Social Movements and Governing Power

L.A. Rising: The 1992 Civil Unrest, the Arc of Social Justice Organizing, and the Lessons for Today’s Movement Building

April 2012

From 2008 to 2019, the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI) published reports under our previous name, the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE). 

By Manuel Pastor and Michele Prichard

with Jennifer Ito and Vanessa Carter

Something remarkable has happened in Los Angeles since 1992 – the region transformed from one whose residents were frustrated enough to burn down a city to one where innovative social movements have forged precedent-setting policies, from community benefits agreements to college and career pathways to carwash worker protections.

How has L.A. risen from the ashes of 1992? A report co-authored by USC PERE’s Manuel Pastor and Liberty Hill Foundation’s Michele Prichard, LA Rising: The 1992 Civil Unrest, the Arc of Social Justice Organizing, and the Lessons for Today’s Movement Building, suggests that from the civil unrest emerged a new set of organizations that has led an arc of organizing grounded in an intentional bridge-building and movement-building approach. The report draws on interviews with over 20 movement leaders, a literature review, and the authors’ own experiences.

L.A. Rising points to ten innovations central to the L.A. model. They include a deep commitment to building power from the bottom-up through multi-racial and multi-ethnic organizing, labor-community alliances, movement building, and scaling up. Of equal importance has been the emphasis on multiple capacities and strategies including an effort to reframe and revision, viable policy innovations, and a willingness to play the inside-outside game. And it could not have happened without the commitment of a key set of funders who were willing to place early bets on grassroots organizing – eventually movement-building, themselves, to attract national philanthropic partners.

As our nation looks for a way forward from our economic crisis, political divides, and racial rumblings that occasionally break the surface, it is this type of patient, on-the-ground work that can actually hold economies accountable and reweave the fabric of our tired society. It is through movement building that together we can build a stronger, more inclusive America.

Read our other publications by research area

    Immigrant Integration & Racial Justice

    Our work on immigrant integration and racial justice brings together three emphases: scholarship that draws on academic theory and rigorous research, data that provides information structured to highlight the process of immigrant integration over time, and engagement that seeks to create new dialogues with government, community organizers, business and civic leaders, immigrants and the voting public to advance immigrant integration and racial equity.

    Economic Inclusion & Climate Equity

    In the area of economic inclusion, we at ERI advance academic theory and practical applications linking economic growth, environmental quality, and civic health with bridging of racial and other gaps; produce accessible and actionable data and analysis through the data tools; and establish research partnerships to deepen and advance the dialogue, planning, and actions around racial equity, environmental justice, and the built environment.

    Social Movements & Governing Power

    ERI’s work in the area of governing power includes: conducting cross-disciplinary studies of today’s social movements, supporting learning and strategizing efforts to advance dialogues among organizers, funders, intermediaries, evaluators, and academics, and developing research-based social change frameworks and tools to inform—and be informed by—real-world, real-time efforts towards a vision of deep change.

    Publications Directory

    In 2020, the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) and the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) merged to form the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI).

    The full list of publications published under our previous and current names can be found in our publications directory.

    a view of the Los Angeles skyline