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Posted October 29, 2009
Stoking the Fire of Democracy is the first major new book in a community organizing line recently established under ACTA publications. "I believe that this book has the potential to find its way onto the readings lists of colleges, universities, religious institutions and community organizations around the world," says publisher Gregory Pierce, himself a lifelong community organizer. Pierce describes the work as a starting point for young people who want to develop community organizing skills "to help make the world a better place."
Author Stephen Smith, 29, is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a master's degree from the London School of Economics. He is founder of PACT, a Chicago-based grassroots organization of young adults affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation. In Stoking the Fire he describes his experiences in community organizing and the lessons he has learned.
Chapters are short and to the point with subheads and pull quotes to bring the reader along. Topics include why we fight; what we want and how we get it; and the connection between action and learning. After answering the basic questions, Smith writes, "Our work as could-be radicals is well underway." The courage to act and wisdom to evaluate come next. Courage, he tells us, overcomes fear of failure, of offending, of consequences. A good action does not ignore fear or wait until fear is overcome, but addresses fear head on. Smith advises could-be radicals to ask for permission when that is possible, but otherwise "do it anyway and prepare to accept the consequences." He also suggests we take a second look at the common belief that passing judgment is to be avoided.
Judgment, like power, is good if we make good use of it," writes Smith. He points to the Catholic Action organization's formula: observe, judge, act. In observing, we allow ourselves to be affected by the world. Judging helps us prepare for action. And action, in Smith's terms, is "our attempt to move one step closer to the world as it should be."