Review of Stand Up! by Gordon Whitman


Unlock Democracy's Campaigns Officer, Sam, is always keen to keep on top on the latest innovations in campaigning. So after reading a new book called Stand Up! he wanted to share its insights with you.

Gordon Whitman is an experienced organiser within faith communities in the US. As well as reflecting on his own powerful experiences and practical lessons learned the hard way, this serves as a great literature review of social movement researchers. From Alinsky, the famous author of Rules for radicals which influenced Barack Obama, to Marshal Ganz, perhaps the most celebrated community organiser alive. This is a whistle stop tour of campaigning wisdom crammed into a short volume.

But what really struck me about the book is how human it is, how it encourages us to use our emotions to propel our campaigning, and draws many lessons from faith that are universally applicable (and I say that as an atheist). Other guides on how to organise communities or build social movements too often focus on the utilitarian, or how to get the right emotional reaction from your audience. But Whitman asks us to have 5 conversations for social change– the first starting with ourselves.

The second ‘conversation’ is with other people – using stories to build strong relationships. Whitman tells us that learning how to tell our own ‘story of self’, what brought us into campaigning is as important as making space to ask people about their journey. He also stresses the importance channeling emotionally powerful memories to effectively tell these stories in the present.

The third conversation is about finding a ‘home team’ to campaign for change. Whitman argues that building tight knit small local groups is the most effective way to campaign for change. How else can you deal with the stresses of a difficult stage of a campaign, than by the nurturing friendships of other people in your team?

The fourth conversation is with the rest of society – and the need to be consistently ‘knocking on other people’s doors’, inviting them in to campaigning for change. Whitman stresses too that building a movement is as much about building relationships with already organised communities, like churches or neighbourhood groups, not just finding new individuals to get involved.

The final conversation is with ‘power’ itself. Whitman talks about when people sit around the table with politicians or powerful people for the first time, fear recedes and their commitment to keeping on going grows, as they can put a face to the people holding the cards.

Speaking from the heart, this book probes the deepest roots of why working to change the world is important to us, and letting that meaning drive your life. That way, when hope is in short supply, you can carry on, because you haven’t got any doubt that you’re living your life the right way by doing the campaigning work you do.

Whether you’re new to campaigning and want to know how to get started, or a veteran unsure how to dedicate your time in the current unpredictable political world, this book is a must read.