In our December giveaway in 2018, activist Dan Kidby won these three titles:
‘This inspirational and thought-provoking book serves as an empowering antidote to the cynicism, frustration, paralysis, and overwhelm so many of us are feeling…’
‘How to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other nonviolent techniques to galvanize communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world.’
‘George Lakoff returns with new strategies about how to frame today’s essential issues.’
Here, Dan reviews all three for us and also recommends other other key reads for nonviolence activists.
What was the most rewarding thing about reading these books? Did you have a favourite?
It was being able to benefit from years of experience and wisdom with respect to campaigning.
It is so hard to select a favourite because each book offers so much value and has immeasurably improved the work I do as an activist and a campaigner.
But if I had to I would probably choose The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein. He has this prophetic ability to articulate what you feel deep down and bring it into your consciousness.
The other books are more about the practicalities of campaigning, the strategies, the framing, but Eisenstein is about how to act with heart and spirit. He teaches how to embody nonviolence, which I think is the hardest thing and requires the most self-reflection and personal growth.
Was there an advantage to reading them together? Did they complement one another?
There is a lot of benefit to reading all of these books together.
Blueprint for Revolution by Srdja Popovic covers the ideas of nonviolent strategy, mass movement building, accessibility, unity and more. It is full of lively examples that inspire you into thinking that change is possible – after all, it is written by somebody whose movement actually toppled a dictator!
It could be followed quite nicely by a book called This Is An Uprising by the Engler brothers, which looks in more depth at how to build nonviolent movements.
Don’t Think of an Elephant covers how to frame your movement’s message and goal. It is about how to make your aim as publicly accessible and convincing as possible. This is an obvious, essential aspect of campaigning that has to be right – it is what all nonviolent campaigning is driven towards. This book is an essential part of the repertoire.
As I said before, Eisenstein’s book is about how to embody nonviolence, as well as thinking about the big picture of what world we actually want to create. It works at the level of world view as a whole.
The ideas in this book inform the kind of goals your nonviolent campaign has, and how you frame your message. It informs how you should behave at protests and in community, and personally respond to the issues in society.
Overall these three books cover action, speech and spirit.
Was there anything you think the books should have covered but didn’t?
There is so much in the field of social change that needs covering, so there are always other things that still need to be addressed.
Of particular importance is the question of incorporating diversity and inclusion into your campaigning.
A fantastic book that teaches how to do this practically is Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy by Chris Crass, which shares lessons from decades of anti-racist organising and praxis.
Another gap is how to organise people within your local communities, how to empower them and help them become leaders in their communities to advance the cause of justice.
A wonderful book for this is How Organisations Develop Activists by Hahrie Han, or people can look into the approach of Ella Baker, a brilliant community organiser from the civil rights movement who embodies democratic and transformative leadership.
Another issue that is important to social change is complexity. So many of us think we have the answer to social change, and fight with those who disagree with us, but often we haven’t fully appreciated the massive complexity of social change, and the need to have various different approaches.
When we understand complexity we also realise that we need to drop any mindset of ‘command and control’ and realise that we have to work with the world to try and influence the change we want, but we can’t hope to control the change, no matter how justified we feel.
A great book that looks at this is Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley.
It’s also really important to consider decentralised organising – how to get many people working autonomously towards a shared goal?
Extinction Rebellion aim to be decentralised to allow natural creativity to flourish.
Interesting books that look at how to do this through methods of holocracy, sociocracy and other organising approaches are Reinventing Organisations by Frederick Laloux and Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge (founder of the Swedish Pirate Party).
Has reading the books prompted you to take any action or change any habits?
Blueorint for Revolution reminded me how important creativity and fun are to social change. I am inspired to plan actions and campaigns that utilise forms of fun mass participation.
I am reminded of campaigns like Reclaim the Streets and would like to see modern actions have that kind of vibe.
Any other comment on the books themselves…?
These books contain years and years of experience and knowledge. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and make all the same mistakes that have been made before. We can learn from our elders.
…or on the topics covered?
Nonviolent civil resistance is fundamentally the way to make long-lasting effective change.
Commonweal focuses on six core areas of nonviolence. What does the word ‘nonviolence’ mean to you?
I distinguish strategic nonviolence and philosophical nonviolence.
Strategic nonviolence employs nonviolent methods of protest to cause social change, things like strikes, occupations, and blocking of transport infrastructure. Nonviolence is done best when the tone of the actions is peaceful and nonviolent too, even when they are particularly disruptive.
Philosophical nonviolence is the realisation that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. That if we wish to see a just world in the future, we must act that way.
This means acting with love and justice in our hearts. It means standing up against oppression, but doing so with empathy and goodwill.
It means respecting those who stand before us, and treating them as fellow humans, even as they do bad things.
It means understanding that we have been raised in violent societies and that we have internalised that, so we work to unpack our internalised domination and oppression.
It means being mindful of how we administer justice, avoiding simply throwing somebody in prison, or going on a social media witch-hunt, and instead employing techniques of healing and restorative justice, to right the wrong and hold somebody accountable, while transforming those who engage with the process.
Nonviolence is this and so much more.
Has your understanding of nonviolence changed at all because of reading these books?
It hasn’t changed, it has just deepened somewhat.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I am part of a new grassroots collective called Animal Think Tank. Our mission is to support the building of a broad anti-speciesist movement that has the power and resilience to ensure all individual animals have their rights to life, liberty and security of person protected in law and respected by society.
We aim to achieve this by developing the strategic direction, capacity and innovation of the individuals, groups and organisations that work for animal justice in their diverse ways.
Our main areas of work include movement building and unity; anti-speciesism; strategy; framing; organising structures; culture; leadership development; and training.
We are working to bring the knowledge gained through past and present social movements to the animal justice movement. We have two upcoming events:
- Free Movement Building Training in London 10/11 August
Thank you, Dan!
We drew up the list of titles for this giveaway from recommendations in our interview with Gail Bradbrook of Rising Up! / Extinction Rebellion