- Paperback: 294 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226674495
- ISBN-13: 978-0226674490
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,358,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements 1st Edition
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Polletta traces the history of democracy in early labor struggles and pre-World War II pacifism, in the civil rights, new left, and women's liberation movements of the sixties and seventies, and in today's faith-based organizing and anti-corporate globalization campaigns. In the process, she uncovers neglected sources of democratic inspiration—Depression-era labor educators and Mississippi voting registration workers, among them—as well as practical strategies of social protest. But Freedom Is an Endless Meeting also highlights the obstacles that arise when activists model their democracies after familiar nonpolitical relationships such as friendship, tutelage, and religious fellowship. Doing so has brought into their deliberations the trust, respect, and caring typical of those relationships. But it has also fostered values that run counter to democracy, such as exclusivity and an aversion to rules, and these have been the fault lines around which participatory democracies have often splintered. Indeed, Polletta attributes the fragility of the form less to its basic inefficiency or inequity than to the gaps between activists' democratic commitments and the cultural models on which they have depended to enact those commitments. The challenge, she concludes, is to forge new kinds of democratic relationships, ones that balance trust with accountability, respect with openness to disagreement, and caring with inclusiveness.
For anyone concerned about the prospects for democracy in America, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting will offer abundant historical, theoretical, and practical insights.
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By reading this book, we get to see what has worked and what has failed. Polletta makes two main contributions in this book. First, she rebutts those who argue that participatory democracy is a nice ideal, but impractical--that top-down leadership is a more efficient form of organization. On the contrary, says Polletta, participatory democracy promotes 1) solidarity in groups, because everyone feels included in the decision-making process and thus more committed to any plan of action; 2) innovation, as more people take part in the back and forth as new ideas are developed; and 3) personal development, as active participation in decision-making lets more people develop new skills, including leadership skills.
The other major point Polletta makes is that it has been difficult for movement organizations to successfully implement participatory democracy because we have so few models of such interaction in mainstream society. Therefore, we often fall back on patterns of interaction we are familiar with--religious fellowship, friendship and the teacher-student relationship. In certain circumstances, these can work for a while, but historically they have always lead to trouble. We need to develop new models for relating to each other to make participatory democracy work. On the practical level, Polletta says that the contemporary community organizing and global justice movements have both developed good practices that seem to have solved many past historical problems--though in very different ways. (This is also not to say that they have solved all problems--new challenges certainly lie ahead.) On a more abstract level, Polletta points to the Latin-American ideal of the compañero/a, a relationship that is close, but based on the common bonds of political struggle, not modeled on friendship or kinship or some other familiar form.
All in all, this is an excellent, though-provoking, inspiring book.