Blessed Are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America

Blessed Are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America

Blessed Are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America

Blessed Are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America


In an America where the rich and fortunate have free rein to do as they please, can the ideal of liberty and justice for all be anything but an empty slogan? Many Americans are doubtful, and have withdrawn into apathy and cynicism. But thousands of others are not ready to give up on democracy just yet. Working outside the notice of the national media, ordinary citizens across the nation are meeting in living rooms, church basements, synagogues, and schools to identify shared concerns, select and cultivate leaders, and take action. Their goal is to hold big government and big business accountable. In this important new book, Jeffrey Stout bears witness to the successes and failures of progressive grassroots organizing, and the daunting forces now arrayed against it.

Stout tells vivid stories of people fighting entrenched economic and political interests around the country. From parents and teachers striving to overcome gang violence in South Central Los Angeles, to a Latino priest north of the Rio Grande who brings his parish into a citizens' organization, to the New Orleans residents who get out the vote by taking a jazz band through streets devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Stout describes how these ordinary people conceive of citizenship, how they acquire and exercise power, and how religious ideas and institutions contribute to their successes.

The most important book on organizing and grassroots democracy in a generation, Blessed Are the Organized is a passionate and hopeful account of how our endangered democratic principles can be put into action.


This book takes a journey in search of democracy, through an America that Tocqueville and Whitman never knew. It begins in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina and moves on to the Houston Astrodome, in the days when the hurricane survivors were there. It tours the borderlands of Texas, where hundreds of immigrant shantytowns somehow became habitable neighborhoods. It touches down briefly in Arizona, and then passes through some of the poorest communities in California, before ending in a well-to-do synagogue in Marin County.

In each of these places, we will meet people who want to explain, on the basis of their own experience, what they think citizenship means. Their stories will have much to teach us about the nature and prospects of grassroots democracy. Periodically, in the course of the journey, I will pause long enough to clarify some feature of life in a modern republic: citizenship, responsibility, authority, power, domination, freedom, anger, grief, leadership, ideals, values, ends, means, passions, interests, religion, secularity, and the concept of democracy itself.

There is a lot of talk these days, most notably from the president, about grassroots democracy. Change, he says, needs to come from the bottom up. There is, however, a good deal of confusion over what this might mean, how this sort of change might work, and what it can achieve. To dispel the confusion, one needs to look away from the centers of elite power and ask ordinary citizens what they are actually doing in their own communities to get organized, exert power, and demand accountability.

How do they build an organization? How do they analyze power relations? How do they cultivate leaders? What role does religion play in the organizational process? What objectives are being . . .

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