Collective Behavior Term Paper

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Most of the history of the United States has been marred by systematic inequality based on race. While this history was at its worst while slavery was legal, well into the 20th Century saw The United States where words "All men are created equal" really meant "All White men are created equal."

While a variety of organizations worked to bring true equality for African-Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, stands out as an excellent example of "Resource Mobilization Theory," or RMB. The movement that became the SNCC began with college students who decided they could no longer tolerate segregation policies and began challenging the practice in a variety of ways. The organization grew to become a major factor in the fight for African-Americans to gain real social equity with Whites.

According to RMB, a movement for change uses whatever resources it can gather up as it pursues its goals. Those resources can include money, but also, time, skills already learned or acquired, use of the media, and any other approach the group comes up with to drive their goals forward. First, the individuals within the group have specific goals that they start to work for using collective action. Second, they are able to evaluate the cost vs. benefit of the actions they take. Third, their movement acts as a catalyst that helps unite individuals into groups that act in deliberate and planned ways in order to achieve their goals. Fourth, their recognition that their goals have legitimacy help them draw the resources they need, including knowledge, finances, and time put forth in the pursuit of the objectives. Fifth, the actions the group takes are flexible and based on changing circumstances, using opportunities as they present themselves for the group's benefit. In this way they work outside established social agencies and other organizations. Finally, they act as an agent for social change (Duijvelaar, 1996).

The college students who founded SNCC were aware of the racial history of the United States as well as the rest of the world. Throughout much of modern history, those in power, typically Whites in western cultures, identified certain other groups as "races," and used this vie of "racial otherness" (Winant, 2000) to justify their feelings of superiority. Thus many viewed Jews and even Irish as separate races. Singling out African-Americans not only as a separate race but also as an inferior race was aided by the country's policy of allowing slave ownership and trade.

The unfortunate truth about the United States was the ending slavery did not bring anything resembling equality for African-Americans. While there were groups working for the betterment of what were then called Negroes, segregation became an entrenched and official policy in the South, and de facto segregation, where African-Americans were forced to live apart from Whites, denied job opportunities, routinely denied credit and loans and a variety of other injustices inflicted upon them as a group, was standard for the country.

Efforts to eliminate these injustices escalated after the end of World War II, which also brought with it the end of European colonialism and a growing awareness among African-Americans that working for equality could make a difference (Winant, 2000).

The single event that led to the eventual formation of SNCC was a sit-in held in Greensboro, North Carolina, Black students had repeatedly gone to the lunch counter at a Woolworth's Five & Ten Cent store and asked for service at the lunch counter, which was supposed to be for Whites only (Bond, 2000). They went three days in a row, dressed well and with polite demeanors. Two college students in Atlanta, Lonnie Green, Julian Bond and Stokely Carmichael, read about these events in North Carolina and decided that they would challenge lunch counter segregation in Atlanta (Bond, 2000).

As this protest movement grew, it became more organized and established clear goals and objectives. The members learned to draw on their own strengths and to develop new ones. SNCC learned out how to use Resource Mobilization Theory to change society. However, it did not start out in an organized way. The first students in Greensboro decided on their course of action only the night before. They dressed well, went to Woolworth's, asked to be served, were refused, and remained until the store closed (Carson, 1981). As the acts of challenging segregation spread from campus to campus, some of the sit-ins triggered violence from Whites who were threatened. The students, who were by then getting organized, trained themselves in nonviolent responses. As they sat at counters they were spat upon and had ketchup dumped on their heads, but they did not move, and maintained an air of quiet dignity (Carson, 1981).

SNCC actively avoided building a formal bureaucracy with people at the top. They wanted to maintain a view of all participants having an equal say in what would happen. In addition, they worked hard to remain actively connected with the people in the communities where they worked for change. They rejected the notion that because they were going to college they knew more useful knowledge than the rural Black people they often worked with. Gradually, as SNCC grew in power and influence, it expanded its efforts to include waiting rooms for public transportation and voter rights (Carson, 1981). They understood that these communities had their own structure and informal leaders. Rather than attempting to take over local efforts, they worked with the local people, staying in their homes, earning room and board by doing chores such as feeding animals and chopping wood (Carson, 1981). They believed this was a significant different between SNCC and other civil rights groups. Their statement of purpose reveals their dedication to flexible plans of action. It includes the words, "Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear; love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; faith reconciles doubt. Mutual regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice..." (Carson, p. 23).

While SNCC rejected a rigid command structure for itself, it often helped foster the development of organized institutions within the Black communities they worked with. The Platform Committee, which in 1960 helped codify what SNCC's goals would be, said that they wanted to help develop communities that existed in cooperation with the larger community. Thus they wanted to see an end to all racial discrimination, including housing, education and jobs as well as voting.

By using the principles of RFT, SNCC was dramatically successful. By 1965, it had more field staff working for civil rights than any other group in the South. It had helped organize voter registration movements in Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. They helped build political parties and cooperatives and in organizing unions. They helped found agricultural cooperatives and got involved in the women's movement. Other grassroots movements, particularly the slightly later protests against the war in Viet Nam, drew on SNCC's experience, leadership and experience. This was compatible with SNCC's goals, as unlike other civil rights groups, SNCC sought to make basic changes in American society as well as bring an end to segregation in all its forms (Carson, 1981). Eventually, in fact, the SNCC included foreign policy stands in their platform of goals, making their participation in the anti-Viet Nam War movement appropriate for them.

While the movement that became SNCC started out somewhat impulsively, the members soon learned to work systematically and methodically. Before entering a community, they learned about the economics and politics of the people. They researched how the community was organized, what business ties existed, and who the power brokers were. Although they did not join these communities to take civil rights leadership over, they also did not go to those communities naive about how they functioned (Bond, 2000).

Typically, SNCC began campaigns by exploring the economic and political history of a target community. Field workers were supplied by SNCC's own research office with detailed information on a community's economic and financial power structure, tracing corporate relationships from local bankers and business leadership in a local White Citizens Council to the largest U.S. banks and corporations. Other research, like the report on "The Economic Status of Blacks in Alabama" provided invaluable intelligence on the condition of the state's black population.

Whites with a vested interest in maintaining segregation were of course quite threatened by this group of students, who by rejecting formal leadership structures looked like Communists to them and who threatened the status quo on many levels. The Whites realized that sit-ins at a dime store were just the opening volley of major changes. Reaction to desegregation activities such as those conducted by SNCC resulted in an upsurge of White supremacist movements. While the Ku Klux Klan had surged forward in the 1870's and again in the 1920's (McVeigh, 2004), the perceived threat of groups like SNCC brought a third surge of enthusiasm among racists for the KKK. In fact, the barriers the SNCC had to overcome in order to promote their…[continue]

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