Recommend books on the tactics of political movements
November 22, 2004 10:10 PM   Subscribe

ActivismHistoryFilter: I would like to know more about what techniques and tactics for political activism have worked best in what historical circumstances. Can anyone recommend good books that discuss the tactics of political movements? [MI]

These can be academic or general-interest books. For example, in what circumstances have protests been effective? What about civil disobediance? What about boycotts? What about electoral political activism? Etc. I'm interested in books that talk about the history of some movement and discuss the tactics that the movement used and why, and whether these tactics worked.
posted by mai to Law & Government (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't think of a specific book that uses a comparison/contrast of activist tactics per se as its organizing principle, but you'll find a lot of material at Haymarket Books from a (largely non-academic) Marxist perspective on activism and tactics within the labor movements, civil rights movements, women's movements, etc. Particularly on the topic of labor, I would recommend Not Automatic (a wonderful oral history of the 1937 sit-down strike that led to the formation of the UAW), Strike! (an overview of strikes and workers' revolts in the U.S. from the 1870s-1990s), Teamster Rebellion (1934 organizing drive in Minneapolis), and Detroit: I Do Mind Dying (about the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement). I know it's not exactly what you're looking for, but it might be a start.
posted by scody at 11:27 PM on November 22, 2004

A Canadian, Alan Borovoy wrote a book called 'Civil Disobedience' on Canadian activism. Another 'might not be what your looking for' but he provides excellent examples of the practice and how it has worked in the past in Canada.
posted by squeak at 12:29 AM on November 23, 2004

It's a tiny part of an answer to your question, but I wrote a chapter on online activism, specifically focusing on tactics and countertactics in this book.
posted by bifter at 5:39 AM on November 23, 2004

Also worth checking out might be Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals," and the Midwest Academys training manuals - both are considered pretty definitive resources for modern organizers.

The Midwest Manual in particular, while short on history, is heavy on explaining what tactics work and why - the sections on Power Analysis will likely make you rethink the way you frame considerations of political movements.
posted by TTIKTDA at 6:52 AM on November 23, 2004

"Parting the Waters" by Taylor Branch
"Eyes on the Prize" (book and PBS film)

And the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was an amazing organization. This bibliography may be helpful.

I second "Rules for Radicals." Also, Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States."
posted by naomi at 7:01 AM on November 23, 2004

I third Rules for Radicals. Esp good is info on motivating the masses to take action (He used an achievable goal - the rodent problem in Chicago - to create a movement... fantastic)
posted by deliquescent at 7:55 AM on November 23, 2004

You might want to take a look at the following books:

Power in Movement : Social Movements and Contentious Politics (numerous editors). ["emphasizes the rise and fall of social movements as part of political struggle and as the outcome of changes in political opportunity structure."]

The Activist's Handbook, by Randy Shaw.

The New Citizenship: Unconventional Politics, Activism, and Service,
by Craig Rimmerman.
posted by WestCoaster at 11:02 AM on November 23, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Actually, these are good answers - exactly what I was looking for. I have Zinn's book, but I've never managed to get all the way through it. What started me on this question was reading a chapter on the history of the women's movement in Alice Echols' book Shaky Ground (chapter 4), which gives an overview of various tactics they used at various times. The chapter is infuriatingly short, and I was curious to learn more about political tactics in general.
posted by mai at 11:09 AM on November 23, 2004

If you want to get very historical, there is an excellent body of literature on early modern (1500-1800) bread riots and other forms of social protest. Some were sucessful, many were not, but all show interesting similarities (ritual protest, attacks on property, but not persons, etc.)
posted by jb at 10:30 PM on November 24, 2004

Oh - I would still rub oil (or butter, which is better) on the turkey breast with the foil tent method. I am actually going to use some chicken fat I have, but only because I bought it by accident when looking for lard.
posted by jb at 10:58 PM on November 24, 2004

Sorry - the above comment ended up in the wrong thread. That was definitely intended for the turkey thread.

Good authors on early modern rebellions and riots - classic by George Rude, E.P. Thompson, - there is a synthesis by Andy Wood on 16th century riots and rebellions. I just think you would find it interesting to learn about the very different place these forms of protest had in an era before a popular (or even a wide) franchise. The ritualistic riot was could be seen as more legitimate form of protest when there was no other way to express concerns, such as bread prices, but, of course, was still seen as a threat to order.
posted by jb at 11:10 PM on November 24, 2004

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