Alex Smith. Thurman Brisben Center Volunteer. Research Project #2 Replacement. Section 2

Alex Smith

Thurman Brisben Center Volunteer

November 5, 2015

Dr. Leslie Martin

For my community service activity, I volunteered at the Thurman Brisben Center to play with homeless kids for two hours while their parents did chores (I volunteered there twice actually).  I chose to volunteer there because I was a summer camp counselor for five years, so I absolutely love kids, and I thought babysitting at Thurman Brisben would be similar to summer camp counseling.  Fortunately, I was correct. I loved it!  The kids ranged from ages 2 to 10, and there were only about seven or eight of them, but they were awesome!  I loved them, and they loved me.  They loved me for my size mainly. I could chase them around, push them in their little cars, and give them piggy back rides, so that’s the real reason they liked me.  When it got dark, we went inside to color, and one of the kids colored a picture for me to keep.  Their appreciation of me was very touching, which was the definitely the best part.

As much as I loved the kids there, I could tell that the adults were not too fond of seeing college students, so it is very interesting to me to consider how power comes into play.  As soon as we walked into the building, the man in charge of Thurman Brisben announced that “UMW students were there to help.”  Obviously the kids were excited for us to be there, but I was definitely sensing some cynical vibes from the adults.  Hearing “UMW students” I could tell kind of set them off.  I felt like they were thinking “I hope those privileged rich kids feel great about themselves (with a facetious tone of course).

Another thing that struck me when I was there was that the older brother of one the kids that I was babysitting had an iPhone and was wearing a pair of Jordan’s and a pair of Beats headphones, which are probably the most expensive headphones available.  I realize that I sound negatively judgmental when I say this, but how can homeless parents afford to buy their kid Beats headphones?  It certainly did not bother me, but it did strike me.  It also made me wonder: what effect will I have on these kids by helping them? Will my willingness to help them allow them to see the good in people, thus empower them to also want to do good?  Or will they become cynical of “rich and privileged” college students and use the little money that they do have on Beats headphones instead of housing?  Again I hope I don’t sound judgmental, but I am curious of the effects that humanitarian efforts have when it comes to power. Do humanitarian efforts lead to empowerment or parasitism?  I personally believe that humanitarian efforts and community involvement do in fact lead to empowerment more so than parasitism.  If everyone helped each other out, then there would be many more positive outcomes than negative.

Alex Smith; Section 2; Reaction 3: “University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change” vs. Race Riots

Alex Smith

Reaction Paper #3: Case Study

November 10, 2015

Dr. Leslie Martin

“University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change” vs. Race Riots

            For the past few weeks in class, we have talked a great amount about riots and theories as to how those riots develop.  Specifically, we have constantly attempted to classify riots into either breakdown theory or resource mobilization theory.  Although, no full scale riot has transpired (yet), the protests that have recently been occurring over racial issues at the University of Missouri match perfectly with what we have been discussing in class lately.  Additionally, it appears as though the protests could mostly be attributed to resource mobilization theory.  However, we cannot entirely rule out breakdown theory as a potential cause.

It has been several months since Michael Brown, an unarmed black male, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which sparked huge protests throughout Missouri. Since then, however, tension over racial issues have continued to be strongly felt throughout Missouri and especially at the University of Missouri. Tension reached a boiling point when racial epithets were thrown at the student body president, who just so happens to be black, but the university administration did nothing in response. After these racial threats were not taken seriously enough, protestors began to spread all over the campus, demanding that the president of the school, Tim Wolfe, be forced to leave.  Pressure from the protests especially started to pick up when one graduate student vowed that he would not eat until Wolfe was gone. A week later, the football team, with full support of the head coach, announced on November 7 that they would not play as long as Wolfe was still there.  With that final blow, President Wolfe announced on November 9 that he is resigning as president.

As I have stated earlier, although these Missouri protests do not qualify as a full-scale riot, they still relate to our discussion of riots simply by the fact that they involve ordinary people getting things done. Students, faculty, and members of the surrounding community came together to voice their opinion, and were actually successful at reaching their goals. So what is it that separates riots from protests such as the ones at Mizzou (colloquial term for “University of Missouri”)?  The simple answer to this question is that these protests do not qualify as a riot because they are nonviolent.  The race riots of Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles were extremely violent and involved looting, arson, death, etc.  The race protests at Mizzou simply involve a large body of people peacefully voicing their opinions.

Despite not actually qualifying as a riot, I believe that the causes of the Mizzou protests can still be analyzed through the resource mobilization and breakdown theories, which are the two leading theories as to how riots begin.  According to resource mobilization theory, riots are just another form of political action.  Groups have a certain goal in mind and with the resources that they have, riots are often the most effective method for achieving their goal.  In complete contrast to this, breakdown theory argues that goals have nothing to do with riots; riots begin simply because people get angry.  When people are angered and that anger gradually builds up, eventually some spark will cause their anger to reach a boiling point, which is when the riot begins.

When analyzing the situation with the view that protesters solely wanted President Wolfe out, the Mizzou protests were hands-down resource mobilization theory.  The protests were peaceful, and, more importantly, they were goal-oriented.  People wanted President Wolfe out of office, so they took whatever actions were necessary to make that one specific thing happen.  However, I strongly believe that breakdown theory played a major role as well.  It has been several months since the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, but since then, tension has only built.  That being said, I feel that the recent protests are simply a sign of those tensions boiling over. Since the Ferguson case, nothing was resolved and racial injustice continued. Therefore, when the president of the student body was threatened and nothing was being done to solve anything, that served as the spark that caused “breakdown” to occur and protests to begin.

In conclusion, the causes of the Mizzou riots can mostly be attributed to resource mobilization theory, but the case is not entirely black and white.  There is definitely a gray area in which resource mobilization theory and breakdown theory are blending together as the causes of the protests.  Whichever theory applies, I just want to add one last point: I absolutely love the fact that these protests were successful. It’s been about 50 years now since the Civil Rights movement, yet we still struggle over the same issues of racism, and it drives me insane.  Although I hate that the Mizzou protests had happen in the first place, I love how the community responded and I love that the outcome was different than that of the race riots we discussed in class.  Rather than tons of damage, injuries, and grief to no avail, the Mizzou protests were peaceful and actually accomplished something.  Racial issues are never going to completely disappear, but at least this is a sign that we are moving in the right direction.

Check out the full story here!

Reaction 2:“The Education of an Organizer” vs. “There Goes the Neighborhood”; Section 2; Alex Smith

Alex Smith

Reaction Paper #2: Critical Synthesis

October 19, 2015

Dr. Leslie Martin

“The Education of an Organizer” vs. “There Goes the Neighborhood”

In Saul Alinsky’s article, “The Education of an Organizer,” he asserts that the key to a successful organization or movement is a great organizer.  In “There Goes the Neighborhood: Environmental Equity and the Location of New Hazardous Waste Management Facilities,” Mark Atlas discusses the controversy that has spawned from the placement of hazardous waste treatment, storage, or disposal facilities (TSDFs).  According to Atlas’ study, TSDFs are most likely to be placed near communities in which the people are less likely to express their discontent.  At first glance, these two articles appear to be totally unrelated.  However, after further analysis, they are actually linked in the sense that Alinsky’s article may provide answers to the questions in Atlas’ article.  A successful rally against the placement of a TSDF is dependent upon a great organizer in the community, and the likelihood of the emergence of a great organizer is dependent upon the level of educations of the residents and the lack of racial diversity in a neighborhood or community.

The most obvious point that Alinsky makes in his article is that a successful movement is dependent upon a successful organizer.  However, the real issue that Alinsky wants to identify and dissect is what it is exactly that makes a great organizer great.  According to Alinsky, organizers are rarely great and have success in their movements, due to the fact that they are not versatile enough.  In order for a good organizer to be great, he must be universal in who he is able to motivate.  Typically, an organizer will be able to rally one group of people very well, but when it comes time to rally any another race or class, all of his prowess disappears.  He could be perfect at motivating all of the lower-class Latinos in an area, but when it comes to middle-class white people, he may not be able to communicate a single a word to them.  The reason for such failures is that organizers always use their own personal experiences when trying to motivate, but “an organizer can communicate only within the areas of experience of his audience; otherwise there is no communication.” (Alinsky P.70)  That being said, organizers must learn to adapt to all types of people and be able to relate to as many people as possible, in order to communicate effectively.  Alinsky lists the following attributes that an organizer must have in order communicate effectively and thus be a great organizer: curiosity, imagination, irreverence, a slightly blurred vision of better world, a sense of humor, “a well-integrated political schizoid,” political relativity, an organized personality, a strong ego, a free and open mind, and the ability to constantly create new out of old. (Alinsky)

In Atlas’ article, he attempts to resolve controversies surrounding the environmental equity movement.  Emerging in the 1980s, the environmental equity movement seeks to better understand the impact of pollution on certain population groups.  There have been studies that have shown that TSDFs are more commonly placed around low-income, minority groups, than any other population of people, making some people claim that low-income, minority groups have suffered more negative environmental and health affects as a result of the pollution.  In response to these studies and claims, several more studies have been done to test these theories.  However, over the years, research has concluded in some very conflicting results.  Some results show that low-income, minority groups are suffering most from pollution, while others show middle-class and/or college educated people are more likely to have TSDFs place near them.  Based on the studies done before that of Atlas, there was no definitive correlation between race or income and placement of TSDFs.  In order to clarify the debate, Atlas conducted a study of his own.  The results of his study showed that the placement of TSDFs had nothing to do with race, class, or income.  Instead, the TSDFs were placed near communities that would show the least amount of discontent.  Atlas asserts political activism is actually the variable that affects placement of TSDFs.  He essentially said the more fuss that a community raises, then the less likely it is that a TSDF will be placed there. (Atlas)

“Fuss” or discontent raised over the issue is where Alinsky’s ideas become relevant.  As Alinsky asserted, a successful movement is dependent upon a successful organizer.  That being said, I believe that what is happening behind the scenes of the placement or lack of placement of TSDFs is whether or not there is a good organizer in the community.  Communities or neighborhoods that rally against the placement of TSDFs are the places that are safe from TSDFs.  The government decides instead to place the TSDF in a location that will express less dissatisfaction.  So why is that a community has a good organizer or not?  There is no definite answer to that question, but I do have a few hypotheses.  I think that education has the most to do with it.  Although studies show there is no obvious correlation between number of college-educated people and placement of TSDFs.  However, I still feel that if a neighborhood consists entirely of college-educated residents, then it is more likely that there will be a well-rounded, intelligent organizer in the neighborhood who would be able to effectively rally the community and stop the TSDF from being placed there.  Additionally, I feel that race would be the second factor that would affect whether or not a strong organizer would emerge.  It does not matter which race, I just think it is more likely for a neighborhood or community that is predominantly one race to rally together.  If ninety-five percent of the residents in a neighborhood are black for example, then it will be relatively easy for a strong organizer to feel comfortable communicating to everyone in that neighborhood and organize them to protest the placement of a TSDF.

One additional possibility that I thought about when comparing these two articles is what exactly would happen if organizers of Alinsky’s caliber were to lead in all of the proposed sites for TSDFs?  Atlas claims that political activism is the key to preventing a TSDF from being placed in a city.  I propose that strong organizers are the unspoken reason for why certain neighborhoods are as politically active as they are.  That being said, if all organizers are as effective as Alinsky wants them to be, and all neighborhoods raised equal discontent to the placement of TSDFs, then what would happen?  I assume that TSDFs have to go somewhere, so how would their locations be decided?  I think that is part of the problem with Alinsky’s article. If all organizers were to be as effective as Alinsky was, then everything would become a stalemate.

Although my theories certainly are not definitive, I do feel that they provide a solid explanation for Atlas’ claim through Alinsky’s ideas.  Alinsky discusses the importance of a great organizer and what it takes to make a great organizer, while Atlas clarifies why it is that TSDFs tend to be placed in low-income and/or minority neighborhoods by suggesting that political activism is actually the answer, not race or income.  Additionally, according to Alinsky, political activism is mostly dependent upon a great organizer.  Therefore, the placement or lack of placement of TSDFs is actually dependent upon whether or not there is a strong organizer in the community.  The reason that TSDFs are more commonly placed in low-income, minority neighborhoods, as opposed to middle-class neighborhoods consisting of college-educated residents is because it is more likely for a great organizer to emerge from a neighborhood that has residents with high levels of education and/or a lack of racial diversity.




Works Cited

Alinsky, Saul. “The Education of an Organizer.” Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals. 1971. 63-80. Web.

Atlas, Mark. “There Goes the Neighborhood: Environmental Equity and the Location of New Hazardous Waste Management Facilities.” Policy Studies Journal (2002): 171-192. Web.

Human Trafficking: Why it is a Problem, How to Prevent it, and How not to Prevent it.

Human trafficking, also known as “modern day slavery,” is one of the most significant issues in the world.  There are approximately 12.3 million victims of forced labor and forced commercial sexual exploitation worldwide.  Despite great efforts to put an end to or at least curtail this issue, the problem is still increasing. Focusing on the United States. this essay discusses how human trafficking works, how widespread it is, what government does to fight it, why those efforts do not work, how community organizations take matters into their own hands to help victims, and how that might actually be the most effective strategy.Research Project #1: Human Trafficking

Alex Smith; Section 2; Reaction Paper 1; Graffiti Piece vs. Green Development Zone

Alex Smith

Reaction Paper #1: Critical Synthesis

September 28, 2015

Dr. Leslie Martin


“Moral Panic and Growth Machine” vs. “Green Development Zone”

            According Ronald Kramer in “Moral Panics and Urban Growth Machines: Official Reactions to Graffiti in New York City, 1990–2005,” growth machines can be defined as “loose coalitions that form between a variety of interests, such as local political elites, landowners, corporate developers and speculators. What unites these diverse actors is an interest in extracting the maximum profit possible from how land is put to use (“exchange-value”), as opposed to using land for the satisfaction of relatively modest needs (“use-value”).” (Kramer, 2010)  Based off of this definition, growth machines exist both in New York City, according to the above article, and in Buffalo according to Aaron Bartley in “Building a ‘Community Growth Machine’The Green Development Zone as a Model for a New Neighborhood Economy.”  Both articles discuss growth machines; however, the nature and actions of each of these machines are drastically different.  There are a few similarities, but for the most part, the New York City machine is the exact opposite of the Buffalo machine.

In order to fully understand the similarities and differences between the two machines, the basic premise of each article must first be understood.  In the Kramer article, the main issue being discussed is what Kramer calls the “over-reaction” to the issue of graffiti.  In New York City, from the 1990s through the 2000s, whether graffiti was actually a widespread problem or not, there was a major moral panic over the issue.  Kramer asserted that this moral panic was a result of the “broken windows” thesis.  According to this thesis, if a slight issue such as graffiti gets out of hand, then serious crimes will occur and property value will decrease, which will lead to an economic collapse because less people will want to live in New York and less businesses will set up shop, and then all of a sudden the whole city goes down in flames.  However, after doing research, data showed that there was actually no correlation whatsoever between the amount of graffiti and the number of people wanting to live in New York.  Despite a rise in graffiti, people continued to both want to tour the city and buy property in the city, and businesses continued to flock to the city.  Kramer suggests instead that the panic over graffiti was simply an excuse for the growth machine in the city to take what it wanted.  Part of Kramer’s definition of a growth machine is that it seeks to make maximum profit from how land is put to use.  In the case of New York City, the machine used graffiti as an excuse to take the land that it wanted in order to gain maximum profit.  Government officials claimed these land seizures would benefit all New Yorkers, but it actually harmed many people economically and only benefited the machine. (Kramer, 2010)

On the other hand, the Bartley article was essentially the opposite story.  In response to the severe poverty in Buffalo, an organization known as People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) created what is called a Green Development Zone (GDZ).  The GDZ “combines green affordable housing construction, community-based renewable energy projects, housing weatherization, green jobs training, and urban agriculture toward the goal of creating pathways to employment for neighborhood residents while improving housing conditions and reducing the neighborhood’s carbon footprint.” (Bartley, 2011)  Simply put, PUSH mobilized the people of Buffalo to see their common goals and work together to improve the economy.

Now that the basic concepts of each article understood, the similarities and differences can be analyzed.  The most important similarity between these two stories is simply the fact that they both involve growth machines.  For the case of New York City, it is very obvious that a growth machine exists and is the reason for the over-reaction to graffiti.  Economic elites, government officials, big business owners, and other high-power individuals work together to get what they want, even if it involves economically harming neighborhood or urban residents.  That is a classic example of a growth machine.

However, for the case of Buffalo, it is more difficult to say that PUSH and/or the GDZ are a growth machine.  One could argue that pluralism would better fit as the driving force behind the Buffalo GDZ, but it is in fact a growth machine.  In class, pluralism was defined as the theory that there are groups of equal power within a community, contributing and keeping each other in check, and equally distributing resources among the community.  Additionally, with pluralism, only the people who are actively engaged have an effect. (Martin, 2015)  The reason that pluralism does not pertain to the Buffalo GDZ is that the GDZ is not comprised of groups of equal power.  The GDZ includes everyone in the community working to achieve a common goal; rather than several groups, it is simply one huge group.  Going back to Kramer’s definition of a growth machine, the GDZ fits that definition, because it involves a “coalition” of people attempting to use land to make maximum profit.  The results for neighborhood residents, however, is where these two growth machines drastically differ.

In the New York case, as well as most cases, the growth machine works on a top to bottom principle.  It is run by a few elites, such as government officials, big business owners, and basically anyone with a lot of money.  These elites seek to improve the over-all economy by first benefiting businesses, in order to generate excess wealth at the top.  Ideally, the excess wealth will then “trickle down” to neighborhood residents, which is what was supposed to happen with the graffiti issue.  However, in actuality, neighborhood residents were economically harmed by the crack down on graffiti.  In complete contrast to the New York machine, the Buffalo GDZ growth machine works on a bottom to top principle.  Rather than a relatively small number of elites running the show, the Buffalo GDZ involves most if not all neighborhood residents, gets them unified and mobilized, and improves the economic standing of the lower class people.  Ideally, an improved economy for people of the lower class will then boost the over-all economy of Buffalo including the people at the “top,” meaning the economic elites and government officials.  The best part about the Buffalo case is that their bottom to top approach actually worked.  While the economic elites of New York promised to benefit all New Yorkers, they actually harmed most people and only helped themselves.  Contrary to this, the Buffalo GDZ growth machine benefited everybody.

After discussing growth machines in great detail in class, it is very interesting to analyze two growth machines that are the same but also the complete the opposite at the same time.  For each case, there is a coalition of people who seek to improve the economy of the community. For that reason, each group qualifies as a growth machine.  However, while the New York City machine worked on a top to bottom principle and benefited elites but harmed urban residents, the Buffalo growth machine was simply a growth machine at the neighborhood level and benefited everyone from bottom to top. Although the Bartley article is very biased towards the Buffalo GDZ, I would still say that the Buffalo growth machine is a better example of how unification is key for exercising power and getting things done.







Works Cited

Bartley, A. (2011). Building a “Community Growth Machine”. Social Policy, pp. 9-20.

Kramer, R. (2010). Moral Panics and Urban Growth Machines: Official. Qual Sociol, 297-311.

Martin, L. (2015). Top: Community Power. Section 2.