25 Necessary Books About The Power Of Protest, Because The Fight Has Just Begun
In the months since Donald Trump has become president, more and more people have become inspired to join the Resistance — whether that means volunteering, campaigning, donating, making calls, educating themselves and others on the issues, or otherwise. Bustle's 31 Days of Reading Resistance takes a look at the role of literature and writing in the Resistance, both as a source of inspiration and as a tool for action.
The people in power might not make this widely known, but protest is one of the pillars of American democracy — and of democracies all over the world; another layer of checks and balances designed to make sure the crazy train in Washington D.C. (or wherever) doesn’t fly too far off its rails. In fact, the United States was founded on a history of political, economic, and religious protest (the Boston Tea Party might sound familiar…) and it’s that history — of protesting, that is — that paved the way for everything from the Women’s Rights Movement, to the environmental movement, to the fight for marriage equality, to the Black Lives Matter Movement today. But let’s be honest: things are starting to get just a tad more banana-pants-crazy than usual around here, so now might be a great time to upgrade your civil disobedience skills and add some of these books about political protest to your TBR pile.
From memoirs and graphic novels to essay collections and fiction, the titles below make for some essential protest reading, especially in a time when standing up, speaking out, and openly dissenting are as important as ever. Here are 25 essential books about protesting, to inspire your next act of civil disobedience. March on.
Civil disobedience has been a part of the United States since its founding, and protest has changed policies, laws, and history more often than you might think. Mark and Paul Engler explore the history and function of protest in This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century — featuring insights from contemporary activists and globally-recognized icons like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Ralph Young’s Dissent: The History of an American Idea is a well-researched tome that covers both the liberal and conservative acts of dissent, protest, and civil disobedience that changed American history. From the 17th century through today, activist movements manned by ordinary U.S. citizens and residents have been an essential element of the American identity — so keep on marching.
The protest novel that readers are still buzzing about, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is set during the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle. A must-read for activists, protesters, and other world-changers, the novel centers around Victor, a homeless 19-year-old struggling to understand the injustices and inequalities of the world, and his place in both the chaos and the revolution.
Just slightly out-of-date, no matter who you are, where you live, what you do, or how much spare time you have, Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism by Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards, and Winona LaDuke is designed to answer the question: what can I do to help change the world? An essential handbook for social justice, this book zeroes in on human rights issues from the environment, to marriage equality, to sweatshop labor, to sexual assault, and more.
A moving and inspirational memoir, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones tells the story of the Jones’s move to San Francisco, searching for a gay community where he could feel at home, and his subsequent discovery of political activism — even taking over where Harvey Milk left off after his tragic assassination.
If you’ve found yourself wondering what constitutes a “successful” protest, and what it really take to make major social and political change today, Micah White — co-creator of the original idea for the Occupy Wall Street protests — might just have an answer for you. His 2016 book The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution explores modern political protest and offers suggestions for success.
Andrea Dworkin’s Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant tells the story of Dworkin’s journey through activism and feminism — as a woman who didn’t find her needs met by the mainstream feminist movement, and who often found herself at odds with the American left. This controversial and influential memoir describes how Dworkin often felt maligned and abandoned by the feminist movement she fought so hard with.
The latest novel by writer Lidia Yuknavitch, The Book of Joan takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the last lingering vestiges of humanity live miles above earth in a police-state space station known as CIEL, and are presided over by tyrannical dictator named Jean de Men. Inspired by a rebel named Joan of Dirt, a small group of resisters unite to dismantle de Men’s regime.
Filled with essays, lectures and teaching materials by political poets and scholars, Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action explores the political function of poetry in the United States and around the world. Edited by Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman, this collection demonstrates how poetry and art are essential tools for engaging the larger society in all kinds of issues, from human rights to climate change, and more.
Another title by author and Native environmental activist Winona LaDuke, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life looks at Native resistance to environmental, cultural, and spiritual degradation, blending LaDuke’s own experiences and research with testimonies from Native American activists who have fought for their rights for generations.
Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis’s autobiographical, graphic trilogy, March, tells the story of Lewis’s upbringing in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., and his dedication to nonviolent protest, civil rights, activism, and justice. The three titles detail some of the most pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement, as experienced by someone who witnessed them firsthand.
This novel takes readers into the lives of three generations of political protesters: Rose Zimmer, a former member of the Communist Party; Rose’s daughter Miriam, influenced by 1960s American peace-and-love politics; and Miriam’s son Sergius, a Quaker-influenced protester in the Occupy movement. Dissident Gardens looks at both the personal and political struggles of each generation as they tried to change the world.
This creative collaboration between Greg Jobin-Leeds and art-activist collective AgitArte chronicles the last decade of activism in the United States. When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World is filled with tips, advice, and anecdotes about what works and what doesn’t when launching a movement for social change.
There is a vibrant history of workers’ rights and labor unions in the United States, with many workers’ rights movements leading the way for other activist movements to take to the streets as well. Subterranean Fire, by Sharon Smith, looks at the tradition of labor organization in America, and explores why the workers’ rights movements have been in decline in recent decades.
Before Roe v. Wade, illegal abortions didn’t mean women got less abortions, they simply got more illegal (and often medically dangerous) ones. Laura Kaplan’s book, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service gathers together a collection of anonymous voices: those of women who joined the secret, Chicago-based, underground abortion service in the years before Roe vs. Wade — code named “Jane."
Depending on where in the world you come from, an act of protest can be as simple — and dangerous — as reading a book. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, teacher and writer Azar Nafisi hosts a reading group in her house dedicated to the classics of Western literature, in direct defiance of the national book bans imposed by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The women in Nafisi’s book club risked imprisonment every week for over two years, simply by reading the works of authors like Jane Austen, Henry James, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In 2012, a protest performance resulted in three members of the feminist, protest, punk rock group Pussy Riot being arrested in Russia. Masha Gessen's account of their protest and subsequent trial, in Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, will remind you how radical and risky making art and music can really be.
Angela Davis’s Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement is a collection of essays, interviews, and speeches detailing the importance of black feminism, intersectionality, and prison abolitionism; discussing the legacy of activism from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement, and more.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban tells the amazing story of Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken blogger who wrote about the realities of life for women in her Taliban-ruled country, and who was shot at 15-years-old while riding a bus home from school. She has since become a globally-recognized advocate of peace, women’s education, and women’s rights.
Madeleine Thien's novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, is set in China in the years before, during, and after the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, and tells the story of two generations of one family: those who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century, and their children, who later became student protesters. Woven into their stories of political struggle and dissent is a story about the redeeming power of art, and music's capacity to offer a space for marginalized citizens to share their voices.
Futures of Black Radicalism, edited by Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin, examines the past, present, and future of Black radicalism and activism in the United States and around the world, featuring essays and articles by writers like Angela Davis, Nikhil Pal Singh, Christina Heatherton, Thulani Davis, and more.
Examining the "bacha posh" practice of dressing Afghan girls as boys so they can attend school, work outside the home, and travel through Afghanistan unaccompanied by a male family member, The Underground Girls of Kabul tells stories of the young women who rebel and resist against a culture that tries to confine them. This book also shares stories of women forced to leave the relative freedom of “bacha posh” and enter arranged marriages, and even others who dare — or are forced — to live in disguise for as long as they can.
Published last summer, Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt takes a look at the recent social and political activist movements in the United States: liberal, conservative, and otherwise — from the growth of the Tea Party, to the Black Lives Matter Movement, to Occupy Wall Street, and more. Through her own research and interviews, author Sarah Jaffe makes the case that the 2008 financial crisis is largely responsible for American activism and protest today.
Duncan Green’s How Change Happens connects the philosophies of social justice with actual activist practices in order to demonstrate how change is possible in the real world. Pulling on first-hand examples from Green’s own global experiences with Oxfam — one of the world's largest social justice NGOs — this book reads as a practical guide for how to change the world.
Featuring the words of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Gloria Steinem, Dave Eggers, and more, this recent collection of essays and inspirational words of wisdom was written specifically to guide you through the next four years of a Trump presidency. What We Do Now: Standing Up For Your Values in Trump's America is a handbook for any activist in need of a little heart and a little hope.
Follow along all month long for more Reading Resistance book recommendations.