By Alex Distefano
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out we’re in the midst of an economic crisis. With the rising costs in housing, education, food, fuel and other commodities; the threat of foreclosure; and unemployment at an all time high most people are struggling to make ends meet.
Surprising as it may sound, new research at UCR suggests that the economic downturn, might actually have at least one unintended benefit for organizations dedicated to issues of social justice.
In a report published earlier this month in Policy Matters, UC Riverside’s quarterly journal, researchers concluded that the in-the-crapper economy has revived an interest in social justice groups, and mobilized certain organizations to take action through social activism and the pursuit of economic justice. Many organizations that focus on issues such as workers’ rights, the rights of the unemployed and labor unions have been facing financial hardships—but at the same time, many of these groups say they have seen an increase or a revived demands for jobs, housing and social services.
Ellen Reese, an associate professor of sociology at UCR whose own research focuses on welfare-state development and social movements, co-authored the report, entitled, Is the Economic Crisis a Crisis for Social Justice Activism?
“Like so many people, we are well aware of this obvious economic crisis that has been affecting so many people,” Reese tells the Weekly. “We were curious to study what social activists are doing about this, and that is what led to this research project.”
“Our research team has been studying this for a number of years,” she adds. “Since 2007, when we saw the beginning of the housing market collapse, more than 15 million Americans have lost their jobs and several million more have had their homes foreclosed by banks, and that is a scary figure in itself.”
The research centered on an activist event held last year in Detroit, one of the hardest hit cities in America. Last year’s United States Social Forum (USSF) saw 20,000 activists affiliated with a variety of organizations and social movements congregate to discuss current issues, plan and find possible solutions.
“This conference was the second forum of its kind,” Reese says. “It brings together various progressive social justice activists groups, workers groups, unions, community organizations, students led groups and more.”
The presentations and workshops from this forum were studied and analyzed for the report. “Many of these groups are fighting for social justice,” Reese says. “We saw a lot of workers’ rights issues come up because with the level of people on unemployment many people across the country are struggling.”
Reese says that as more and more people see the negative and immediate effects of losing their jobs and homes, the angrier, and more aware they become of the problems our society faces.
“Because this crisis has created so many problems, people are angry and they are getting active and mobilizing, and hopefully we will see more of that; and people will realize that they are not alone,” she says.
“What we found among these organizations and activists groups is that there is an increase of awareness of the real problems we face as a society,” Reese continues. “We spend millions funding the wars, while this could be spent here at home for our people. It’s also important to point out that our government has been bailing out banks for billions [of dollars], and corporations have seen massive profits and tax breaks. These are huge contradictions in our society. People need to realize that many of these problems are preventable. If more people were to voice their concerns, we could make a difference.”