a life of activism
March 11, 2012 5:20 PM   Subscribe

What are some good memoirs/stories/quotes/resources for guidance in being a community activist?

I'm about to make a few big decisions regarding graduate school/future jobs/relocation. Rather than simply make endless pro-cons lists, I'd like to consider how folks who serve their communities have structured their lives, pursued education, and become leaders and vibrant members of their communities. What are the best resources to get a sense of how community activists have pursued service?
posted by elephantsvanish to Work & Money (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Coming of Age in Missippi is a great one, as is How To Save the World in Your Spare Time.

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black is another good one.
posted by spunweb at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2012

The Moral Vision of Cesar Chavez [link to amazon] by Frederick John Dalton.

Cesar Chavez was largely self-educated, reading a wide range of topics including philosophy, history, photography, art, politics and others.

also, from Cesar Chavez' own writings and speeches:

"When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men."
posted by calgirl at 7:18 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another author you should check out is Saul Alinsky. Some would say that he wrote the book(s) on modern community organizing, at least in the US, starting in the late 1930's. If I recall correctly, the title to read is Rules for Radicals, but he wrote several others. His Industrial Areas Foundation is still around.

Even if you disagree with Alinsky, if you're serious about community organizing you need to be aware of him. One of his last interviews--with Playboy in 1972--showed up on Metafilter in 2008. As noted in that thread, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have written about Alinsky.

There are two kinds of power in the world: organized money and organized people.
posted by postel's law at 9:01 PM on March 11, 2012

I thought Barack Obama's first book gave a pretty good description of his experiences.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:31 PM on March 11, 2012

You might look at William Upski Wimsatt's Please Don't Bomb the Suburbs.

Upski's 1994 book Bomb the Suburbs is a fantastic rambling thing about hip-hop, race, urban landscapes, and hitchhiking, though not so much about political/community organizing per se. Please Don't Bomb the Suburbs might as well be subtitled "Upski Grows Up;" at this point he's much less cynical about electoral politics, more experienced in organizing, less of an anarchist. A little knowledge of the context/writing style of Bomb the Suburbs helps--the essay We Use Words Like Mackadocious is the best-known piece--but it's not necessary to have read the entire thing to understand Please Don't Bomb the Suburbs.

The parts most worth reading, imho, are the parts about how to run a successful non-profit, how not to burn out, how to structure time for self-care and time to talk with other organizers and directors about your struggles. He also talks a lot about how he and various friends/associates of his have built up some really impressive grassroots voter information/turnout campaigns; I found some of these parts overly name-droppy and centered on Upski's awesomeness, but you may get more from them.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:35 PM on March 11, 2012

For resources, check out the just published The Activists Handbook - a step-by-step guide to participatory democracy.
The Activist's Handbook' is a powerful guide to activism on virtually any scale. Environmental activist Aidan Ricketts provides a step-to-step guide for citizens eager to start or get involved in grass-roots activist movements. Laying a thorough theoretical groundwork and providing all essential practical tools, methods and strategies needed for a successful campaign, this book enables its readers to effectively promote their cause. Case studies from the US, UK and Australia as well as lots of ready-to-use documents and up-to-date information on legal issues, internet activism and group strategy make this book a priceless resource for everyone ready to make a difference.
posted by Kerasia at 9:46 PM on March 11, 2012

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