Winning Victories, Implementing Reforms

Winning Victories, Implementing Reforms

Winning Victories, Implementing Reforms
Winning Victories, Implementing Reforms

The rediscovery process enters its second stage whenever activists and advocacy groups begin to make headway toward their goals.

At first, it might be necessary to set up indepen- dent demonstration projects or pilot programs to prove the need for special services. Then government grants or funding from private foundations can be secured. Next, federal, state, and local agencies or nonprofit organizations can copy successful models or take over some responsibility for providing infor- mation, assistance, and protection. For instance, the battered women’s movement set up shelters, and the antirape movement established crisis centers. Eventu- ally, local governments funded safe houses where women and their young children could seek refuge, and hospitals and universities organized their own 24-hour rape hotlines and crisis-intervention services.

Individuals subjected to bias crimes were redis- covered during the 1990s. During the 1980s, only private organizations monitored incidents of hate- motivated violence and vandalism directed against racial and religious minorities, as well as homosexuals. But in 1990, the government got involved when Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which authorized the FBI to undertake the task of collecting reports about bias crimes from local police departments. Achievements that mark this second stage in the rediscovery process include the imposition of harsher penalties and the establishment of specially trained law enforcement units in many jurisdictions to more effectively recognize, investigate, solve, and prosecute bias crimes. Self-help groups offer injured parties tangible forms of support. The best example of a rediscovery campaign that has raised conscious- ness, won victories, and secured reforms is the struggle waged since the early 1980s by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). These anguished parents argued that for too long the “killer drunk” was able to get away with a socially acceptable and judicially excusable form of homicide because more people identified with the intoxicated driver than with the innocent person who died from inju- ries sustained in the collision. Viewing themselves as the relatives of bona fide crime victims, not merely


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persons who perished from accidents, these crusa- ders were able to move the issue from the obituary page to the front page by using a wide range of tac- tics to mobilize public support, including candle- light vigils, pledges of responsible behavior by children and family cooperation by their parents, and demonstrations outside courthouses. Local chapters of their national self-help organizations offered concrete services: Pamphlets were distrib- uted through hospital emergency rooms and funeral parlors, bereavement support groups assisted griev- ing relatives, and volunteers accompanied grieving families to police stations, prosecutors’ offices, trials, and sentencing hearings.

Buoyed by very favorable media coverage, their lobbying campaigns brought about a crackdown on DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenders. Enforcement measures include roadblocks, license suspensions and revoca- tions, more severe criminal charges, and on-the-spot confiscations of vehicles. Their efforts also led to reforms of drinking laws, such as raising the legal drinking age to 21 and lowering the blood alcohol concentration levels that officially define impairment and intoxication (Thompson, 1984). Along with the 55 mph speed limit, mandatory seat belt laws, improved vehicle safety engineering, better roads, and breakthroughs in emergency medical services, the achievements of MADD and its allies have saved countless lives (Ayres, 1994).

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