Activist's Handbook

Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century

Randy Shaw
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 2
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt3fh2x1
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  • Book Info
    Activist's Handbook
    Book Description:

    In this thoroughly revised and updated edition of The Activist's Handbook, Randy Shaw’s hard-hitting guide to winning social change, the author brings the strategic and tactical guidance of the prior edition into the age of Obama. Shaw details how activists can best use the Internet and social media, and analyzes the strategic strengths and weaknesses of rising 21st century movements for immigrant rights, marriage equality, and against climate change. Shaw also highlights increased student activism towards fostering greater social justice in the 21st century.

    The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century details the impact of specific strategies on campaigns across the country, from Occupy Wall Street to battles over sweatshops, the environment, AIDS policies, education reform, homelessness, and more: How should activists use new media tools to expose issues and mobilize grassroots support? When should activists form coalitions, and with whom? How are students—be they DREAMers seeking immigration reform or college activists battling ever-increasing tuition costs—winning major campaigns? Whether it’s by inspiring "fear and loathing" in politicians, building diverse coalitions, using ballot initiatives, or harnessing the media, the courts, and the electoral process towards social change, Shaw—a longtime activist for urban issues—shows that with a plan, positive change can be achieved.

    In showing how people can win social change struggles against even overwhelming odds, The Activist's Handbook is an indispensable guide not only for activists, but for anyone interested in the future of progressive politics in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95699-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    When I wrote the original version of The Activist’s Handbook in the early 1990s, activists faced a very different social landscape. “Online activism” and “social media” were still in the future, and the potential of email and the Internet to boost activist campaigns was untapped. Americans got their news solely from television, radio, and daily newspapers. Campaigns for marriage equality were off the political radar, and a powerful national immigrant rights movement did not exist. We heard little about growing inequality between “the 99 percent and the 1 percent,” and few imagined the election of the nation’s first African American...

  5. 1 Don't Respond, Strategize
    (pp. 7-40)

    In a previous era, social change activists were guided by the immortal words of Mary “Mother” Jones: “Don’t mourn, organize.” These words, spoken following the murder of a union activist, emphasized the value of proactive responses to critical events. Although American activists today face less risk of being killed, they still must heed Mother Jones’s command. A political environment hostile to progressive change has succeeded in putting many social change activists on the defensive, and the need for proactive planning—what I like to call tactical activism—has never been clearer.

    Unfortunately, proactive strategies and tactics for change all too...

  6. 2 Elected Officials: Inspiring Fear and Loathing
    (pp. 41-82)

    Ernesto Cortes, Jr., organizer of the Industrial Areas Foundation network in Texas and the San Antonio–based Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), has plainly described activists’ necessary relationship to elected officials: “It’s unfortunate that fear is the only way to get some politicians to respect your power. They refuse to give you respect. They don’t recognize your dignity. So we have to act in ways to get their attention. In some areas, what we have going is the amount of fear we can generate. We got where we are because people fear and loathe us.”¹

    This assessment by one...

  7. 3 Coalition Activism: Rounding Up the Unusual Suspects
    (pp. 83-109)

    I am a great believer in coalition politics. The sight of social change organizations accomplishing goals by working with other organizations and constituencies is wonderful to behold. Unfortunately, building and maintaining activist coalitions is not easy. And when funding shortfalls cause many organizations to aggressively compete with one another for scarce foundation dollars, coalition building can become even harder. The absence of effective coalition building has often deprived social change activists of what often represents the strategic key to success. It is therefore critical for tactical activists to understand how, when, and why coalitions should be used, and to draw...

  8. 4 Ballot Initiatives: The Rules of the Game
    (pp. 110-138)

    On December 5, 2011, California Democratic Party chair John L. Burton appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to denounce the state’s initiative process as “a tool of the special interests to screw the people.” Many agreed. California’s public services have never recovered from Prop 13’s passage in 1978, and voters have approved measures promoting race discrimination (Prop 14, 1964), barring affirmative action (Prop 209, 1996), and voiding California’s marriage equality law (Prop 8, 2008). Burton’s progressive leadership of the state legislature ended in 2004 when a 1990 voter-approved term limit initiative forced him to leave office; passage of the...

  9. 5 The Media: Winning More Than Coverage
    (pp. 139-168)

    Social change activists today confront a media landscape very different from the pre-Internet, pre–social media days. Whereas wealthy media owners long ruled as “gatekeepers” for the news, activists can now break their own stories through email, websites, Facebook, or other social media. As a result, by the time Congress in 2012 sought to weaken Internet privacy through the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), activists no longer depended on newspaper coverage; they got their point across when English Wikipedia and 7,000 smaller sites shut down in protest, with opposition websites drawing more than 160 million...

  10. 6 The Internet and Social Media: Maximizing the Power of Online Activism
    (pp. 169-184)

    For many activists, particularly those under thirty, the traditional media are less relevant than the Internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, and other so-called new media. New media’s rapid growth in political influence has been astonishing. During the 2000 election, only 41 percent of households even had Internet access, and very few activists had laptops facilitating instant communication. Markos Moulitsas did not found Daily Kos, perhaps the nation’s preeminent progressive activist electoral site, until May 2002. Arianna Huffington’s widely followed Huffington Post did not exist until 2005, the same year that YouTube, now one of activists’ most common tools, emerged. While new...

  11. 7 Direct Action: Acting Up, Sitting In, Taking to the Streets
    (pp. 185-222)

    Since the original publication of this book, activists’ participation in direct action has increased tremendously. This is chiefly attributable to activists having less faith in the ability of the political process to achieve their goals, as well to the growing power of corporations largely immune from democratic control. Although the term direct action is often used to describe marches, rallies, or other public protest tactics, it usually refers to events that immediately confront specific individuals, corporations, or other entities with a set of demands. Direct actions are distinct from protest activities such as bridge blockades that are designed to send...

  12. 8 Lawyers: Allies or Obstacles to Social Change?
    (pp. 223-250)

    Many activists go to law school so that they can use the legal system to promote social justice and progressive change. I count myself in this category. I started law school in 1979, at the tail end of over a decade of expansion in the number of federally funded Legal Services Corporation (LSC) jobs as well as public interest jobs in government and the private nonprofit sector. This period also saw Supreme Court decisions that advanced progressive values. Our highest court’s willingness to recognize and expand constitutional and, specifically, minority rights filtered down to lower courts, fostering the view that...

  13. 9 Student Activists Lead the Way
    (pp. 251-271)

    When the original edition of this book came out in the 1990s, the term student activism was associated with the antiwar and civil rights protests of the 1960s and 1970s. Students were active in later social justice struggles, but campus activism was deemed a relic of the past. Today, the situation has dramatically changed. From DREAM Activists, to students battling sweatshops, to campus protesters against rising education costs, student activists are making a difference. Students are not only leading winning campaigns but are also galvanizing the larger progressive community.

    To be sure, student activism will never attract the national media...

  14. Conclusion: New Activism for the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 272-274)

    In Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a character who comes to feel he has accomplished nothing in life and walks onto a bridge contemplating suicide. In the nick of time, an angel appears and shows him how poorly his town and family would have fared had he never been born. Bailey, realizing that he has made a positive impact on his world, renews his spirit and embraces life in a finale that has long brought tears to viewers’ eyes.

    When I wrote the original version of The Activist’s Handbook, far too...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 275-286)
  16. Index
    (pp. 287-293)