Recent waves of social activism like the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter show that you can fight city hall--or any other powerful entity for that matter. Now comes the playbook for citizen activists wanting to improve the world around them from Nick Licata, admired Seattle city councilmember and one of the city's most effective leaders of political and social change since the 1960s. In this smart and powerful book, Licata explains how to get organized, congregate power, and master the tactics for change. He is insightful in comparing effective communication with methods that just don't work. Licata's observations on the intricacies of power will empower any activist who wants to make a difference in today's world.
In a nutshell: Former Seattle City Council member Nick Licata shares his tips for making change in the world, as illustrated by many, many, many Seattle-based anecdotes.
Line that sticks with me: N/A
Why I chose it: Mr. Licata is a local politician and this book looked like it could be interesting.
Review: This review could go two ways: brutal but fair, or kind but fair. I’ll go with the latter, because, for the most part, this book is the vanilla of ice creams. Not vanilla bean, not French vanilla, not ‘premium’ vanilla; just plain vanilla. Which can serve as a fine base for a more flavorful sundae or as a great side to a delicious piece of cake or pie, but on its own, doesn’t do a whole lot.
The book is well organized, building upon different component of activism and discussing how they are interrelated. This is a strength of the book, because Mr. Licata seems to recognize that there is space for many different types of activism, although he clearly prefers the much less radical, much more incremental version. And in that respect I think he and Justice Ginsberg are similar — they both want change, but seem to think the best way is slowly, over time. I know a lot of folks who might disagree with that sentiment.
At the same time, this book came out just last year (2016) but already feels a bit dated. I don’t think Black Lives Matter is mentioned more than in passing which, considering how much activism sprung up related to that, is an odd omission. The sections that talk about social media seem more like they were written in 2010; while Mr. Licata recognizes that Facebook and especially Twitter are helpful, he seems to not realize how useful they can be in individuals getting connected to each other (as opposed to politicians connecting with individuals).
I live in Seattle, and have for seven years this go round (ten if you count my college days), and even I found the anecdotes provided to be too Seattle focused. I don’t think Seattle is necessarily the best example to hold up to other cities to say “this is how you get shit done.” But even if it is, there have to be more examples from other cities and smaller towns. I think that Mr. Licata wasn’t super interested in doing research, and perhaps was more interested in writing a memoir. Instead of a really strong activism how-to, or a really interesting autobiography, we ended up with a lesser quality version of the two.
With all of that said, however, I can see value in this book, if it were paired with, say, a more radical discussion of types of activism. Maybe in a politics 101 course at a university, or in a civics class offered to seniors in high school. It’s not bad, and I certainly learned some tips that I think will be useful in my life as an activist, it’s just more basic than I was hoping it would be.
"Politicians often know what the right thing to do is, but unless there is an organized constituency to put pressure on other public official, they may feel they don't have enough support to get legislation passed. The role of a citizen activist is to coax politicians to have the courage to pursue their own beliefs." - p. 20
"Citizens often find that the biggest obstacle to change is government inertia. It is difficult to wrestle with, because its reluctance is couched in soft general terms and processes. But government hesitation will often melt away if opposing parties agree to a common course of action. This is why it is important to talk to your opponents. You need to think of how to work with them to overcome a common antagonist; often it is an unresponsive government." - p. 31
"The lesson for all activists is that you need to have a dual-prong approach to changing the political landscape: being in the streets pr