The crucial element of community education developed from this session. Essentially, activists need to make the public aware that affirmative action is not meant to be a cure all for social justice problems. Much like an aspirin, it is meant to cure the symptoms while other policies work on the cause of the problem. In addition, activists and those building a social movement must realize engage with each other in order to delineate the framework of affirmative action as a social justice tool.
Prof. Luke Harris expanded on this idea by recounting the need for critical mass in order to force the government to consider certain policies. In the US, for example, it took the riots and assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King to shake the government into action. In addition, Steven Friedman noted that issues like affirmative action only become salient and sustainable due to a strong public constituency behind it. In a sense, Friedman argues that governments “buy off” the enraged public by creating these policies to appease them.
In France, after the 2005 suburban riots, social movements grew out of the public outrage. Group such as the “Natives of the Republic” developed to protest the post-colonial society around them. But, one participant noted that just an angry crowd can not bring about the needed policies. Interpretation of that anger is also needed in order to argue that the anger was justified.
In addition, despite the backing of the government in each country, sometimes the private sector interferes and prevents full implementation of the policy. In India, for example, the government waits for the industry to agree to a reservation measure before implementing it.
The media also plays a role in promoting anti-affirmative action messages and contributing to the dearth of information about who benefits from affirmative action. Even if they are not trying to promote the anti-affirmative action agenda, the media tends to focus on novelty issues, which also distracts them form providing solid media coverage on race and affirmative action.
With supposedly democratic governments and free medias being co-opted by private enterprise, the struggle to have policies genuinely represent the people it’s suppose to help becomes more difficult. One participant suggested the need to link the affirmative action cause with the growing anti-globalization movement in various countries or at least borrow the model utilized in the movement. The group concluded their discussion with the realization that borrowing certain aspects of other social movement’s models could help the global affirmative action movement.