My Fellow Citizens,
Do you have a book you recommend over and over again? Whatever the question is, you know one thing for sure. The person asking it needs to read this one book.
These recommendations make it possible to think together. Talking to someone after they read a book you suggested can bring familiar ideas back to life and create space for new ideas too.
I recently read a book that President Eisenhower made a bestseller. He wanted to talk about the insight he found through Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.”
Reading True Believer, I recalled our discussion of the 14th Amendment and the Initiative for the New Constitution. We shared a belief that the change we need today will have to come from the grassroots. Will Harris, from the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, agreed but added that too many of these groups lack imagination.
We talked a bit about what we need from these groups, and this is where Hoffer can help.
What makes the difference between a protest over a grievance and a mass movement? Something Eric Hoffer calls “extravagant hope.”
What makes the difference between a policy-driven, competent candidate and the next big thing? Extravagant hope.
What makes it possible for a group to persist through a policy cycle or from one win to the next battle and the battle after that? Extravagant hope.
Hoffer observes that many groups suffer through discontent without acting. Many groups find power through a strength in numbers or a combination of circumstances. They still don’t act. For a mass movement to proceed, to move forward and gather strength, it needs a grievance, power, and extravagant hope:
“What seems to count more than possession of instruments of power is faith in the future. Where power is not joined with faith in the future, it is used mainly to ward off the new and preserve the status quo. On the other hand, extravagant hope, even when not backed by actual power, is likely to generate a most reckless daring.”
Faith in the future serves to make the case and do the work.
More recently, DeRay McKesson, an activist who took to the streets in Ferguson, Missouri wrote: Hope is the belief that our tomorrows can be better than our todays. Hope is not magic; hope is work.”
Building a movement requires extravagant work. Hope is a call to action. Are you worried about the strength of bad ideas and the crowds collecting around them? We have to do more than hope they go away.
Eisenhower knew it and his recommended book reminds us that we know it too. I wonder what other titles he recommended. 🤔
Let's keep thinking together,