This book stands at the intersection of two knowledge traditions—academic and practitioner. It has drawn from both and seeks to contribute to each in kind. My graduate education began in the fall of 2003. One week before moving to Philadelphia, I was asked to serve as the Sierra Club’s National Vice President for Training. The Sierra Club is a volunteer-run, federated political association, the nation’s oldest and largest environmental organization. I had held various roles in its national leadership since high school. I also decided to run for a position on the organization’s Board of Directors in 2003–04, part of an internal mobilization called “Groundswell Sierra” that was attempting to prevent a hostile takeover of the organization’s Board.
My graduate department chair was understandably less than thrilled by these commitments. As I was soon to learn, doctoral training requires a tremendous amount of time and intellectual discipline. It is hardly the right time to join a working Board. The years that followed were marked by a hectic tension—writing research papers during Board meeting lunch breaks, rushing to finish conference calls before teaching class. At the start of a Board meeting I would be beset by cognitive dissonance, as I reminded myself to stop talking like a grad student and instead talk like an organizer. Those years were also marked by tradeoffs, as I continually sought to balance my academic and organizational responsibilities. It was only in the final few years of my time on the Sierra Club Board that I learned to treat those stressful overlaps as an asset rather than a burden. In many ways, this book is the result.
The fall of 2003 was a momentous time for the Internet and American politics. The Dean juggernaut was at its zenith. Tens of thousands of volunteers were attending “Meetups”—web-coordinated local events—and donating millions of dollars to boost the obscure Vermont governor to frontrunner status in the Democratic presidential primary. Those were heady days, when the Internet seemed to be rewriting the rules of campaign politics. The campaign’s eventual collapse in