The best books on what drives protestors

The Books I Picked & Why

Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

By Barbara Ehrenreich

Book cover of Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

Why this book?

Since ancient times people have gathered outdoors to celebrate all sorts of things, generating joy through dancing, marching, singing, and feasting. In the past most had some religious aura, but in the present, many are political gatherings, deeply satisfying ways of expressing moral visions. In this romp through history Ehrenreich shows us the sheer fun of political (and other) gatherings, which modern elites have tried hard to suppress.


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Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements

By Francesca Polletta

Book cover of Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements

Why this book?

Internal dynamics, especially decisionmaking, often become more important to protest groups than the impact they are having on the outside world. Through vivid cases in twentieth-century America, Polletta relates the internal and the external, showing that groups decide what to do and who they are -- strategy and identity -- at the same time. She is especially good on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the early 1960s.


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Among the Thugs

By Bill Buford

Book cover of Among the Thugs

Why this book?

Although this book is about soccer hooligans rather than political protestors, it shows why some people -- mostly young men -- actually seek out violent encounters. Perhaps other people understand the pleasures of fisticuffs better than I do, but for me this was eye-opening. It may also help us understand the ringleaders of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.


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Missing Class

By Betsy Leondar-Wright

Book cover of Missing Class

Why this book?

Meetings are one of the main activities of social movements, and plenty of misunderstandings occur based on the way people talk due to different backgrounds. This amusing book focuses on the effects of social class, which both activists and scholars have tended to forget about in recent years. If nothing else, it will give you something to think about during your next meeting.


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Origins of the Civil Rights Movements

By Aldon D. Morris

Book cover of Origins of the Civil Rights Movements

Why this book?

Although a little older, this remains in my view the best book on the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the heroic period of Dr. King and the student sit-ins. Born and raised in rural Mississippi during that time, Morris tells a rich story of the influence of religion: the songs, prayers, and scriptural references, but also the material resources such as churches to meet in, networks of preachers to spread information, and the conduit for funds to flow from more affluent Black communities to those battling on the frontline during the bloody fight for civil rights.


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