Senior Thesis

1 Oct

Mo Karn
Division III Proposal
September 16, 2007

Contemporary Radical Activism in Richmond, Virginia

My Division III will be looking at the modalities of contemporary radical activism in Richmond, Virginia. The time period I will be looking at is roughly 1990-2006. I want to find out where these movements came from, how they are enacted in Richmond, how Richmond responds, and what the impact has been locally. Where is there anarchism in Richmond and what does this mean.
The term “contemporary radical activism” comes (at least to my awareness) from Richard J. F. Day. It does a good job of accurately describing the sorts of anarchist, anti-globalization, anti-neoliberal and alternative movements currently being practiced in North America. He says that:

By contemporary, I mean of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but with roots reaching back to the new social movements of the 1960s- feminisms, the US civil rights movement, Red Power, anti-colonialism, gay and lesbian struggles- as well as to ‘older’ traditions of marxist and anarchist socialism. By radical activism I mean conscious attempts to alter, impede, destroy, or construct alternatives to dominant structures, processes, practices and identities. My focus is quite literally those struggles that seek to change the root, that want to address not just the content of our current modes of domination and exploitation, but also the forms that give rise to them… Contemporary radical activism, then, pushes beyond the possibilities and limits of liberal reform, while not entirely discrediting attempts to alter the status quo… (Day 4-5)

It is significant to try to understand movements that do not fit into old theoretical ideas about social movements and organizations. They represent a new wave of activism and perhaps the next chapter in social change. They are different and must be looked at in different ways.
There are reasons for looking at this activism in Richmond in particular. Usually these movements are thought about in terms of Seattle, California, New York City- places in the west or north that are considered to be more liberal. Richmond differs from this setting in many ways, being a smaller Southern city. Richmond is a city still closely tied to its past of social injustice and oppression. Richmond is considered a conservative city. Because the setting is different than the typical setting of contemporary radical activism the methods and results may vary. My research so far has supported the idea that the history of Richmond is something recognized as affecting the way people organize and the mood of the community.
To create a meaningful analysis of contemporary radical activism in Richmond will necessitate a broad history of Richmond in order to set the stage. I imagine a chapter of basic history of Richmond (founding, civil war etc.). Then I would like a chapter on older, more traditional movements in Richmond like the Civil Rights movement. I think that the impact of these older movements is important to consider when looking at current movements. It will help to compare and contrast them a little also. The last historical chapter would be more current, bringing the reader up to date with important information about the city in the time period of the activism I am talking about.
When I analyze the contemporary radical activism I will be drawing connections from the movements to their setting in Richmond, highlighting the ways that occurring in Richmond has affected the movements. Some examples of movements I might look into includes Critical Mass bike rides, the Tent City constructed in Monroe Park in 1998, the long-term success of Food Not Bombs, anti-war actions, Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front actions, and many programs that serve/ work with the homeless community. In order to talk about these movements in Richmond I will have to rely on information about these movements at large and discuss what they are and what they stand for generally. Creating a picture of, for instance, how critical mass came about and functions in general will make my depiction of it in Richmond more meaningful.
My Advanced learning activities are a course I am taking this semester and a course I will take next semester. For the 200 level course this semester I am working out extra projects with the professor in order to have the course count as advanced. In the spring I plan to take Stan Warner’s 300 level Social Change course.

The Crafted City: Art, Urban Regeneration and the New Cultural Economy
Section Number:    SS-0279-1
Description:    This seminar explores the role of what Roslyn Deutsche calls aesthetic practices in the politics and redesign of urban space. With a theoretical basis in critical urban and cultural studies, we examine the new cultural economy and the increasingly common use of the arts and cultural production, heritage/cultural tourism, and creative industries and quarters to imbue cities once associated with decline and decay with new value. Case studies investigate past and current efforts to employ art, culture, branding and design to address urban economic problems and contribute to downtown and/or neighborhood regeneration. Historical and contemporary examples of how large and small cities, waterfronts, factory and warehouse districts, and downtowns have been re-imagined, re-built and re-marketed are discussed in terms of the underlying rationales and theories, prevailing social, economic and political conditions, and impacts on diverse residents of the city. Contrasted to city-sponsored and public/private initiatives that may promote gentrification, we also explore community-based efforts to link the arts and culture to neighborhood revitalization, community development and anti-gentrification struggles. Students can propose individual projects and there will be opportunities for local community-based research. Division II and III students only.

I’m thinking that for my advanced learning activity of this course I can use the final project to explore the creative aspects of Richmond as a city, and the way that the culture and diversity of the place effect it economically and politically. Potentially what I produce in this course could be part of a chapter in my Division 3.

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