Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community

"If you want to make a difference, you're not alone — and you can't do it alone. Individuals make a big difference when they act together strategically, peacefully, and in large numbers."

So write Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos in their book, Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community. Based on their experiences as community organizers and co-founders of , a community-based social justice organization that works to build the power of low-income people, particularly women, in New York City, Minieri and Getsos systematically lay out a process for engaging ordinary people in "active community institutions where they discuss politics and ideas as they work for a better neighborhood, city, state, nation, and beyond."

Their book — more of a handbook, really — is divided into four parts, with each part comprised of multiple chapters. Part One, "Building Community Power," explores the concept of power and how members of disenfranchised and neglected communities can achieve change through collective power. Part Two, "Building a Base for Power," examines the different types of power that exist and why understanding power and developing leaders to engage in collective action is vital to community action. Part Three, "Developing and Running Campaigns," focuses on the nuts and bolts of an action campaign, from developing a strategy to implementing and evaluating the campaign. And Part Four, "Building a Movement," encourages successful activists to look beyond the interests of their respective communities and engage in coalition- and movement-building with the goal of achieving longer-term social change.

Each chapter identifies challenges community-based organizers are likely to face and offers ways to address them, and ends with a summary of the essential points, along with a variety of tools and exercises designed to help you move your own initiatives forward.

Of course, community-based groups, like all organizations, need money and financial support in order to accomplish their goals. As a result, many such organizations opt to incorporate as tax-exempt nonprofits so that they can pursue foundation and corporate support. But is that wise? According to Promising Practices in Revenue Generation for Community Organizing, a 2005 report from the , there's growing debate in the social justice field about "whether institutional status for nonprofits has killed social change by making it part of the mainstream infrastructure."

While acknowledging that debate and noting the potential for mission creep in the context of partnering with other organizations to obtain outside funding, Minieri and Getsos outline the pros and cons of "institutionalizing" your grassroots work and provide more information and a checklist to that end in the book's appendices.

In fact, as one would expect from a volume with the word Tools in the title, the book is chock-full of checklists, handouts, worksheets, and training exercises, making it a much shorter read than its 372 pages would suggest — as well as an indispensable how-to guide for social justice activists, community-based organizers, and others advocating for broad social change. It also includes fifty additional pages of appendices covering everything from "organizing lingo," to electoral organizing, to training tips.

In short, if you're looking for a practical how-to guide to building community power without a lot of excursions into the ins and outs of fundraising, Tools for Radical Democracy is just the ticket. It not only will guide you through the process, it will also help you avoid a lot of obstacles along the way.