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10 books every community organiser needs in their tool-kit

Books to dramatically improve your organising game. Some may surprise you.

Stephanie Wong | 20 Feb 2018

An image of books in a pile.

Image credit: Sharon Mccutcheon, Unsplash.

1. Why Im No Longer Talking to White People About Race Reni Eddo-Lodge

A book cover image of "Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race" by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Image credit: Act Build Change.

White privilege is a manipulative, suffocating blanket of power that envelops everything we know, like a snowy day.

— Reni Eddo-Lodge

You can not change the world without acknowledging and addressing racism.

To organise effectively, we must understand we work in racist social and economic systems, behaving as a respectable society. To bring about a better world, we should turn inward to our privileges and judge how we use them to either contribute or tear down the systems of institutional racism around us. For many of us, this can feel like an impossible task. This book will tell you what you must learn in seven beautifully written essays. This book is uncomfortable, generous and necessary for white readers. And for all of us, it is an essential compass in our justice work.

2. Hope in the Dark Rebecca Solnit

An image of the book cover "Hope in the Dark" by Rebecca Solnit
Image credit: Act build Change.

Hope is a gift you dont have to surrender, a power you dont have to throw away.

— Rebecca Solnit

Never lose hope it contains everything we need to build something better.

Social change is uncertain, unpredictable and always possible. At a time in our lives when there is so much to despair about, this book is more important than ever. Solnit turns over the ugly underbelly of the world and challenges us to see the mushrooms of justice and opportunities growing despite the darkness. In this book, Solnit draws light on our history to guide us towards a more hopeful future.

3. I Must Resist: Bayard Rustins Life in Letters Edited by Michael G. Long

A book image of I Must Resist by Bayard Rustin
Image credit: Act Build Change.

My best friends ... have been beaten and assassinated. Yet, to remain human and to fulfil my commitment to a just society, I must continue to fight for the liberation of all men.

— Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was the mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. and was central to much of King’s actions. As a gay black man, Rustin’s brilliance was kept from our history books until now. Rustin’s experiences are captured here in 150 insightful letters and are a powerful must-read for anyone wanting to learn from a master strategist of the civil rights movement. We get to understand Rustin in his own words, writing to some of the most important change-makers of the time, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Ella Baker, and Martin Luther King Jr.

4. Made to Stick Chip and Dan Heath

Image of book cover "Made To Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath
Image credit: Act Build Change.

As we pored over hundreds of sticky ideas, we saw over and over again the same six principles at work.

— Chip and Dan Heath

Why do we remember complicated stories but not complicated facts? Why do some ideas last zillions of years and others die, forgotten forever? After ten years of study, Chip and Dan Heath have the answer. They credit six key principles to unforgettable messaging: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. It spells success well almost. Each principle is illustrated with stories to make you gasp, laugh and never forget. From tales of Frank Sinatra, to a stolen kidney, to the global popcorn campaign changing cinema gourmet across the States Chip and Dan show how to be unforgettable. Their methods are vital for community organisers who must get better at communicating if we are to win lasting change.

5. No shortcuts: Organising for Power Jane McAlevey

A book cover image showing "No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age" by Jane McAlevey
Image credit: Act Build Change.

The 1 percent have a vast armoury of material resources and political special forces but the 99 percent have an army.

— Jane McAlevey

When so many of us are thinking about how this happened, Jane McAlevey, trade union community organiser, gives us why and how to change it. Sharing her findings from interviewing people in labour and social movement campaigns across America, McAlevey brings together their strategies to help us win. Championing the methods of deep organising over shallower mobilising efforts, McAlevey lifts successes and failures to argue that there are no shortcuts to progress. Delve in to learn how to build deep, winning teams that can take on the biggest challenges of our time.

6. How Organizations Develop Activists Hahrie Han

A book image of How Organisations Develop Activists by Hahrie Han
Image credit: Act Build Change.

[G]etting people to do stuff more often and with more depthis not easy. It takes precious time and resources to develop relationships with members. Civic associations are most likely to do this work when it helps them build power.

— Hahrie Han

It is a brilliant book for understanding the difference between organising and mobilising. With a bit of patience, it is a treasure chest of learning for community organisers. Han shares her learnings from in-person interviews, surveys, and field experiments to teach you why some groups do better than others at recruiting and keeping people involved in activism. While technological changes make it increasingly easy to mobilise activists to take short-term, low-effort mass action, Han concludes that successful, high-engagement organisations, those who work with and develop their membership, are the most effective.

7. Blueprint for Revolution Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller

Image of book cover "Blueprint For Revolution" by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller
Image credit: Act Build Change.

Rally the people who already more or less believe in what you have to say. That is a great way for coming tenth at anything (as Harvey Milk initially did).

— Srdja Popovic

Our work needs more humour, grit and imagination, and this is the book to show you how. In just two years, the clenched fist Otpor! grew from a youth protest group into a radical nationwide revolution. Srdja Popovic, leader of Otpor! and storytelling genius gives us his lessons from leading a revolution and training activists worldwide. From resistance turkeys to hiding radios broadcasting anti-regime messages in dog poo to cheese boycotts and taxi go-slows, this book will help you deliver bolder, unforgettable actions.

8. Reveille for Radicals Saul Alinsky

Society has good reason to fear the radical. Every shaking advance of mankind toward equality and justice has come from the radical.

— Saul Alinsky

Legendary community organiser Saul Alinsky inspired a generation of activists and politicians with Reveille for Radicals. A troublemaker who spent much of his life focused on improving the living conditions of poor communities across America, Alinsky used clever tactics and pragmatic strategy to win local improvements in public housing, community health services, and public schools all across the United States. This classic volume is a call to action that is still important today and will give you heaps of useful stuff to work with and improve your organising.

9. Rules for Revolutionaries Becky Bond and Zack Exley

An image of a book cover, "Rules for Revolutionaries".
Image credit: Act Build Change.

We can go up against big money and win.

— Bond and Exley

A must-read for anyone interested in making change through online and offline strategies. Bond and Exley share 22 lessons from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign for political revolution in what they call Big Organising methods. The book’s core concerns people and what we can do when asked to participate in something meaningful. It is a direct challenge to the cautious steps of too many NGOs and charities who tinker with margins and a direct protest to the methods of Saul Alinsky, who could only get us to the negotiating table. On the other hand, big organising is about changing the very nature of government.

10. This is an Uprising Mark and Paul Engler

A book cover image of This Is An Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler
Image credit: Act Build Change.

There is a craft to uprising and this craft can change the world.

— Mark and Paul Engler

From climate change and migrant rights to Occupy, the Arab Spring, and #BlackLivesMatter, movements are reshaping our politics. Mark and Paul Engler delve into their work with a fine toothcomb to find the common threads that weave them together. They look to the work of folks such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Gene Sharp, and Frances Fox Piven to reveal the tools people with few resources can use to change the world.

What other books should be on this list? Let us know in the comments section.