Social justice activism is always challenging because you’re pushing against existing norms and laws. You’re working for changes in the way society’s governed, how we treat one another and how we take care of our resources. Given the human animal’s attachment to predictability (especially among those for whom the status quo is working just fine), it’s no surprise social justice work inevitably comes up against tremendous resistance.
Nobody understands better than social justice activists the need to stick together and keep pushing to achieve a group’s shared goals. And that’s even harder than it sounds. We haven’t found a universal checklist for activist group success, but there are a few books out there that are particularly useful for social justice activists to consider in their fight. But you’re busy. So we’ve narrowed it down to three essentials that are worth your time.
“When We Fight, We Win” by Greg Jobin-Leeds
This groundbreaking book takes a sweep of history and discusses many notable progressive and social justice victories that have occurred in just the last few years. The book focuses on some of the flowering movements that have succeeded in changing the conversation and have even changed the United States. Some of the movements highlighted include Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, same-sex marriage and the People’s Climate March. All of these movements have succeeded in small and large ways, with much work still left to be done.
The book covers some of the most pivotal stories from these movements and shares the tactics and strategies they used to gain prominence and achieve their goals. It interviews some of the top leaders of these movements such as Bill McKibben, Clayton Thomas-Muller, and Karen Lewis to discover their top advice. Best of all, the book includes inspiring photos that show the vitality and energy of these movements.
“Rules for Revolutionaries” by Becky Bond
The author takes a more practical and hard-nosed approach to revolution and social movements than the Jobin-Leeds’ book. In particular, Bond studies the successes of the (albeit controversial) Bernie Sanders presidential campaign to find some important “rules” to follow to create a mass movement and organize people across the country.
Bond documents the way the campaign employed technology to make over 75 million phone calls, eight million texts, with an additional 100,000 organizational meetings around the country. Most importantly, the campaign created the infrastructure and empowered individuals to truly make the difference. They allowed individual activists working on the local level to take up the mantle of the campaign and push it forward.
Bond writes about the top 22 rules of “big organizing” and how they can be used to set a movement in motion. The book’s bound to become standard reading material for future activists and political campaigns.
“This is an Uprising” by Mark Engler
Engler takes a much more global view of uprisings and non-violent revolutions than the other two books. Engler specifically focuses on massive, international movements such as the effort to reduce green house gasses and global climate change, the Arab Spring, immigrant rights movements, Black Lives Matter and Occupy.
Because they are focused on international movements, many of the individual national group chapters don’t coordinate with one another. Instead, each of these groups bases their movement off of core principles. They then localize the characteristics, organizing tactics and methodologies for their communities and countries.
Engler also recounts the work and action of great historical figures such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gene Sharp. These individuals were able to rally great movements through non-violence to achieve positive end goals.
What the book discovers is that non-violence does not prevent uprisings but actually encourages them. In particular, violent movements primarily draw from young men and the rest of society cannot participate. Non-violent movements draw from the young, the old, professionals, retirees and everyone in between. These broad based movements are much better at achieving the change they seek because they draw in so many more people.
Have a book or two to add to this list? We’d love to get your two cents in the comments.