Regardless of your political views, this tumultuous election, its results and the stress of gearing up for the next four years make one thing abundantly clear: This is a country at a crossroads, a country divided and a country that is desperately seeking some kind of change. What that change will be, however, will be up to us. You say you want a revolution? We’ve got some reading material for you in this week’s book club. Here are three manuals to help you fight prejudice, effect change and maybe even save the planet.
1. “They Can’t Kill Us All”: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery ($17): On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident was like many of its kind that had happened before, and that would happen in the months to come. What made Brown’s death different was the reaction it caused; the figurative “straw that broke the camel’s back,” it sparked a massive protest and widespread civil unrest. Protesters converged on Ferguson for more than a week, chanting “hands up, don’t shoot,” with both peaceful and violent protests resulting in a curfew and widely criticized militarized response from the police. Brown’s death served as a catalyst for a national conversation about racism and police brutality that appears to have no end in sight, with the additional hundreds of black men and women who have been killed by police in the intervening two years.
Wesley Lowery was assigned to cover the Ferguson uprising for the Washington Post, and in “They Can’t Kill Us All” he tells the story of his assignment and how it changed the course of his career; he is now one of the leading reporters covering race and its intersection with the police’s use of fatal force on the unarmed. Lowery’s experiences growing up as a black man and dealing with white authorities help him put a personal touch on his reporting (though the first time he was ever arrested, ironically, was during his coverage of the Ferguson protests, an incident that itself became front page news). Looking at the issue from all sides, he acknowledges with some sympathy the dangerous reality that police officers face, and attempts to honestly portray the cases, cutting through the myths that circulate within the rhetoric. He’s not afraid to question the decisions made by the justice system or to look at the systemic issues that lead to this seemingly never-ending series of events that seem anything but isolated.
Lowery gives us a journalistic procedural that also serves as a very human story of exhaustion in the face of never-ending tragedy. His research takes him to Cleveland, Charleston and Baltimore for hundreds of interviews, and focuses on a variety of cases involving protest and social justice, such as the growing Black Lives Matter movement, not all that end in tragedy. “They demanded answers. They demanded justice,” he writes. It’s his examination of the battles fought and the occasional victories won that may help his work serve as a potential manual to seek more humanity, and a better country, for those who feel abandoned.
2. Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything by Becky Bond and Zack Exley ($13): Alright, so maybe you have a good idea of the issues close to your heart; your blood is pumping with a righteous cause, and you know the status quo needs to change. Well, in the words of the political drama The West Wing, “What’s next?” What do you do to create the change you want to see in the world? Bernie Sanders campaign advisers Becky Bond and Zack Exley have created a 22-rule strategy that might help you organize for the next wave of the coming storm.
Bernie Sanders’ run for the presidency was unprecedented and dramatic; catapulted into national attention after being a relatively obscure name to the wider populace, his campaign propelled Bernie farther than most people initially would have ever expected. This stemmed from the campaign strategy promoted by Bond and Exley, which works on the principles espoused by another variously attributed line famously quoted by The West Wing, “Decisions are made by those who show up.” This book is a manual for how to organize and get things done, how to get and hold on to volunteers, how to encourage personal contact and individual conversations to try to get something done on a national level.
The authors pose solutions to problems of motivation, equality and practice, claiming that “who wants to get to work” is a better question than “who wants to be in charge,” and that you have to be willing to change procedure if it leads to change elsewhere. “Is it really possible,” they write, “to scale grassroots participation to a height that could actually let us go toe to toe with the billionaires and win?” Bond and Exley believe it might. Rules for Revolutionaries riffs off Saul Alinsky’s 1971 Rules for Radicals, a book that itself proposed a way to mobilize low-income communities for social change — appropriate, in a climate where getting anything done seems like a radical act.
3. The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age by David Biello ($19): Change is important on a local and on a national scale, but it’s also becoming increasingly important on a global one. Scientific American’s David Biello takes a look at the damage we’re currently doing to the only Earth we’ve got, and poses theories on why we seem so reluctant to stem the deluge of harm we’re causing to it. He argues we have the means to change, the technology and the money, but do we have the will? Or will we wind up succumbing to the void, with Earth becoming a doomed vessel: attempting and failing to live “on a spaceship that can no longer support us”?
Biello cautions us against continuing this new era we are creating, fearing the embrace of an age of ignorance, where we make decisions and major changes to our world without adequate thought. He explains the concept of the current Anthropocene era, “the notion that humanity has become a world-changing force of nature.”
It’s not all doom and gloom. In encouraging a new way of seeing the world, Biello is convinced that we can embrace a longer-term viewpoint, and discover creative ways with our current resources to change a potentially terrifying fate. He takes us through fossil records to the future of the space race (as he puts it, “the view from space changes people”). This historically and geologically contextualizes our ability to engineer our world for good and to alter our current foundations, based on a wasteful lifestyle that allows some to profit wildly and others to suffer without access to basic necessities.
Revolution may begin at the grassroots level, but to stay alive, we’ll have to shake the earth.
What books leave you hungry for change? Tag us in your next revolutionary read @BritandCo.
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