It’s ambitious to try and turn the messy, irreverent accumulation of activists and organizers into a useful reference book, but I think Andrew Boyd has successfully assembled a “toolbox for revolution” which is, well, actually pretty useful.
Divided into Tactics, Principles, Theories, Case Studies and Practitioners, Beautiful Trouble ties community-organizing language about strategies and tactics to historical and contemporary examples. The Principles and Theories sections provide a conceptual framework. Readers who want more intellectual challenge may find the latter section sparse, but I suspect any more specificity would be divisive (along the lines of incendiary Facebook debates), rather than helpful.
Striking that balance is what makes Beautiful Trouble effective at pointing readers toward—at least more radical action, without demanding insurrection. This approach almost inevitably results in some watered-down language, but Beautiful Trouble does a good job avoiding that. Every article includes a sidebar with practitioners, epigraphs and further insights that refer to longer, more in-depth texts on the same subject. Or just new things to Google.
Beautiful Trouble claims solidarity, I think, with both mainstream-ish organizers and radicals/extremists, but is definitely directed towards the former readership. If the latter group had assembled this book, it wouldn’t be so readable or pragmatic. If the former had, it would be less cool. Thus the book’s wide range of liberal-to-radical content is impressive: from basics like Creative Petition Delivery and Blockade to creative actions like Public Filibuster and Electoral Guerrilla Theater, the collection pushes traditional notions of activism without awkwardly bumping up against “diversity of tactics.” A typical liberal may recognize contributor names on the cover like the Yes Men and Billionaires for Bush, but the guts of the book also nod to IWW, Earth First! and Otpor.
The real strength of Beautiful Trouble is its fastidious cross-referencing and organization—it’s as though a branch of inter-linked Wikipedia articles was cleaned up and printed. Even for someone flailing around in the world of guerrilla tactics and dancing on the line between art and direct action (i.e. me), the neatly interconnected content was both useful and grounding.
I have to admit that in one sense, the book’s overall cohesion—radical, nonviolent, creative, practical—doesn’t always jive with me. Feels restrained, maybe. In other words, I didn’t finish reading with an adrenaline rush, like I do with a punk zine or queer cultural theorists. But in a wider context where this book is probably just picked up by a stranger, left on the shelf at libraries or shared in coffeeshops, it’s probably more important that Beautiful Trouble draws people in instead of piss them off; that it includes relevant materials instead of a tightly directed experience.
Hands down, the best part of the book is the fact that its creation was deeply intertwined with—even interrupted by—Occupy Wall Street last summer. For all the contributors, action took priority over deadlines. After police dismantled Occupy, at least the book that resulted is a damn good gateway drug for disillusioned liberals.
P.S. Much of the content in the book is available for free online—because why would you keep liberated knowledge locked up?
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