GATHERING POWER: The Future of Progressive Politics in America

Paul Osterman, Author . Beacon $28.50 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4338-7

Osterman, an MIT professor of management and urban studies, offers a template to reenergize the American progressive movement. He believes that progressive politics is the best antidote to the top-down decision making of party politics, which he views as a danger to democracy and responsible for the well-documented alienation of voters. His progressive politics poster child is the Industrial Areas Foundation, or IAF, a network of community organizations whose mundane name belies the local political power it has built through grassroots campaigns. Readers familiar with Saul Alinsky, whose seminal work in the 1930s defined community organizing, will find the IAF's methods familiar but modernized. In particular, the IAF actively courts women and places an emphasis on involving religious institutions. Osterman makes a strong case that grassroots organizing can create real political power and improve the lives of many. In McAllen, Tex., for example, Valley Interfaith, an IAF member, successfully backed a change in the city charter that directs political power to neighborhoods. Those sympathetic to the progressive movement's goals will be heartened by this mix of stories of ordinary citizens transforming themselves into effective community advocates and case studies of grassroots successes, but Osterman may not convince more skeptical—some would argue more pragmatic—readers that the progressive movement can be adapted to national politics, gather power and reach its goal of "rebuilding civil society." (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/28/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!