A Voice but No Power

Organizing for Social Justice in Minneapolis

2022
Author:

David Forrest

Examining the work of social justice groups in Minneapolis following the 2008 recession

Since the Great Recession, even as protest and rebellion have occurred with growing frequency, many social justice organizers continue to displace as much as empower popular struggles for egalitarian and emancipatory change. David Forrest explains why this happens and explores how these organizers might better reach their potential as advocates for the abolition of exploitation, discrimination, and other unjust conditions.

In a much-needed update to Piven and Cloward's classic Poor People's Movements, David Forrest has given us a stirring and challenging analysis of the slippery politics social justice organizations must pursue in order to achieve real change. Grounded in three rich case studies on education, housing, and welfare rights that played out in the cauldron of Minneapolis's racial politics in the years before the police killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests, A Voice but No Power is a major contribution to the scholarly literature and an inspiration to all who seek social justice.

Sanford Schram, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center

Since the Great Recession, even as protest and rebellion occur with growing frequency, many social justice organizers continue to displace as much as empower popular struggles for egalitarian and emancipatory change. In A Voice but No Power, David Forrest explains why this is the case and explores how organizers might better reach their potential as advocates for the abolition of exploitation, discrimination, and other unjust conditions.

Through an in-depth study of post-2008 Minneapolis, a center of progressive activism, Forrest argues that social justice organizers often fall short of their potential largely because of challenges they face in building what he calls “contentious identities,” the public identities they use to represent their constituents and counteract stigmatizing images such as the “welfare queen” or “the underclass.” In the process of assembling, publicizing, and legitimating contentious identities, he shows, these organizers encounter a series of political hazards, each of which pushes them to make choices that weaken movements for equality and freedom. Forrest demonstrates that organizers can achieve better outcomes, however, by steadily working to remake their hazardous political terrain.

The book’s conclusion reflects on the 2020 uprising that followed the police killing of George Floyd, assessing what it means for the future of social justice activism. Ultimately, Forrest’s detailed analysis contributes to leading theories about organizing and social movements and charts possibilities for further emboldening grassroots struggles for a fairer society.

Cover alt text: Nose and open mouth rendered in red Ben-Day dot pattern; title and author name lay over the image in translucent type.

David Forrest is assistant professor of politics at Oberlin College. He has published in Polity, PS: Political Science & Politics, and Qualitative Sociology.

In a much-needed update to Piven and Cloward's classic Poor People's Movements, David Forrest has given us a stirring and challenging analysis of the slippery politics social justice organizations must pursue in order to achieve real change. Grounded in three rich case studies on education, housing, and welfare rights that played out in the cauldron of Minneapolis's racial politics in the years before the police killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests, A Voice but No Power is a major contribution to the scholarly literature and an inspiration to all who seek social justice.

Sanford Schram, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center

In the face of the weakening hold of the neoliberal capitalist order, as competing egalitarian and deeply regressive forces vie for power, this is exactly the kind of book we need. David Forrest’s theoretically informed, deeply researched activist scholarship on three post-Great Recession urban social movements in Minneapolis provides a solid foundation for his chief, crucially important lesson for progressive social movements: we only make advances by fighting uncompromisingly for the world we want and need.

John Arena, author of Driven from New Orleans: How Nonprofits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization

Contents

Introduction

1. Social Justice Organizations and the Struggle to Abolish Oppression

2. Neoliberalism in a Progressive City

3. The Political Hazards of Contentious Identity-Building

4. Organizing for Moderation

5. Misleading the Public

6. Seeking Legitimacy without Mobilization

Conclusion: After George Floyd

Acknowledgments

Appendix: Research Methods

Notes

Bibliography

Index