The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century

The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century

The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century

The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century


In this thoroughly revised and updated edition of The Activist's Handbook, Randy Shaw's hard-hitting guide to winning social change, the author brings the strategic and tactical guidance of the prior edition into the age of Obama. Shaw details how activists can best use the Internet and social media, and analyzes the strategic strengths and weaknesses of rising 21st century movements for immigrant rights, marriage equality, and against climate change. Shaw also highlights increased student activism towards fostering greater social justice in the 21st century.

The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century details the impact of specific strategies on campaigns across the country, from Occupy Wall Street to battles over sweatshops, the environment, AIDS policies, education reform, homelessness, and more: How should activists use new media tools to expose issues and mobilize grassroots support? When should activists form coalitions, and with whom? How are students--be they DREAMers seeking immigration reform or college activists battling ever-increasing tuition costs--winning major campaigns? Whether it's by inspiring "fear and loathing" in politicians, building diverse coalitions, using ballot initiatives, or harnessing the media, the courts, and the electoral process towards social change, Shaw--a longtime activist for urban issues--shows that with a plan, positive change can be achieved.

In showing how people can win social change struggles against even overwhelming odds, The Activist's Handbook is an indispensable guide not only for activists, but for anyone interested in the future of progressive politics in America.


When I wrote the original version of The Activist’s Handbook in the early 1990s, activists faced a very different social landscape. “Online activism” and “social media” were still in the future, and the potential of email and the Internet to boost activist campaigns was untapped. Americans got their news solely from television, radio, and daily newspapers. Campaigns for marriage equality were off the political radar, and a powerful national immigrant rights movement did not exist. We heard little about growing inequality between “the 99 percent and the 1 percent,” and few imagined the election of the nation’s first African American president in 2008.

These and other changes in the past two decades require a completely new version of the original book. This second edition examines new strategies, tactics, issues, and grassroots campaigns, and revisits whether activists have learned from past mistakes. It allows me to describe how activists should harness social media and other new tools to achieve their goals, and how new media can be best connected to traditional organizing and “old media” strategies. Student activism, at a low point when the original book came out and little mentioned, has since surged and is now the subject of an entirely new chapter. I have expanded my discussion of direct action activism to include additional campaigns and groups, and I explain why greater innovation is needed in response to opposition tactics. Since the original book, activists have become far more engaged in electoral politics, and the new book enables me to . . .

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