ARC Seminar: Tarun Banerjee

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Thursday, November 10, 2022

4:00 pm — 5:30 pm

Hybrid (see description for details)

Open to the Public

From Social Movements to Policy Success: Lessons for Implementing Racially Just Policy from the Black Freedom Movements of the 1960s

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Tarun Banerjee

This is a hybrid event. Participants may choose to attend in person at CUNY Graduate Center, Room 5318, or online via Zoom. 

As the formal political system remains unresponsive to calls for racial, economic, and climate justice, what power do ordinary people have to live safe, dignified, and free lives? While the situation appears bleak, I argue inspiration—and concrete strategies—can be found in the history of the Black freedom movements of the 1960s. In this talk, I ask how a White political power structure allowed the implementation of the most broadscale community-controlled social programs in U.S. history: the Community Action Programs (CAPs) of the War on Poverty. I analyze funding patterns of all counties in 8 key Southern states to test 3 major theories of policy change: that change occurs through i) a well-intentioned federal administration directing funds to most impacted areas, ii) that it is a result of electoral forces and party politics, and iii) that it occurs through noninstitutional forces from below, primarily through social movements. In contrast to the first two perspectives, I find it was the activism of the Black liberation movements that ensured the spirit of the War on Poverty was put into practice. Where the movement was active, Black and poor communities received twice as much funding, resulting in a major reduction in poverty rates across the U.S. I conclude by drawing implications for today’s social justice movements, from Black Lives Matter to the climate justice movement.

As a sociologist, Tarun's work focuses on broad questions of political power: who has it? what do they do with it? and how can those without power get it? He has two lines of research; first, on public policy and the power structure, focusing on how public policy is made, how business influences policy, and the effects of this on the democratic process. He also studies social movements to understand how people without power organize collectively to get it. What tactics do and don’t work when people are shut out of formal positions of power? And specifically, how does the world we live in today—one dominated by gigantic corporations and endless money in elections—change the strategies ordinary people can use to organize for change? He is co-author of a recent book, Levers of Power: How the 1% Rules, and What the 99% Can Do About It  (with Kevin A. Young and Michael Schwartz).