Where Do We Go From Here? 20 Books For Transforming Democracy in America

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the fires of justice.” ~Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

The new political nightmare and reality of Donal Trump being elected President of the Unites States has been a wake-up call to the majority of Americans. If you were not already deeply troubled by the state of our democracy, you likely are now.

In the wake of this national tragedy that we continue to reckon with, we are being called to become informed and engaged citizens more than ever before. For most of us, that path starts with educating ourselves.

While understanding the details of this particular election cycle is crucial to navigating our way forward, a crises of this nature also requires us to step back and to take a broader and deeper look at the state of American democracy — where have we come from, where are we now, and where are we heading? At a time that is so clearly calling for fundamental transformation, how do we create systemic change, upgrade our politics, heal our divisions, and work toward a future where all people and life can flourish?

As the holiday season provides opportunities to slow down and reflect, here are twenty essential books to choose from for transforming democracy in America.

Democracy’s Edge: Choosing To Save Our Country By Bringing Democracy To Life by Frances Moore Lappe

“Three out of five Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, feel our country is headed in the wrong direction. America is at the edge, a critical place at which we can either renew and revitalize or give in and lose that most precious American ideal — democracy — and along with it the freedom, fairness, and opportunities it assures. Democracy’s Edge is a rousing battle cry that we can — and must — act now.”

Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America by Jeff Chang

“Who We Be remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual, and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress. In this follow-up to the award-winning classic Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang brings fresh energy, style, and sweep to the essential American story.”

The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones

“Drawing on more than four decades of polling data, The End of White Christian America explains and analyzes the waning vitality of WCA. Jones argues that the visceral nature of today’s most heated issues — the vociferous arguments around same-sex marriage and religious liberty, the rise of the Tea Party following the election of our first black president, and stark disagreements between black and white Americans over the fairness of the criminal justice system — can only be understood against the backdrop of white Christians’ anxieties as America’s racial and religious topography shifts around them.”

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz

“In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.”

Dream Of A Nation: Inspiring Ideas For A Better America edited by Tyson Miller

“Across the nation countless individuals and organizations are dreaming a new future. “Dream of a Nation” is a comprehensive resource for any reader interested in gaining critical information and deepening their role as an empowered citizen. This handbook provides statistics and accessible analyses of the many interconnected social and environmental issues we face with compelling stories of individuals and institutions that are creating the changes necessary for our country to be more environmentally oriented, peaceful, equitable, and tolerant.”

Harvest Of Empire: A History Of Latinos In America by Juan Gonzales

“Harvest of Empire spans five centuries-from the first New World colonies to the first decade of the new millennium. Latinos are now the largest minority group in the United States, and their impact on American popular culture-from food to entertainment to literature-is greater than ever. Featuring family portraits of real- life immigrant Latino pioneers, as well as accounts of the events and conditions that compelled them to leave their homelands, Harvest of Empire is required reading for anyone wishing to understand the history and legacy of this increasingly influential group.”

What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution by Gar Alperovitz

“Never before have so many Americans been more frustrated with our economic system, more fearful that it is failing, or more open to fresh ideas about a new one. The seeds of a new movement demanding change are forming. But just what is this thing called a new economy, and how might it take shape in America? In What Then Must We Do? Gar Alperovitz speaks directly to the reader about where we find ourselves in history, why the time is right for a new-economy movement to coalesce, what it means to build a new system to replace the crumbling one, and how we might begin.”

Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis

“In these newly collected essays, interviews, and speeches, world-renowned activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis illuminates the importance of black feminism, intersectionality, and prison abolitionism for today’s struggles against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine. Facing a world of outrageous injustice, Davis challenges us to imagine and build the movement for human liberation. And in doing so, she reminds us that “Freedom is a constant struggle.””

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig

“In an era when special interests funnel huge amounts of money into our government-driven by shifts in campaign-finance rules and brought to new levels by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission-trust in our government has reached an all-time low. More than ever before, Americans believe that money buys results in Congress, and that business interests wield control over our legislature. While America may be divided, Lessig vividly champions the idea that we can succeed if we accept that corruption is our common enemy and that we must find a way to fight against it. In REPUBLIC, LOST, he not only makes this need palpable and clear-he gives us the practical and intellectual tools to do something about it.”

Rebuild The Dream by Van Jones

“In Rebuild the Dream, green economy pioneer Van Jones reflects on his journey from grassroots outsider to White House insider. For the first time, he shares intimate details of his time in government — and reveals why he chose to resign his post as a special advisor to the Obama White House. Jones puts his hard-won lessons to good use, proposing a powerful game plan to restore hope, fix our democracy and renew the American Dream.”

The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge The Partisan Divide by Mark Gerzon

“In this era of poisonous partisanship, The Reunited States of America is a lifesaving antidote. At a time when loyalty to party seems to be overpowering love of country, it not only explains how we can bridge the partisan divide but also tells the untold story of how our fellow citizens already are doing it.”

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs

“A world dominated by America and driven by cheap oil, easy credit, and conspicuous consumption is unraveling before our eyes. In this powerful, deeply humanistic book, Grace Lee Boggs, a legendary figure in the struggle for justice in America, shrewdly assesses the current crisis — political, economical, and environmental — and shows how to create the radical social change we need to confront new realities.”

Taking On The System: Rules For Radical Change In A Digital Era by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga

“As founder of one of the most influential political blogs, DailyKos, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga establishes the fundamental laws that govern today’s new era of digital activism. In Taking on the System, he shares practical guidelines on how grassroots movements can thrive in the age of global information, while referencing historical and present examples of the tragedy caused without those actions.”

No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the US-Mexico Border by Justin Akers Chacon and Mike Davis

“Countering the chorus of anti-immigrant voices, Mike Davis and Justin Akers Chacón expose the racism of anti-immigration vigilantes and put a human face on the immigrants who risk their lives to cross the border to work in the United States. Davis and Akers Chacón challenge the racist politics of vigilante groups like the Minutemen, and argue for a pro-immigrant and pro-worker agenda that recognizes the urgent need for international solidarity and cross-border alliances in building a renewed labor movement.”

Democracy In Black: How Race Still Enslaves The America Soul by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

“Part manifesto, part history, part memoir, Democracy in Black argues that we live in a country founded on a “value gap” — with white lives valued more than others — that still distorts our politics today. Whether discussing why all Americans have racial habits that reinforce inequality, why black politics based on the civil-rights era have reached a dead end, or why only remaking democracy from the ground up can bring real change, Glaude crystallizes the untenable position of black America — and offers thoughts on a better way forward.”

America The Possible: Manifesto For A New Economy by James Gustave Speth

America The Possible identifies a dozen features of the American political economy — the country’s basic operating system — where transformative change is essential. It spells out the specific changes that are needed to move toward a new political economy — one in which the true priority is to sustain people and planet. Supported by a compelling “theory of change” that explains how system change can come to America, the book also presents a vision of political, social, and economic life in a renewed America.”

Rebooting America: Ideas For Redesigning American Democracy for the Internet Age by Fine, Sifry, Rasiej, and Levy

“When the Framers met in Philadelphia in 1787, they bravely conjured a new form of self-government. But they couldn t have imagined a mass society with instantaneous, many-to-many communications or many of the other innovations of modernity. So, replacing that quill pen with a mouse, imagine that you have to power to redesign American democracy for the Internet Age. What would you do? This anthology offers forty-four essays, some large and sweeping, others more specific, that respond to this challenge. They are infused with the hopes of reenergizing, reorganizing, and reorienting our government for the Internet Age.”

Healing The Heart of Democracy: The Courage To Create A Politics Worthy Of The Human Spirit by Parker J. Palmer

In the same compelling, inspiring prose that has made him a bestselling author, Palmer explores five “habits of the heart” that can help us restore democracy’s foundations as we nurture them in ourselves and each other: (1) An understanding that we are all in this together. (2) An appreciation of the value of “otherness.” (3) An ability to hold tensions in life-giving ways. (4) A sense of personal voice and agency. (5) A capacity to create community. Healing the Heart of Democracy is an eloquent and empowering call for “We the People” to reclaim ourdemocracy.”

Democracy Matters: Winning The Fight Against Imperialism by Cornel West

“There is a deep democratic tradition in America of impassioned commitment to the fight against imperialist corruptions — the last great expression of which was the civil rights movement led by Dr. King — and Cornel West brings forth the powerful voices of that great democratizing tradition in a brilliant and deeply moving call for the revival of our better democratic nature. His impassioned and provocative argument for the revitalization of America’s democracy will reshape the terms of the raging national debate about America’s role in today’s troubled world.”

Hope In The Darkness: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit

“With Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and a wide reading of environmental, cultural, and political history, Solnit argues that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable, and that pessimism and despair rest on an unwarranted confidence about what is going to happen next. Solnit’s influential book shines a light into the darkness of our time.”

Joshua Gorman is a writer, speaker, community builder, and changemaker based in Oakland, California. Learn more here.

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