comments on the updates the city posted on their blog about the art, multiple residents expressed frustration that the artists hired to create these pieces were not local. Additionally, as an area that has become one of the most prevalent examples of gentrification in the country, Seattle’s population has shifted from, as Henry W. McGee, Jr, a Seattle University Professor of Law and Central District resident explains “a predominately working class African American community into an area of high income white, Asian American and African American professionals” (“Gentrification, Integration or Displacement?: The Seattle Story”). Since the artists hired to do the project were two white women, one has to wonder whether or not they will accurately represent Seattle’s population and history, in particular the African-American portion.

Although Central Seattle has become less and less populated by African-Americans, it remains one of the more racially and ethnically diverse areas in Washington. As was demonstrated in the documentary about community involvement in the revitalization of a neighborhood, making sure each racial group, class, and geographic area is represented in decisions like the artwork under the viaduct is vital to discourage conflicts and ensure every member of the community is on board with the plans. According to the plan, the project created “eight different zones, each featuring its own color scheme and iconic imagery. Every zone will focus on a narrative related to neighborhood history or contemporary uses” (West Seattle Blog). As Henry McGee Jr. explains, the racial, ethnic, and class-based identity in Seattle has changed drastically though out the last decade, marginalizing the voices of minorities (“Gentrification, Integration or Displacement?: The Seattle Story”). Although it is not clear how well these groups were represented in the decision to hire these artists, there remains a valid question about the distribution of power in project like this in Seattle.

McGee Jr., Henry. “Gentrification, Integration or Displacement?: The Seattle Story .” N.p., n.d. <>.

“Spokane St. Viaduct Project.” West Seattle Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <>.

“Public Art.” N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <>.

“Art under the bridge: What’ll be beneath the Spokane St. Viaduct.” West Seattle Blog. N.p., Feb. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <>.

“South Spokane Street Project.” Seattle Department of Transportation., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <>.

#BlackLivesMatter: A Cultural Content Analysis

The Black Lives Matter movement arose in response to the consistent murders of black men at the hands of white police officers in the United States. Since it first became a trend on social media, it has grown into a national organization with many activists, general public, and celebrities involved. Many of these celebrities include Hip Hop, Rap, and R&B artists who have created music about the movement. Through an analysis of some of these songs, I identified multiple themes, including criticism of police brutality, a collective experience and unity, the importance of African-American history, and pride in black identity.