The Achilles Heel(s) of a Mass Incarceration Social Movement: A Response to Alexander

In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander addresses an epidemic of mass incarceration of African American men. During class, it seemed that majority felt that this way indeed a form of discrimination, and a way to keep African Americans from having political authority, more specifically the vote. However, I believe what is truly controversial about Alexander’s argument is her claim that instead of turning to law, the best way to address this issue to form a social movement. I believe that a social movement alone will not only fail to provide the necessary remedies to mass incarceration, but also will be incredibly difficult to create and sustain because of the nature of the issue of mass incarceration.

During my exploration of the requirements for a successful social movement, I came across this article about what works with regards to social movements.

The article goes over several ingredients for a social movement to be successful. The issue of mass incarceration met some of the requirements. Alexander is obviously and intelligent person that could lead such a movement and as a group I feel it would be easy to convince the victims of mass incarceration to agree that their rights are being restricted. However, as I looked critically at some of necessary pre-conditions that are conducive a successful social movement, I believe I found serious flaws. In fact, there were so many flaws that I will only be able to address a few of them in this blog post.

One of the most significant flaws I noticed was the lack of prosperity among the group. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that felons are one of the most marginalized groups in society. They cannot participate in the political process by voting, and they are often in economically precarious conditions as a result. This group would need massive support from the general public because they themselves cannot vote or provide the resources to fund the movement.

Another serious problem is the physical concentration of felons. Though felons are concentrated in prisons, they are both physically and mentally removed from the public to the extent that they wouldn’t even be able to effectively reach the public. Once felons are released from prison, they are then spread across the nation and often try to hide their status as a felon from others. Recidivism also put them back into the prison system, once again removing their contact with the public.

Above are just a two of the problems that a mass incarceration movement would have to overcome. In the past we have seen the ineffectiveness of social movements that fail to have the proper support and grievances. For example, take a moment to look at this article about why the 99% movement failed, despite massive support and huge media coverage.

A failed social movement often harms more than it helps. I just don’t think mass incarceration is an issue that will be solved with a social movement. Instead, I think that people who care about this issue really should reconsider using the law to their advantage.

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4 Responses to The Achilles Heel(s) of a Mass Incarceration Social Movement: A Response to Alexander

  1. vincetrrs says:

    Solid post first off. My eyes were kind of opened when you said that felons ” would need massive support from the general public because they themselves cannot vote or provide the resources to fund the movement.” In my eyes this would never happen because of how many people view felons. I like how you also pointed out how felons are removed from the public. I agree with your overall point in your post. People definitely should use the law because, as you pointed out, a social movement could hurt more than it helps.

    • naherresp says:

      I agree when you stated that, ” a social movement could hurt more then it helps”. The reason I feel that way is because I was part of massive social movement in 2006 for immigration reform, after some major rallies all around the US took place more laws were passed that went against of what we were fighting for. Until this day, there seems to be animosity between the undocumented population, as well as those who supported the movement; towards the state and federal government. Arizona has been in the front lines when it comes to protesting against those that are here illegally. Sheriff Joe and his posy along with the self-proclaim minuteman have only contributed fueled to this burning issue. As for Michelle, her wanting to create a social movement to bring light to mass incarceration I believe she has strong backbone to get her claims heard through the legal system. This issue is very relevant and I agree that it is happening now and will continue to happen because the legal system is not ready to make a change.

  2. nicksalute says:

    You present some good points on an incredibly difficult issue. The flawed incarceration system is in obvious need of serious reform, but initiating that reform is clearly a challenging feat. We have learned that choosing the social movement reformation-route can be beneficial, but this particular issue is tricky because of the lack of outside support that can and will be gathered. I agree with many of your points; while a social movement for change may not be possible in this situation, it is evident that the legislative process is faulty and difficult to succeed in as well.
    We can only hope that individuals continue to raise awareness on the issue. Fortunately, one doesn’t have to love all criminals to admit that the system needs change; equal rights can be fought for regardless of the situation.
    Great job on the post.

  3. legomez5 says:

    I agree what a social movement alone would not solve the issue. I also agree what without the support of the general public the movement could fail. However, social movements are in important part in the direction of change. The right for women to vote in the United States was not something the general public, men, did not like very much. The general supprt was not there, since women could not vote then how would this change even be fathomed. It took persistence. Social movements are an important part of our political system. Voting directly would represent the formal method of participation in politics, on the other hand social movements are seen as an informal method of participating in the political system. Surely, there is power in numbers, in this case where there is mass power in these mass amounts of marginalized people.

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