Anti-War, Pissed Off and Read All Over

A primer for budding activists

Millions line up to see a wise-ass left-wing anti-war movie. Public discussion ensues. How to change the political future? Why is the president such a liar? What can I do besides seethe?

Legions of pissed-off people who saw Fahrenheit 9/11 may not know it, but they may have already created their own nascent political movement. Even the Trader Joe's checkout guy, who asked if I've seen the movie and says he's seen it twice, is a member. Michael Moore's film ends with a message telling audiences to get involved and directs them to helpful websites—including michaelmoore.com, which links to even more websites that help get people involved in politics.

Okay. So you're pissed off about the war in Iraq and want to help make America a better place. Shine on, lefty diamond! But besides feeding your soul by getting involved, you must feed your head with a little something we like to call "knowledge." And to do that, you need to stay out of the movie theater awhile and read some books. You might start with these:

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities. This lovely book-length essay by Rebecca Solnit is required reading for any recent Fahrenheit 9/11 filmgoer and wanna-be activist. Like Moore, Solnit locates opportunity in crisis. She reminds us that, first, the future is always dark (as in unknowable) and, second, that a quiet, critical mass created the Zapatista revolution, Seattle anti-WTO demonstrations and the anti-war movement. "I want to illuminate a past that is too seldom recognized," Solnit writes. "One in which the power of individuals and unarmed people is colossal, in which the scale of change in the world and the collective imagination over the past few decades is staggering, in which the astonishing things that have taken place can brace us to enter that dark future with boldness." The Zapatistas made revolution using the Internet. The international anti-Iraq war movement mobilized millions. Indymedia activists forced The New York Times to learn to count street protesters. These are examples, according to Solnit, of "what we won," a direct challenge to the despair, fatalism, bitching and moaning of otherwise like-minded lefties who should celebrate more and complain less. (Nation Books, $12.95.) Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism. A comic book, Joel Andreas' "illustrated exposé" is a word-of-mouth phenomenon that made the LA Times' best-seller list, with 200,000 copies sold. The cover villain, clutching warships, tanks and missiles, bears an uncanny resemblance to Rush Limbaugh. Intrepid local activist Frank Dorrel made reprinting and distributing this book his life's work, and new editions of this carefully documented anti-military-industrial-complex treatise include a chapter on the "War on Terrorism." (Available at addictedtowar.com.) The Best Guide to American Politics. Slept through high school civics? Author Tom Waldman doesn't hold it against you, but he will make you take the INS immigration quiz at the end of the chapter on U.S. citizenship. This is a Dummies-style civics lesson with a glossary explaining franking privileges, gerrymandering and the War Powers Act (something Congress might review). There's a bibliography and list of all-time political best-sellers. (Renaissance Books, $16.95.) Wise Fool Basics: A Handbook of Our Core Techniques. Who makes the giant puppets marching around in demos against the war? Wise Fool Puppet Intervention. They'll teach you everything you need to know to turn papier-mâché, cardboard, paint and clay into breathtaking political theater. Legendary activist David Solnit (brother of Rebecca) offers guidance on working in a collective, with helpful essays on fund-raising, grant writing and organizing. Step-by-step instructions help turn an old box into a puppet of, say, Rummy. (Available at (415) 905-5958.) Handbook for Nonviolent Action. This $3 booklet from the War Resisters League is the best investment in direct-action organizing you'll make, if for nothing more than the cover quotation by Gertrude Stein: "Considering how dangerous everything is, nothing is really very frightening." There's a history of mass nonviolent action, plus legal and decision-making info. This is the real deal, used by hundreds of thousands of activists from the anti-nuclear and Central America solidarity movements to ACT-UP and animal-rights campaigns. (Before you get arrested, order it at donnellycolt.org.) Organizing for Social Change: The Midwest Academy Manual for Activists. Short of visiting the Academy in Chicago or attending its training seminars, you can buy this encyclopedic manual. It includes a chapter on the economics of social change, in addition to checklists ("Are your demands clear and simple?"), sample fliers, tips on "tactical investigation" (the bad guys call it spying) and even a section with song lyrics. (Available at midwestacademy.com.) Rules for Radicals. The late Saul Alinsky wrote this classic in 1971. Say his name, and you'll be immediately embraced in any crowd of savvy organizers—and be scorned by landlords, managers, CEOs and naughty elected officials. It's the Ur handbook of "radical pragmatism" by the strategist who advised neighborhood groups, unions and Martin Luther King Jr. "There are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness," Alinsky argues in his opening sentence. "But there are rules for radicals who want to change their world. . . . To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one." He knew what he was up against: "The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away." (Vintage Books, $12.)
 
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