My paper’s focus will be on the events surrounding the controversy of Chavez Ravine, and the construction of Dodgers Stadium, with using the opposing theories of power elite theory, and interest groups theory, and which theory can explain best what happened in this controversial topic, known as Battle of Chavez Ravine. Both power elite theory, and interest groups theory are, theories that deal with who has the concentration of power in a certain community or state, and how that power is distributed in that community.
The events of Chavez Ravine, and its outcome are a good example of this power distribution in modern day societies. The reason for that is, what happened in Chavez Ravine was a controversial event that took place in the early 1950s, and those events and controversies surrounding Chavez Ravine, affected the lives of many people living in there. Considering the backgrounds of people that were involved in the situation, what happened in Chavez Ravine also greatly relates to the topics of race, ethnicity, and class of individuals.
The events of Chavez Ravine is that, the government took the land in which mostly non white people, in this case, mostly Hispanic people lived, and after taking the land, neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine was turned into the which today is currently known as the Dodger stadium (Hines, 1966). Power elite theory states that, in a given community, the people and groups that possess the power are, the people and the groups that are in powerful positions, and those individuals and factions that possess the majority of wealth in the society.
Those people that are considered as power elite, are the ones that are almost always financially wealthy, and those people are also in positions of such as leaders of businesses, or have a position in government, and military. By possessing both the economic wealth in the society, and having persuasive power to some extent, those individuals are able to shape, and alter the society, in any way that they desire.
Those people are basically the ones set the rules for the other non-elites, which is the majority of a society (Gilens and Benjamin, 2014). Because an average person, who does not qualify to be a power elite, does not possess the power that power elites possess, the average person can’t influence the society in a way power elites can, therefore those average people who can’t influence the society, are forced to live by standards set for them, by those that are more powerful.
The fundamental scholar, and to some extent seen as the father of the power elite theory in sociology, C. Wright Mills, and Mills’ findings and view on the power elite theory are also vital to this approach to the events surrounding Chavez Ravine. C. Wright Mills’ book “The Power Elite” published in 1956, holds the theory of power elite as its main point, and main subject, with an influence of German sociologist Max Weber (Barrow, 400-430).
According to C. Wright Mills, in the modern societies of the world, there is almost always a power elite, an elite collective of high ranking individuals, who are non-explicitly in charge of commanding and manipulating the finances, resources of the bureaucratic organizations and foundations, and the economy, therefore they are basically the rulers of the said modern society (Form and Mills, 2001). The theory of interest groups (or veto groups) opposes the theory of power elite.
The theory of interest groups state that, the power in a given society is distributed to different, and distinct people, and different organizations, and those people and organizations have interests that are differing, and conflicting with each other. As the interests that these groups and organizations conflict and contrast each other, they balance each other out, and no group becomes too powerful to affect the whole society. Therefore, with such a balance existing in a large scale modern society, a good and more balanced governance in that society becomes possible (Gilens and
Benjamin, 2014). With such definition, it can also be interpreted that, in most cases in modern societies where there is a presence of an interest group, interest groups can be classified as defense groups, pursuing their own goals, rather than leadership groups, or groups that are aiming for some form of control (Kornhauser, 1966). American sociologist David Riesman, is a relevant theorist and a scholar on the topic of interest groups, as his work, especially his book “The Lonely Crowd”, mainly revolves around the topic of interest groups and, the way power works in modern societies.
David Riesman’s approach to this theory can be traced back to people’s shared values and what brings them together, as they are fundamental to the forming of interest groups with differing goals. Riesman’s findings suggest that, with the presence of interest groups, there will be a need of negotiation, as groups would have equal, or close to equal power distributed among themselves (Horowitz, 2014).
The events that took place, and the outcomes of those events in Chavez Ravine, greatly relates to both of these opposing theories of power elite theory, and the theory of interest groups. We can also see how the ethnicity, race and class are intertwined, and how those three attributes of Chavez Ravine residents, and everyone else involved in the dispute, play a huge part in the events of Chavez Ravine, as the idea of whiteness and white privilege were used against non-whites.
Those events of Chavez Ravine does a great job in exemplifying and demonstrating that, the power groups in that society, are the ones that want to displace people who don’t have enough power to set the rules, in this case people who lived in Chavez Ravine. In this case, the biggest indicator of this approach is the outcome of the dispute, which does not end well for the residents. The events also allow us to see that less powerful people and groups coming up with defensive strategies, rather than being offensive towards the ones in charge.
In this case, we can see that the residents of Chavez Ravine used counterhegemonic defensive strategies, in order to protect themselves, their lifestyles, and most importantly their neighborhood from getting destroyed. Instead of trying to pursue offensive strategies such as following legal action towards those that were trying to displace them, they choose to preserve what they had and expressed in every chance they got that, they just wanted to continue living their lives, the way they always did in peace.
The concepts of both “race” and “ethnicity”, also plays a huge role on these events of Chavez Ravine, and the effects of those events and decisions that were made. Chavez Ravine was not an area in which many white people lived. As the residents of Chavez Ravine were mostly people who were not white, and mainly Hispanic people with Mexican origin (Starr and Parson, 2005), the factor of race and ethnicity is important, and should be considered when thinking about the events of Chavez Ravine.
With that in mind, it also needs to be taken into account that, people who were supporting and planning of the, neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine being turned into the current day Dodgers stadium, were Caucasian. Because of how, race and class is constructed in the American society, those in support of the construction of Chavez Ravine were arguably at an advantage due to being white, and having a high socioeconomic class.
Whether the actions that were done, in order to turn Chavez Ravine into the stadium we know today as The Dodgers Stadium, were fueled by racism or not, the outcomes of those actions can definitely be seen as racist, as a certain racial, and ethnic group was the main target, and also the ones that were at a disadvantage in this whole ordeal with Chavez Ravine (Starr and Parson, 2005). Although it might be an arguable topic for some people, generally any event that targets a certain racial or ethnic group can be considered as a racist act, or at least an act with racist roots.
The effects of the urban development of Chavez Ravine, and its outcomes differ between different racial/ethnic groups that occupied the area. As the houses that were in, and surrounding around the area of Chavez Ravine, were considered by most people who lived outside of Chavez Ravine as slums and blighted, many of the Chavez Ravine Residents were forced to move out of their homes, to make place for the upcoming urban renewal and the Dodgers Stadium (Yosso and Garcia, 2007).
In conclusion, we can see that the events of Chavez Ravine is a clear example of, how power elite can practice, and exercise its power, and take private property from the less fortunate and racial minority people, in this case the residents of Chavez Ravine, with ease. Even though veto groups tried to express their reasons and sides on how the changes that power elite wanted in Chavez Ravine would affect them, they could not manage to make too much of a difference, as in the end, the construction of Dodgers Stadium still went through.
My position on this topic is that, what happened in Chavez Ravine, and the outcomes of those events shows us that, although there are groups in society with power, in modern societies, the power is mostly distributed to the power elite in a society. With this in mind, between the opposing theories of power elite and interest groups, the ideology of power elite theory is much more solid in terms of the politics of USA.