My Two Books on Organizing


I've written two books and I think they might be more helpful now than when they came out.

The first is Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy. I wrote this book on a commission for the Ms. Foundation for Women, based on the experiences of their economic justice grantees of the early 2000's. Writing it gave me a chance to think through all the organizing I had done in the first 12 years of adulthood, and to craft theory out of it. It has a long introduction (in these days of long articles turned into short books, it could be considered book length) about the history of community organizing in the United States as codified by Saul Alinsky. Alinsky made some really important contributions to the field, but his mode of supposedly non-ideological organizing (because it is always ideology-bound, even if that's not acknowledged) wound up dividing community organizing from the key social movements of his time, especially civil rights and feminism. The rest of the book lays out principles for different aspects of the work -- outreach, leadership development, campaigns, direct action and more. I illustrate each set of principles with examples from real life organizers, and include worksheets to help readers figure out their own stuff. It came out in 2003, so today I would completely redo the chapter on media, and I'd add chapters on technology and fundraising.

My second book, with Fekkak Mamdouh, is The Accidental American. When I moved to New York in Spring of 2003, Saru Jayaraman, who I had interviewed for Stir It Up, invited me to come and meet her colleagues at the newly formed Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. The minute I walked in and met Fekkak Mamdouh, Sekou Siby and the rest of the team, I knew that this story of restaurant workers of color who had lost their co-workers and their jobs at Windows on the World on 9/11 would be an organizing story with a lot of lessons. I saw in them a group of deeply traumatized, economically struggling people of color who did a lot of their healing not in therapy (though there's nothing wrong with that), but through organizing to gain and exercise power in their industry, their city, and their country. I wrote a book I always want to read -- with details about organizing campaigns, decisions, relationships, losing and winning. I followed Mamdouh, Saru and the members for six years, and then wrote this book. The book also features Cecilia Muñoz, who was then a policy leader at the National Council of La Raza, through her (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts to win Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in Congress during that same period. After the book came out, Muñoz became Obama's Domestic Policy chief, from where she took a lot of heat for helping to carry out his mass deportation policy. In the end, we see how and organization built entirely by people of color becomes a source of positive change for everyone.