The Monday Morning Teaser

A lot of the books I recommend on this blog are depressing, or at least have depressing themes or titles. One recent example was How Democracies Die, which I reviewed three weeks ago. How cheery. Even if the conclusion is that the United States still has time to reverse the recent decline in democratic norms and values, the fact that we have to consider the issue at all is a bit dismal.

This week, though, I’m looking at an optimistic book: This is an Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler. It’s also, I think, a very important book: a primer on the theory and practice of nonviolent action. By considering what went right and wrong in all sorts of movements from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Arab Spring, it argues against the idea that big protest movements “just happen” when the time is right, “spontaneously”.

Politics as usual is full of depressing compromises with the powers that be. Activists are constantly warned to be “reasonable”, and to seek goals that are “possible” rather than to push for a radical transformation of society. And yet, more and more often we are confronted by problems — like climate change — where what is “possible” most likely won’t get the job done.

What the Englers remind us in this book is that there are moments — whirlwinds, they call them — when what is politically possible drastically changes: the British leave India, the Berlin Wall is torn down, same-sex marriage is accepted by the majority. Whirlwind moments, they claim, don’t just happen. There is a craft to sparking and exploiting them.

I’ve written a fairly lengthy summary of the book. It should be out before 10 EDT.

The weekly summary will discuss the Korea negotiations, the barrage of Trump scandals, the new lynching memorial, Bill Cosby, Incels, and a few other things before closing with Food & Wine’s guide to the best coffee in every state. Let’s figure that for 11 or so.

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