As the year draws to a close, I thought I would take the opportunity to pick out a few books that have made an impression on me this year. I have of course been community organising since October but before that during the spring and summer of 2011, I was undertaking research as part of my dissertation on activism. All this has encouraged me to read more than I would normally and I want to share some highlights below.
Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life by Harry C. Boyte
I have been very influenced by the work of Harry Boyte in Minnesota. He has founded the Center for Democracy and Citizenship following a distinguished career as an community organiser. This book outlines how citizens in action can transform politics into an everyday activity. He addresses directly the passive spectator nature of party politics in his country and invites professionals such as teachers, nurses and lawyers to reclaim their role as public servants, acting in their jobs for the common good of the whole community. If you have a concern to regenerate our politics, then Boyte is well worth reading. Also see his more approachable and recent Citizen Solution: How You can Make a Difference
Clay Shirky is an evangelist for the digital revolution. This great book opens up the mind to the impact that mass connectivity is having on our world. He shows how already – whatever actual digital tools you use or don’t use – you are fundamentally a part of this global get together. From the importance of sharing to the capacity we all now have to produce our own media (witness this blog!), Shirky makes the case that collaboration has become the norm not the exception. His final chapters begin to explore how social change at every level is being speeded up by our interconnections. Even if you have no Facebook account, this book is an important read to broaden your thinking about the online/offline worlds and how they interpenetrate each other today.
Public Policy in the Community by Professor Marilyn Taylor
Many people in my previous world of the national community sector know the long career achievements of Professor Marilyn Taylor. She has contributed to over thirty years of policy and practice development in community work of all kinds. This revised and updated version of her amazingly comprehensive study in 2002 remains the very best way I know into the history and context of the UK’s community politics. She tackles head on the many ways in which governments and the community sector have tried to use policy to empower communities and how in most cases, it has failed. However, her chapters on the challenges to different stakeholders presents some insightful wisdom for everyone.
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones
The first book by Owen Jones has been received as a blast of energy and anger in middle class lounges. Jones uncovers the stereotypes and hatred aimed at disempowering the working class and illustrates in coruscating detail how the media and the political elite have used such imagery to justify abandoning or demonising large parts of our communities. His contention is that the label ‘chav’ is used to avoid addressing serious social and economic problems that further impoverish working class communities. More recently the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published White working-class neighbourhoods: Common themes and policy suggestions which summarises their research on issues facing these communities.
Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America by Jeffrey Stout
This book (recommended to me by Joe Taylor of the National Network of Community Activists – thanks Joe!) is a great story and a fabulous read. Jeffrey Stout is a professor of religion at Princeton University and here tells the story of his journey around the Industrial Areas Foundation from Texas to California visiting a range of grassroots settings for community organising. Starting in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his inspiring accounts of a variety of people he meets and his reflections on the meaning of their actions make this both riveting reading and thought-provoking. If you want to understand what organising looks like in practice, then this book is the best I can recommend!
Now you have plenty to read in my place, I’m taking a break from writing over Christmas and New Year! I hope you have a great festive season and enjoy the fruits of building trusting relationships with your family and friends!