Language and gestures define the involvement of low-status groups with authorities either as joint participation in policymaking or as conflict. Policies that seriously deprive non-elites are often politicized, encouraging the perception that all affected by them participated in their formulation. This perception is problematic and often misleading, for formal decision-making procedures chiefly reflect extant inequalities in the ability of participants to achieve their values and to influence public opinion. It is those who can exercise influence outside the context of formal proceedings who wield real power; but formal proceedings remain vital rituals, for they symbolize participation and democracy and so marshal public support and compliance. The poor lack the informal sanctions and other resources that confer influence, with the important exception that they can create disorder and thereby threaten elites; but in becoming politicized they renounce that political weapon.