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Our Democracy Takes Struggle: A Post-Election Reading List

Image credit: Pete Linforth

It was the breather from 2020 we were waiting for. The election is over, and the Biden/Harris ticket won, no matter how many petty lawsuits the defeated opponent files. But wreckage and repair work await us. As Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said in her acceptance speech, democracy “is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it. To guard it and never take it for granted. And protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it. And there is progress. Because we, the people, have the power to build a better future.” Yes, we do. And we will need to spend a lot of that power cleaning up after The Apprentice administration, too.

There is no time to coast on the results of the election. We must gear up for 2021, and for that, we put together this list of books to stoke our commitment to liberation and abolition. Referring to issues covered in the debates and Biden and Harris’s acceptance speeches, these books are a reminder of the struggle that lies ahead—which may even come from the new admin—and the tools we have to face it.


Race in America

How To Be Less Stupid About Race

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide
Crystal M. Fleming

“Dr. Fleming offers a straight-no-chaser critique of our collective complicit ignorance regarding the state of race in the United States . . . . This book will leave you thinking, offended, and transformed.”
—Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator


Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate

Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination
Alexandra Minna Stern

“In this carefully researched book, the historian Alexandra Minna Stern studies a wide array of online web sites, documenting a rise in claims to whiteness as a basis of identity, as a claim to victimhood and as an argument for a ‘white ethnostate.’ Drawing ideas from films (‘red-pilling’ comes from The Matrix) and from the left (the need for ‘safe spaces’), the Alt-Right, she argues, is trying to normalize a frightening shift from talk of civic nationalism to talk of race-based nationalism. This is very important work we should all know about.”
—Arlie Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, finalist for the National Book Award


White Fragility

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Robin DiAngelo

“With clarity and compassion, DiAngelo allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people.’ In doing so, she moves our national discussions forward with new ‘rules of engagement.’ This is a necessary book for all people invested in societal change through productive social and intimate relationships.”
—Claudia Rankine


Climate Change

As Long As Grass Grows

As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock
Dina Gilio-Whitaker

As Long as Grass Grows is a hallmark book of our time. By confronting climate change from an Indigenous perspective, not only does Gilio-Whitaker look at the history of Indigenous resistance to environmental colonization, but she points to a way forward beyond Western conceptions of environmental justice—toward decolonization as the only viable solution.”
—Nick Estes, assistant professor, University of New Mexico, and author of Our History Is the Future


Climate Courage

Climate Courage: How Tackling Climate Change Can Build Community, Transform the Economy, and Bridge the Political Divide in America
Andreas Karelas

“In the wake of the pandemic, nothing could help bring us out of this crisis in a more constructive way than working together to prevent the next one. Climate Courage offers a path towards getting back to something much better, and more united, than our old normal.”
—Bill McKibben, cofounder of and author of Falter


The Drowning of Money Island

The Drowning of Money Island: A Forgotten Community’s Fight Against the Rising Seas Forever Changing Coastal America
Andrew S. Lewis

“A must-read for anyone interested in how climate change is already deepening preexisting inequality. Meticulously and empathetically reported, The Drowning of Money Island invites readers to confront the difficult decisions that come with storm recovery in our era of higher tides and supercharged hurricanes. Stay or go, rebuild or retreat? The way we answer these questions will define who we become.”
—Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore


Radical Leadership

A Black Women's History of the United States

A Black Women’s History of the United States
Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

“Black women have always been at the front line of change, and A Black Women’s History of the United States shows us in no uncertain terms that our DNA will have us here sculpting and writing the next chapters. Tell your sisters, mothers, and daughters to get this book for someone they love, because we owe it to ourselves, our daughters, our sons, and our future, to know the history that isn’t being taught in our schools. And it starts with us.”
—Anika Noni Rose, actor, producer, and singer


Daring Democracy

Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want
Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen

“It is all too easy to fall into despair, but instead we can join the many others who are ‘daring democracy’ in many ways, as we learn from this instructive account of hopeful prospects.”
—Noam Chomsky


History Teaches Us to Resist

History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times
Mary Frances Berry

“With a historian’s field of vision and a veteran activist’s understanding of tactics and strategy, Berry excavates how resistance to some of the most powerful men in modern America shaped the freedom struggles that have benefited us all—and in so doing provides a crucial road map for the work that lies ahead.”
—Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw


Faith in Action

Dangerous Religious Ideas

Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Rachel S. Mikva

“In Rachel Mikva’s telling, the very things that make religion a force for good are also what makes it so dangerous. As both a scholar and a rabbi, Mikva is unblinking in her self-critical examination of these dangerous religious ideas, offering believers and nonbelievers alike a new way to think about the enduring the power of faith.”
—Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life of and Times of Jesus of Nazareth


Trust Women

Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice
Rebecca Todd Peters

“In Trust Women, Rebecca Todd Peters lays bare the real question underlying the abortion debate: whether or not women can be trusted to make their own decisions. She is compassionate and clear-eyed in constructing her faith-based case for abortion, and her voice cuts through the noise to affirm what we at Planned Parenthood have long believed: the best arbiter of a woman’s reproductive destiny is herself.”
—Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund


Remaking Society

Defund Fear

Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment
Zach Norris

“A powerful book that is very much in the tradition of Ella Baker’s radical humanitarianism. Rejecting fear-based, revenge-based models of ‘justice,’ Norris’s work pays homage to an entire generation of activists who are not only clear about what they are against but who are collectively creating a vision and a practice of what the future could look like. A must-read.”
—Barbara Ransby, author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement


Marching Toward Coverage

Marching Toward Coverage: How Women Can Lead the Fight for Universal Healthcare
Rosemarie Day

“Day offers a simpler remedy for fixing healthcare. If we want a healthcare system that’s more humane, more practical, and gets the important things right, turn to women. Read it and let’s get going.”
—Andy Slavitt, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services


The Third Reconstruction

The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

“William Barber is the closest person we have to Martin Luther King, Jr. in our midst. His life and witness is shot through with spiritual maturity, subversive memory, and personal integrity. This book lays bare his prophetic vision, historical analysis, and courageous praxis.”
—Cornel West, author of Black Prophetic Fire