ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



July 2017



Becoming a Citizen Activist by Nick Licata

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who have literally never thought about how to be an activist. As in, have never heard of petitions, don’t know about public forums, have never seen a protest.

In a nutshell: Former Seattle City Council member Nick Licata shares his tips for making change in the world, as illustrated by many, many, many Seattle-based anecdotes.

Line that sticks with me: N/A

Why I chose it: Mr. Licata is a local politician and this book looked like it could be interesting.

Review: This review could go two ways: brutal but fair, or kind but fair. I’ll go with the latter, because, for the most part, this book is the vanilla of ice creams. Not vanilla bean, not French vanilla, not ‘premium’ vanilla; just plain vanilla. Which can serve as a fine base for a more flavorful sundae or as a great side to a delicious piece of cake or pie, but on its own, doesn’t do a whole lot.

The book is well organized, building upon different component of activism and discussing how they are interrelated. This is a strength of the book, because Mr. Licata seems to recognize that there is space for many different types of activism, although he clearly prefers the much less radical, much more incremental version. And in that respect I think he and Justice Ginsberg are similar — they both want change, but seem to think the best way is slowly, over time. I know a lot of folks who might disagree with that sentiment.

At the same time, this book came out just last year (2016) but already feels a bit dated. I don’t think Black Lives Matter is mentioned more than in passing which, considering how much activism sprung up related to that, is an odd omission. The sections that talk about social media seem more like they were written in 2010; while Mr. Licata recognizes that Facebook and especially Twitter are helpful, he seems to not realize how useful they can be in individuals getting connected to each other (as opposed to politicians connecting with individuals).

I live in Seattle, and have for seven years this go round (ten if you count my college days), and even I found the anecdotes provided to be too Seattle focused. I don’t think Seattle is necessarily the best example to hold up to other cities to say “this is how you get shit done.” But even if it is, there have to be more examples from other cities and smaller towns. I think that Mr. Licata wasn’t super interested in doing research, and perhaps was more interested in writing a memoir. Instead of a really strong activism how-to, or a really interesting autobiography, we ended up with a lesser quality version of the two.

With all of that said, however, I can see value in this book, if it were paired with, say, a more radical discussion of types of activism. Maybe in a politics 101 course at a university, or in a civics class offered to seniors in high school. It’s not bad, and I certainly learned some tips that I think will be useful in my life as an activist, it’s just more basic than I was hoping it would be.

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