Date of Completion


Embargo Period



racial inequality, grassroots democracy, political sociology, race and ethnicity, political parties, organizations, social stratification, ethnography, third party, racial politics

Major Advisor

Matthew Hughey

Associate Advisor

Bandana Purkayastha

Associate Advisor

Davita Silfen Glasberg

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation is a qualitative case study uncovering the activities and interpretations of participants of several regional chapters of a grassroots progressive political party in the Northeastern United States in the context of widespread and entrenched racialized political inequality. Grassroots political organizations hold the potential to democratize society and reduce political inequality. However, much of this potential remains unrealized. In contrast to research that focuses on large scale political systems or the rational choice-making of political actors, this study develops insights about racial inequality and political participation through examining social relations and the ways that people make meaning amid the dilemmas and routines of daily life. Through participant observation and semi-structured interviews, this dissertation captures how grassroots activists of various backgrounds interpret the opportunities, barriers, and meaning of their participation. It also documents their personal histories to understand the development of their racial and political awareness and the activities and contexts that produced them. It then connects these influences to how participants develop political strategies and engage with activism, electoral politics, racial diversity and inclusion, and outreach and organizing. The findings demonstrate that, even at the level of grassroots organizing, the impact of centuries of racial oppression on geographic boundaries, social networks, and ways of thinking produces barriers for progressive political organizations. Moreover, they reveal and highlight the relationship between participants’ awareness of racial oppression and its impact on themselves and others, their everyday habits and routines, and their political strategies.

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