The Civil Disobedience Handbook: A Brief History and Practical Advice for the Politically Disenchanted

The fine art of raising a ruckus

Edited by James Tracy

Manic D Press (2002), $10

In pithy, no-nonsense language, Tracy covers the history of civil disobedience and direct action in America, from the raging capitalists who threw the Boston Tea Party to Henry David Thoreau's refusal to pay taxes to the demonstrations in Seattle that blew apart the World Trade Organization summit in 1999. He combines historical documents with his own essays, drawing from his considerable political-organizing experience in San Francisco -- with the Coalition on Homelessness and Mission Agenda -- to deliver sound advice to those who would make ruckus, not war.

"Never let political disagreements get personal" is one of Tracy's reasonable rules. "Never touch a cop" is another. Avoiding rhetoric, Tracy delivers a series of clear lessons in the art of demonstrating, such as the necessities of carrying valid ID, avoiding arrest if your children will go hungry while you rot in jail, and, most important, currying favor with the press: "[S]eize the media, who often hate to give activists media airtime. ... Craft sound bites that communicate the message and enhance the image."

As an activist, Tracy has noticed that "[m]ost movements do not make noticeable headway until they start costing someone money." But, bless him, Tracy's in it for the long haul. His book closes with an emotionally moving poem by local bard Dani Montgomery. "Poem for an Activist Who Doubts Herself" bemoans the low level of forward-looking political consciousness in America. Nevertheless, there is hope, says the poet, for the future:

We'll be the light on our granddaughters' faces
when they pierce the sky with victory.

In the meantime, there appears to be a lot of work to do.

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