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Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change

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A brilliant condemnation of political hobbyism—treating politics like entertainment—and a call to arms for well-meaning, well-informed citizens who consume political news, but do not take political action. Who is to blame for our broken politics? The uncomfortable answer to this question starts with ordinary citizens with good intentions. We vote (sometimes) and occasionall A brilliant condemnation of political hobbyism—treating politics like entertainment—and a call to arms for well-meaning, well-informed citizens who consume political news, but do not take political action. Who is to blame for our broken politics? The uncomfortable answer to this question starts with ordinary citizens with good intentions. We vote (sometimes) and occasionally sign a petition or attend a rally. But we mainly “engage” by consuming politics as if it’s a sport or a hobby. We soak in daily political gossip and eat up statistics about who’s up and who’s down. We tweet and post and share. We crave outrage. The hours we spend on politics are used mainly as pastime. Instead, we should be spending the same number of hours building political organizations, implementing a long-term vision for our city or town, and getting to know our neighbors, whose votes will be needed for solving hard problems. We could be accumulating power so that when there are opportunities to make a difference—to lobby, to advocate, to mobilize—we will be ready. But most of us who are spending time on politics today are focused inward, choosing roles and activities designed for our short-term pleasure. We are repelled by the slow-and-steady activities that characterize service to the common good. In Politics Is for Power, pioneering and brilliant data analyst Eitan Hersh shows us a way toward more effective political participation. Aided by political theory, history, cutting-edge social science, as well as remarkable stories of ordinary citizens who got off their couches and took political power seriously, this book shows us how to channel our energy away from political hobbyism and toward empowering our values.


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A brilliant condemnation of political hobbyism—treating politics like entertainment—and a call to arms for well-meaning, well-informed citizens who consume political news, but do not take political action. Who is to blame for our broken politics? The uncomfortable answer to this question starts with ordinary citizens with good intentions. We vote (sometimes) and occasionall A brilliant condemnation of political hobbyism—treating politics like entertainment—and a call to arms for well-meaning, well-informed citizens who consume political news, but do not take political action. Who is to blame for our broken politics? The uncomfortable answer to this question starts with ordinary citizens with good intentions. We vote (sometimes) and occasionally sign a petition or attend a rally. But we mainly “engage” by consuming politics as if it’s a sport or a hobby. We soak in daily political gossip and eat up statistics about who’s up and who’s down. We tweet and post and share. We crave outrage. The hours we spend on politics are used mainly as pastime. Instead, we should be spending the same number of hours building political organizations, implementing a long-term vision for our city or town, and getting to know our neighbors, whose votes will be needed for solving hard problems. We could be accumulating power so that when there are opportunities to make a difference—to lobby, to advocate, to mobilize—we will be ready. But most of us who are spending time on politics today are focused inward, choosing roles and activities designed for our short-term pleasure. We are repelled by the slow-and-steady activities that characterize service to the common good. In Politics Is for Power, pioneering and brilliant data analyst Eitan Hersh shows us a way toward more effective political participation. Aided by political theory, history, cutting-edge social science, as well as remarkable stories of ordinary citizens who got off their couches and took political power seriously, this book shows us how to channel our energy away from political hobbyism and toward empowering our values.

30 review for Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change

  1. 4 out of 5

    Melora

    I got the recommendation for this one from a politics podcast, and, if you spend a lot of time listening to politics podcasts, you are probably the target audience for this book. Because... you might be a hobbyist. Hersh explains the difference between the people who spend lots of time actually doing politics -- the people who work on campaigns, go door to door talking to voters, try to get people to register to vote and then actually to vote, and so on -- and those who listen to podcasts, post I got the recommendation for this one from a politics podcast, and, if you spend a lot of time listening to politics podcasts, you are probably the target audience for this book. Because... you might be a hobbyist. Hersh explains the difference between the people who spend lots of time actually doing politics -- the people who work on campaigns, go door to door talking to voters, try to get people to register to vote and then actually to vote, and so on -- and those who listen to podcasts, post memes and argue on Facebook, and tweet. The participants and the bystanders. He's sympathetic -- as he admits, he's until only recently been just a bystander himself. But with the passion of the newly converted he points to the need for and the rewards of actually stepping into the fray. He offers stories of ordinary people who have seen a need and taken actions -- little things that build to something more significant -- that result in their having, along with those they are working with, political power. Nothing here will be new or revolutionary to readers who are already active in politics. Hersh finds, to his dismay, that his local Democratic party has their ways of doing things and is not much interested in his ideas for how they could do them better. So he finds other ways to work on sharing his ideas for how to make things better. Some groups are open to new ideas, some, not so much. But what is clear is that getting out and talking to people -- asking questions about what they want, why they vote or don't vote, sharing experiences and paying attention to the experiences of others -- is more rewarding than stewing and arguing with strangers on the internet, and that, ultimately, it could lead to sympathetic understanding of the needs of others and improvements in the common good.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This is a very important book if not an obvious point. You have to play politics to win. And that doesn't mean playing dirty. It means organizing on the ground--at the school board, local party chapter, or anywhere where actual humans interact. I don't think there is anything new or revolutionary in here, but it does give a name to the new and annoying phenomenon of political hobbyism

  3. 4 out of 5

    Micah

    I inhaled this book in one sitting, literally, while waiting to renew my license at the DMV. Tufts political science professor Eitan Hersh precisely captures the difference between activism and organizing, though his term for the former is “political hobbyism.” Through four well-told stories of real organizers doing the vital work of building relationships and communities where people are bonded in common struggles aimed at achieving more power to serve their needs, Hersh lays down the gauntlet. I inhaled this book in one sitting, literally, while waiting to renew my license at the DMV. Tufts political science professor Eitan Hersh precisely captures the difference between activism and organizing, though his term for the former is “political hobbyism.” Through four well-told stories of real organizers doing the vital work of building relationships and communities where people are bonded in common struggles aimed at achieving more power to serve their needs, Hersh lays down the gauntlet. His survey finds that a massive number of Americans, one in five, claim to be politically active on a daily basis but that most of what they are actually doing is spectating and commenting, not real politics. Part of the blame goes to today’s party leaders at all levels who have largely abandoned organizing, choosing instead to rustle themselves into action mere weeks before every election. And part, Hersh persuasively argues, falls on ordinary voters who have grown lazy about civic involvement. The good news is that means there’s a lot of room for growth and fallow land to be filled anew. I see it in the thousands of people now meeting regularly all over the country determined to rebuild our democracy. Get this book, and if you aren’t already, get organizing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Justus

    Hersh's book starts out on fairly uncontroversial ground before sliding into substantially more controversial arguments and while much of it is vaguely common sense I think the more controversial bits open up some interesting avenues of consideration. First the uncontroversial parts: most people who follow the political news are "hobbyists". They don't ever actually do anything. They don't really vote more than other people. They don't help campaigns or politicians in any concrete way. They don't Hersh's book starts out on fairly uncontroversial ground before sliding into substantially more controversial arguments and while much of it is vaguely common sense I think the more controversial bits open up some interesting avenues of consideration. First the uncontroversial parts: most people who follow the political news are "hobbyists". They don't ever actually do anything. They don't really vote more than other people. They don't help campaigns or politicians in any concrete way. They don't protest or write letters or make any actual changes to their lives. They just read & post & talk about needing to "stay informed". They are overwhelmingly focused on national politics (where they have the least impact) and ignore state & local politics (where they have the most impact). Hersh (though hardly the first to do so) repeatedly draws similarities between this kind of political hobbyism and people who follow sports. Sports fan also generally focus solely on the biggest national teams, don't generally play the sport, and are primarily just passive consumers of spectacle. A third of Americans say they spend two hours or more each day on politics. Of these people, four out of five say that not one minute of that time is spent on any kind of real political work. It’s all TV news and podcasts and radio shows and social media and cheering and booing and complaining to friends and family. Hersh then makes a decent case that all this amounts to more than just wasted time: it brings out the worst in us and our politicians. It causes politicians to create more empty spectacle on a daily basis in order to satisfy the click & refresh demands of these passive consumers. Near the end of this, Hersh has a telling anecdote about the realities of political engagement. In 2018, when anti-Trump fervor was running high on college campuses across America, one local college Democrat group could only find seven volunteers willing to go to a nearby town to spend a few hours canvassing for local elections. The most common excuse people gave for why they couldn't volunteer. "They were too busy." A few months later, Pete Buttigieg had announced his Presidential campaign and the college Democrat group organized another event. This time the event featured Buttigieg and this time they couldn't find enough cars to meet demand for all the people who wanted to go. Students who were way too busy to canvass locally or canvass in New Hampshire would drop everything to drive to Manchester and post a picture with Pete Buttigieg on their Instagram. Along the way Hersh has various statistics showing the collapse of political engagement over the past decades. In the 2012 and 2016 elections, when the college-educated population was three times larger, the rate of those saying they worked for a campaign was a third as large as it had been in the 1960s. None of this is really news, though Hersh does a reasonable job of pulling it all together and offering theories without overstretching. A certain detachment from feelings of fear and insecurity is needed to experience politics as a leisure-time activity. [...] Being white and comfortable means already having enough power. Only if you don’t need more power than you already have could politics be for fun. Where this book stands out from the crowd is the "how to take action and make real change". Through out the book, Hersh's sympathies for deep canvassing and community services/constituent services are clear, so it isn't a surprise to see him double down on that. But what is surprising (and thought-provoking) is his argument in favor of a resurrection of old-school political machines (like the infamous Tammany Hall). Through the stories in this book, I have tried to show both that politics is a form of service we do for our communities and that political power is earned through service to the community. Hersh's argument is that political parties in modern America both very weak (what do they actually have to offer anyone other a fleeting touch with a "celebrity" lawmaker?) and extremely centralized (they don't want strong local organizing). politics in the United States is defined by the strange combination of strong partisanship but weak party organizations. I'm not sure I really buy Hersh's arguments that strong local political machines are the answer. But I do see the sense in his argument that local organizing doesn't really have the carrots or sticks that would make most people spend their time on it. Strong parties need to incentivize people through jobs and economic benefits “to perform such tasks as organizing precincts, registering new voters, and providing constituent services.” Ultimately he's calling for a return to group politics, to transactional politics. He's not actually (I don't think) advocating a return to the old super corruption of Tammany Hall. "Get 80% of your precinct to vote and I'll give you cousin the city garbage contract." But at the end of the day he is arguing in favor of something that is strongly against the current hyper-individualistic, hyper-rationalist view of politics. Which I found thought provoking. The question is whether the verbalist elite, who from the Progressive Era to the Twitterati have looked down on transactional politics, are finally interested in getting in the trenches to amass durable political power.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a spot-on description of how people, particularly white educated liberals, tend to engage in politics, and how it doesn’t really result in achieving their professed political agenda. The suggestions for change are concrete, personal, and motivating, if limited in scope, experience and self-awareness to some extent. (I would have liked to see the author reflect a little more on his existing privileges, access and power, and how they enable him to get more.) But, regardless of the above, it This is a spot-on description of how people, particularly white educated liberals, tend to engage in politics, and how it doesn’t really result in achieving their professed political agenda. The suggestions for change are concrete, personal, and motivating, if limited in scope, experience and self-awareness to some extent. (I would have liked to see the author reflect a little more on his existing privileges, access and power, and how they enable him to get more.) But, regardless of the above, it usually makes the world better when people get out of the political consumerism mindset and develop real relationships with their neighbors. To the extent that this book inspires and guides the reader in that sort of behavior, it’s a force for good.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lada

    The historical background and analysis of present state are riveting. The suggestions for turning party associations to volunteer or community organizations seems far fetched.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris Rhodenbaugh

    One of the best political books I've read and a text I will be referencing for many years to come. The Trump Administration has pushed my optimism to the brink and this book just gave me a guide to rediscovering it. Thank you to the author and all those writing their own stories in their communities!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    This book brought a mirror up to me and forced me to acknowledge that I am the person this book is written for and about. Sure, I’ve canvassed plenty of times and I’ve dabbled in some campaigns in-person and I took some solace knowing that I’m not the worst of the worst on the political hobbyism spectrum. I’m not a Twitter troll looking to pick fights and insult members of the other team online. I don’t wear my politics like a giant middle finger t-shirt in public. I realized a while ago that no This book brought a mirror up to me and forced me to acknowledge that I am the person this book is written for and about. Sure, I’ve canvassed plenty of times and I’ve dabbled in some campaigns in-person and I took some solace knowing that I’m not the worst of the worst on the political hobbyism spectrum. I’m not a Twitter troll looking to pick fights and insult members of the other team online. I don’t wear my politics like a giant middle finger t-shirt in public. I realized a while ago that no one is persuaded by yelling, belittling, or condescending. It’s one thing to know that, however, and another to act upon it. When I was reading, I realized I didn’t even know the name of my city councilmember. Maybe I could be forgiven for this since we haven’t lived in this district long but, if I hadn’t been prompted by this book, who knows when I would have Googled to discover my representative in City Hall. One of the elements of political hobbyism is an obsession with the national scene because it’s bigger, sexier and higher stakes. It’s often mentioned in this book that political hobbyists view politics as sport or entertainment. If this is the case, it makes sense that we/they wouldn’t pay attention to the local school board races and statehouse races with the same intensity and passion as, perhaps, a nationalized senate race in a purple state and certainly not as much as a presidential campaign. Hersch, a political scientist and academic, argues that us political hobbyists spend far too little time understanding politics around us locally and building power through the grassroots to make change locally. Relentless tweeting, slacktivism petitions and compulsive indulgence of cable news are all “shallow” hobbyist activities and they all feed into maintaining broken and polarized national politics. They reward the most audacious and entertaining politicians and punish compromising moderates. They shift the idea of good governance from incrementalism to winner-take-all entertainment and tribalism. And they’re fundamentally shallow activities. Hersch writes, “That no one is relying on you is a great sign that the activity you are doing is a shallow hobby.” In many instances, hobbyism is for vanity. It’s a way of showing one’s sophistication and access to power to peers. “Education may have conferred on the country a growing sophistication in talking about elections or consuming news about elections or proclaiming interest in elections, but not in attending a meeting of a political organization or working on its behalf.” The author cited several experiments that suggest people are much more willing to have a superficial moment with a candidate than contributing time or money to the campaign or cause they support. Their political engagement is for image. Often though, hobbyism is due to a lack of skin in the game. It’s due to privilege. “The only political entities that haven’t figured out the relationship between community service and political power are those that are comfortable enough with the status quo that they don’t act as if they need more power than they already have.” This hits hard. Think about it. When you don’t feel personally threatened by those in power, there’s typically little motivation for people to put in the hard work to gain power and influence. If you truly care about something, your actions are far more powerful in-person and in your community than from the comfort of your lounge chair.

  9. 4 out of 5

    KP

    Overall, I think this book is excellent for kicking folks (like me!) in the trousers and telling them to get off their ass and actually DO politics rather than just TALK about politics. I've been slowly piecing together the ways I want to get involved in politics at a local level, and this book cemented some particular ways I wanted to go about it. There are weaknesses in this book, of course; I think he skirts way too much over race and class analysis when it comes to what he calls "political h Overall, I think this book is excellent for kicking folks (like me!) in the trousers and telling them to get off their ass and actually DO politics rather than just TALK about politics. I've been slowly piecing together the ways I want to get involved in politics at a local level, and this book cemented some particular ways I wanted to go about it. There are weaknesses in this book, of course; I think he skirts way too much over race and class analysis when it comes to what he calls "political hobbyism" (which is such a great term), and I had been hoping for more on how to work with ones very real righteous anger - something I struggle with - and in transforming it into action. Instead he left that section off with "you should transform it into action", which, well, yeah, but HOW? I will say, the subtitle of this book was TAD misleading: there was less about taking action than I would have liked. But there were many, many excellent sections, and some really good work in there, and I appreciate this book a lot. I read a copy from a library, but I may end up having to purchase a copy so I can reference it when need be. I am currently trying to find a good book on active citizenship and civics for my university's common book program, and while I don't quite know if this is it, I will also be putting it on the reading list for more people to look at. I think it focuses too much on Democrats to be a viable book at my university, but I still think the ideas are good.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bill West

    5 stars for cluing me into some ways I'm being a total idiot/phony with respect to civic engagement.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sean McQuay

    1. Whoops, I'm part of the problem. 2. Wow, fixing this (the political mess) means working in my local community. That sounds hard. 3. TBD but I'm researching my options

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marc Campasano

    Good analysis of who is a “political hobbyist” and why. Beyond that, mostly just a traditional call to get involved.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mcguire

    Really loved this one, in part because it seemed like a direct challenge to me. I (like many of us) spend too much time following the news and politics, and not enough time actually making a difference and building community. Full of good ideas, interesting research, and compelling calls to action.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    This is a 'just okay' call to action. I am very aware of the rising tendency to treat politics as a hobby without really being engaged. Hersh makes the point well thru sharing a series of stories and experiences he has had as both hobbyist and activist. I felt like it was a bit overdrawn. A good essay perhaps - a good hour interview (first heard this on NPR). Not quite enough to fill a book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I wish Eitan Hersh had been one of my professors when I was getting a political science degree and becoming a nascent political hobbyist. His writing is clear, engaging and very well-organized. I have to assume his lectures are similarly effective. He even offers a summary in conclusion to most of his chapters. In fact, if you just want a summary of the book, read the last page of each chapter. But you would miss a lot more well-researched information, inspiring anecdotes and generally entertain I wish Eitan Hersh had been one of my professors when I was getting a political science degree and becoming a nascent political hobbyist. His writing is clear, engaging and very well-organized. I have to assume his lectures are similarly effective. He even offers a summary in conclusion to most of his chapters. In fact, if you just want a summary of the book, read the last page of each chapter. But you would miss a lot more well-researched information, inspiring anecdotes and generally entertaining writing. In fact, I could learn a thing or two from him about writing and organizing my thoughts. I haven't actually outlined or thought out this review. I'm just rambling off the cuff. I have to acknowledge that this book is naturally self-contradictory. He defines political hobbyists as people who spend their leisure time reading and pontificating on politics. I was constantly aware while reading that I am a liberal political hobbyist spending my leisure time reading a book by a liberal political hobbyist about the dangers of wasting your leisure time being a liberal political hobbyist. At some point, he even acknowledged the strangely "meta" nature of his pursuit. However, his book was an eye-opening call to action, and certainly worth a few hours of your leisure time. The first section defines political hobbyists in more details as people who obsessively follow political news, share and comment on social media, and very conspicuously vote in national elections, but are less involved in local politics. They even donate to political causes and campaigns, but more for self-gratification and literally for selfies than for actual concrete change. Page 82-83 of the hardcover edition nicely summarize his definition. The most important chapters in the first section are instead about people doing the hard work of organizing volunteers, deep canvassing (meaning engaging with voters in a real discussion about their issues and concerns, rather than parroting a script to get out the vote for a specific candidate) or reaching across the aisle and changing people's minds. The second section explains the dangers of political hobbyists: our time would be better spent actually accruing power and making real change and we increase polarization. Moreover, mainstream parties don't want to cede power and messaging to potentially rouge deep canvassers, so they don't encourage grassroots local involvement. His explanation is very lucid about the practices and hazards of political hobbyists. He is an admitted political hobbyist, so his criticism is easier to swallow. As someone who obsessively follows political news and loves to talk politics (mostly with like-minded liberals, of course), I also canvass pretty hard every election season, but he helped encourage me to take it a step further and "deep canvass," which I hope and think I can do with my local Democratic party organization. Some reviews have complained that he doesn't offer enough concrete solutions, or ways to actually "take action and make real change," as the subtitle suggests. This is true, but he also explains and clearly realizes that such actions will look very different for different people in different states. I also have an additional recommendation for anyone who wants to move beyond a political hobby and make a difference in their communities: Join your local Parent Leadership Training Institute (also known in some states as the Family Leadership Training Institute). I went through their 16-week training program last year. I met some wonderful activists in my community and really learned how to affect change at the local level. With their training and Hersh's inspiration, I hope to move beyond being a political hobbyist this year.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sudharshan Viswanathan

    Civics lessons in India are mostly along the lines of constitution rights, duties, division of power. Government is setup as an entity of the people, for the people and by the people but that's pretty much the end of it. This book provides a new dimension to what politics is - in many ways combining previous knowledge of how organizers like Gandhi and King absorbed people into their fold and exercises the community to wield power for the collective betterment. This book taps into the same spirit Civics lessons in India are mostly along the lines of constitution rights, duties, division of power. Government is setup as an entity of the people, for the people and by the people but that's pretty much the end of it. This book provides a new dimension to what politics is - in many ways combining previous knowledge of how organizers like Gandhi and King absorbed people into their fold and exercises the community to wield power for the collective betterment. This book taps into the same spirit but challenges the reader to move beyond engaging passively with politics by consuming news, and participating in Twitter threads and instead trying to finding out what are ways in which one can participate, engage and affect very tangible outcomes in their own local community. https://www.npr.org/2020/02/20/807758... for someone to get a brief idea about what the book is about. Notes: - Current political involvement more similar to how people support sport teams. Partisanship explained. - Deep canvassing - benefits to listening, vote rates improvement in local elections though examples looked left leaning. - Ability to influence local policies and organize as ways of capturing power. - Low voter turnout among educated people. - Democrats are general donors, republicans are policy donors. - Self gratification driven ideological puritans gaining donations instead of balanced opinions. - Chuck Schumer bowing to pressure, dems miscalculation by indulging emotionally instead of strategy. - I wish the book was more quantitative since the author is a political scientist. More examples of how power should change with electorate size (county/state/national) and develop the subject ab-initio instead of jumping straight to the topics. - Arab spring failure - requirement of a hierarchy to successfully organize a revolution and transition to exercise power in a peaceful way. - Early 20th centry - parties machinery worked on a quid pro quo basis. Jobs and benefits for being politically engaged. Chicago dem party bosses having a machinery which worked to exercise power in a systematic way but still being segregationist. Acquired power can be used in selfish ways to detriment of others. No solution to prevent that. Other examples include NRA, KKK which provide valuable community services in order to translate the community standing to power. - Changing to primary system from conventions removed power from local orgs and centralized in parties lead to lesser participation and more spending in ads and ideological puritanism. - Questions that I had: Politics as a means to an end? What is the government for? Where do you expect private companies to do work and exchange services for money, and where to ask government to step in? - Politics is community service. Community service is power. - Poor people not having enough time to engage in political means. - Author's story to engage in local politics. - Friend comment saying that local politics have a direct say in personal lives, eg transportation, housing, health care than national policy and hence more time to be spent in local politics instead of big ticket items.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jay Wilson

    Who this book is targeted at: white, educated, mostly affluent (and left-leaning) citizens, especially those who spend a lot of time "keeping up" with politics and little to no time "doing" politics. As the book says, if you're reading this, it's probably you. (It is, of course, myself as well, and frankly I've never felt more called out by any book in my entire life.) This book contains an incredibly vital message for this demographic. The message is this: if you're a member of the majority demog Who this book is targeted at: white, educated, mostly affluent (and left-leaning) citizens, especially those who spend a lot of time "keeping up" with politics and little to no time "doing" politics. As the book says, if you're reading this, it's probably you. (It is, of course, myself as well, and frankly I've never felt more called out by any book in my entire life.) This book contains an incredibly vital message for this demographic. The message is this: if you're a member of the majority demographic - keeping up with politics for over an hour a day but doing nothing about it - first, acknowledge the problem. Your consumption leads to no action, nor do your knowledge and hard-line views serve anyone but yourself. Second, is to do something with that information. Where? In your local community. Reach out to your neighbors and meet them where they are. Don't force ideals on them that only you think are best; listen, then address their issues. This approach doesn't require righteousness or outrage or anything the well-to-do liberal might expect doing politics might require. In fact, it requires the opposite: a listening ear, patience, and respect. It's an approach that, although less immediate and entertaining, has been proven to work, and is urgently needed in this era of outrage and short attention spans. The message in this book also speaks clearly and loudly to the times we live in. By these "times," I don't just mean the Trump presidency; it's bigger than that. I mean a time when social media (Twitter, esp) makes it easier than ever to be a "slacktivist" and feel accomplished; when local news media is dying at an alarming rate, leaving only media discussing national and global political topics that are far out of an individual's reach; a post-Progressive era (and post-1968) political environment that has left local parties and unions gutted and local politics in the hands of either the old and affluent or no one at all. These developments have left politics feeling out of reach to those keeping up, yet ever-present in our newsfeeds and social circles. Still, it does not need to be that way. This message is expressed not just through untested platitudes or self help-style sloganeering. It's told via by testimonials of activists and organizers who have Done The Thing™️, as well as the experiences of the author himself in his own community. It's explained with the context of the current environment and the history that led us to this moment, as well as data and research that backs the conclusions presented. It's a message that needs to be heard by the white liberal who feels that watching MSNBC makes him an Informed Citizen™️, the Marxist who refuses to budge on his ideas when speaking with local communities, and the everyday worker who feels that no one is speaking to their struggle. This book is timely, urgent, and important, as well as being surprisingly readable; I could have devoured this in a sitting or two if I really wanted to. Please read this book, and take its advice: if you want change, make change, and start right now.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Russell Fox

    This is a fine and informative book, which has an even better book within it, not so much struggling to get out as just accidentally revealing itself occasionally as Hersh works out his overall thesis from one chapter to the next. That thesis isn't always clear; Hersh doesn't organize his arguments as well as he should. Still, his two main points pretty easy to figure out. They are: 1) political hobbyism--the tendency to treat political argument, information-sharing, virtue-signaling and group-r This is a fine and informative book, which has an even better book within it, not so much struggling to get out as just accidentally revealing itself occasionally as Hersh works out his overall thesis from one chapter to the next. That thesis isn't always clear; Hersh doesn't organize his arguments as well as he should. Still, his two main points pretty easy to figure out. They are: 1) political hobbyism--the tendency to treat political argument, information-sharing, virtue-signaling and group-rallying primarily in terms of spectacle, something that gives its practitioners a genuine pleasure, even if it is the pleasure of hating on those you disagree with--is genuinely bad for democratic politics, because it both contributes to and legitimates all sorts of structural forces (campaign funding, candidate recruitment, primary polarization, etc.) which depress the ability of elections to actual deliver, through elected representatives, actual accountability to voters, and thus accelerates the decline of representative democracy itself; and 2) the political hobbyists who are the worst offenders, for a variety of economic, historical, and sociological reasons, are people exactly like the book's author: white, college-educated, liberal Democrats. Hersh's argument is not one of political ethics (check out Michael Austin's book for that), but rather a detailed, practical look at who it is, exactly, in need of that refresher in democratic ethics, and how those who need them both act and justify their actions. Hersh's profound frustration with these folks, his own political, racial, and economic class, is pretty obvious, and sometimes viciously snarky, and I think most informed readers will sympathize with him: when you see data that shows how voter turn-out goes up when Democrats are convinced they can be part of a nice progressive victory, but goes down when the options before them are more desperate and less guaranteed, it's hard not to feel little bit of (self-)contempt. But the book isn't all about venting frustration; on the contrary, the majority of the book is filled with positive stories, examples of individuals who have eschewed hobbyism and found ways to build real democratic power. Not all of these stories fit entirely well with the arguments being advanced in any particular chapter; as I noted, the whole book could probably have done with a slight re-organization. Ultimately, though, his overlapping claims and not-always-equally-well-sourced-research support an assertion that is, if not pleasing to the worse angels of our natures, at least intuitively truthful: that, aside from an apparently small number of ideological dead-enders, real political organizing, and thus real democratic power under our representative system, begins with taking with others and showing genuine empathy for their perspectives and needs. That is an assertion we all need to hear.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elise

    "Actions matter more than motivations, but thinking critically about our motivations helps us determine how much of our political activity is even meant to be a service to others and how much is meant to be a service to ourselves." p. 14 Quoting interviewee Lisa Mann: "It's time to be...very brave. Brave enough to speak with people we fear, to face the nuances of our bias, to recognize the frailty of humanity, and to forgive." p. 21 Dave Fleischer - deep canvassing p. 22 Strive to do one thing eac "Actions matter more than motivations, but thinking critically about our motivations helps us determine how much of our political activity is even meant to be a service to others and how much is meant to be a service to ourselves." p. 14 Quoting interviewee Lisa Mann: "It's time to be...very brave. Brave enough to speak with people we fear, to face the nuances of our bias, to recognize the frailty of humanity, and to forgive." p. 21 Dave Fleischer - deep canvassing p. 22 Strive to do one thing each day to make a difference p. 53 "...we could call politics a hobby if it's done for personal development and enjoyment rather than as a power-seeking activity done to multiply the people who vote or who take political action or who hold a certain set of policy views." p. 93 Deep hobbies: build relationships, earn trust, and cultivate skills (p. 101); long-term commitments to other people (p. 102); opportunities to act as a community and serve others (p. 103) Quoting Reverend Daniel in Dubuque, Iowa: "Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you're trying to listen to the sermon. Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It's where we get to practice all the things we preach." p. 103 "So the people seek alternative ways to plug into religion that are deliberately powerless; without a local leader, there is no power to harness for good but also no power to abuse. The spiritual-but-not-religious identifier and political hobbyist share a mentality that rejects the power of community and thereby avoids getting burned." p. 181 "The idea if linked fate may be the best explanation for why racial minorities, blacks especially, tend to be unified politically even though they exhibit internal diversity in wealth or religiosity or other traits that are predictive of political divisions among whites...Supporting the group, empowering the group, also helps empower oneself and one's family." p. 185 "Group empowerment is the connection between service and politics. In communities with real needs, where stakes are high, when fears are palpable, politics and service are not different things." p. 193 "The only political entities that haven't figured out the relationship between community service and political power are those that are comfortable enough with the status quo that they don't act as if they need more power than they already have...Finally, then, we have come to the culture of privilege as an explanation for why we treat politics more as a leisure activity than a path to power." p. 195 "Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged..." (excerpt from Isaiah 1:15-18)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I read this book quickly over two days. It was written with an audience of well-off, white liberals in mind. People like myself who spend a lot of time reading about politics and consider themselves to be politically engaged, but who are, in fact, not. The author, Eitan Hersh, is a professor of political science at Tufts University. He tells the stories of four people who have amassed real political power not through opining on social media, but through volunteering and engaging locally with the I read this book quickly over two days. It was written with an audience of well-off, white liberals in mind. People like myself who spend a lot of time reading about politics and consider themselves to be politically engaged, but who are, in fact, not. The author, Eitan Hersh, is a professor of political science at Tufts University. He tells the stories of four people who have amassed real political power not through opining on social media, but through volunteering and engaging locally with their communities. One of the stories is of Naakh Vysoky, a Jewish immigrant who came to the US in the 1980s when he was 64. By that point in his life, he'd survived persecution by the Nazis and the Soviets. Naakh lives in Brighton where he has organized other immigrants in his housing complex, helping them become citizens, obtain benefits, etc. As a result, in local, state, and federal elections, Naakh can sway about 1000 people to vote the way he recommends. I was already familiar with Naakh's story and his political power, because I'd edited stories about him in the Boston Phoenix, when he was referred to as a "ward boss." The point of Hersh's book is to show that real political power is the ability to win elections, and that people who political scientists consider to be "politically engaged" -- people like myself who read a lot of news and like to talk politics -- don't know the first thing about real political power and how to amass it. He makes the argument that all of the "pop up resistance" organizations that came about in the aftermath of Donald Trump's election are the result of a weak and hollowed Democratic Party that didn't have the capacity to engage with the millions of Americans who wanted to take political action -- many for the first time in their lives -- to bring about change in the 2018 elections. Hersh is kind to those he is skewering throughout the book. He also shares his own journey from online political warrior to local organizer. I started volunteering politically after the 2016 election. First by canvassing in Maine for the Democrat running for Congress against the long-time GOP Congressman. Then by canvassing in New Hampshire for Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign. These activities made me feel better, but left me with the sense that I wasn't really doing anything at all to make a difference. Hersh's book has given me a road map for local political organizing and volunteering going forward.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alex Herder

    I've always prided myself on being into policy and politics, and this book cut me to the core. Here's a quote: "Summing up the time we spend on politics, it would be hard to describe our behavior as seeking to influence our communities or country. Most of us are engaging to satisfy our own emotional needs and intellectual curiosities. That’s political hobbyism." It turns out that too many people on the left are hobbyists like myself: college-educated, well-meaning, white liberals who really think I've always prided myself on being into policy and politics, and this book cut me to the core. Here's a quote: "Summing up the time we spend on politics, it would be hard to describe our behavior as seeking to influence our communities or country. Most of us are engaging to satisfy our own emotional needs and intellectual curiosities. That’s political hobbyism." It turns out that too many people on the left are hobbyists like myself: college-educated, well-meaning, white liberals who really think a more social democratic system would be better. Only, *we* don't need it so we're not actually fighting for it. Instead, we read a ton and have good debates and conversations with friends and family. If this describes you (it does me) then we are the problem! Or at least, we are some of the problems. The reason hobbyism is bad as opposed to just neutral, is because hobbyists tend to vote. Not all of us do, but we're more regular voters than normal people and many of us even vote in primaries. Given how our party systems work, ideological hobbyist voters drive each parties to the left and right edges of our parties and reward politicians who create a more entertaining spectacle. This counts as much for Elizabeth Warren and her infinite plans (I must have read more than a dozen!) as it does for Trump and his dog whistling. Hersh's point throughout this book is that the purpose of politics is to gain power in the decision-making process. Hobbyism doesn't gain power, and so it is not good politics. Real power comes from organizing and serving those regular people who aren't ideological primary voters. And those people will best respond to people actually demonstrating that they give a shit about them all the time, not just during election cycles. If you're interested in policy but not sure how to make your vision a reality, check this book out. If you're someone who spends too much time on Vox, Fox, Twitter, and certain subreddits, prepare for a harsh wake up call.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lemon

    My feelings about this book are...complicated. I'm not sure I can sum them up in writing very well, but I also feel like I need to, because it is an important book, and one I'm going to recommend to some of my friends. (I gave it five stars, even though I feel a bit conflicted about it.) So, here's a list of comments: (1) I think that Eitan Hersh's general theory of "political hobbyism" has some merit, and is definitely interesting to think about. And I do suspect I'm guilty of more of it than I My feelings about this book are...complicated. I'm not sure I can sum them up in writing very well, but I also feel like I need to, because it is an important book, and one I'm going to recommend to some of my friends. (I gave it five stars, even though I feel a bit conflicted about it.) So, here's a list of comments: (1) I think that Eitan Hersh's general theory of "political hobbyism" has some merit, and is definitely interesting to think about. And I do suspect I'm guilty of more of it than I should be. (2) I do feel like Hersh is a bit unfair in his conclusion that people don't take effective political action primarily because they don't feel personally like they have much at stake: there are also a lot of people, myself included, who are terrified of the consequences that American politics are having for them, but also not psychologically capable of the empathy for people persecuting them that he seems to think is necessary for effective political action. (3) This is the first modern book---and the only book I've read other than the very outdated Take Back Your Government: A Practical Handbook for the Private Citizen Who Wants Democracy to Work by Robert A. Heinlein---that offers any sort of detailed advice or examples of how one actually approaches retail political organizing as an individual. That alone makes me think it's very important, though I imagine that there are better guides to that, and I'd be interested in recommendations for them.

  23. 5 out of 5

    John

    It took me entirely too long to finish this book (I guess I can blame the pandemic), but I finally did. I would say this book met my expectations, which I had gotten from reading the title, but it didn't surpass it. The author Eitan Hersh definitely does a good job describing political hobbyism and its effects on our political system. However, he doesn't really apply the same rigorous approach to describing ways that we can "make real change." Partly from the lack of available data, and partly d It took me entirely too long to finish this book (I guess I can blame the pandemic), but I finally did. I would say this book met my expectations, which I had gotten from reading the title, but it didn't surpass it. The author Eitan Hersh definitely does a good job describing political hobbyism and its effects on our political system. However, he doesn't really apply the same rigorous approach to describing ways that we can "make real change." Partly from the lack of available data, and partly due to the reality of politics, he mainly details a few case studies of individuals making a political difference in their own respective communities instead of providing sweeping generalizations on how to obtain political power. He did discuss commonalities among how all the individuals engaged in political action, but overall it felt a bit lacking. Plus, at the end of the book, in which he exclusively described how to make real change, he only provided a few general tips (e.g. become a well-educated voter, get involved in local political groups) and briefly described his own experience getting involved in his own community. All of it was honest and true - I just felt like he could have dove deeper into those topics of making real change. Overall, great book that achieves its original intent. Good starting point if you're interested in modern politics and the phenomenon of "political hobbyism," but you would need to read additional works to get the full picture. Luckily, the notes and bibliography in the book are quite extensive so you can very well start there. 4/5

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Politics is service Hersh takes a swing at the problem of political conflict that has engulfed our republic. It sure is good to see someone trying to take a bite out of this problem in an empathetic, clearheaded manner. The author brings to bear on the problem a mix of qualitative, real-life examples of people who have made a material difference in people's lives, usually locally, through politics and action. He calls out the problem that too many people engage too much in political hobbyism, whi Politics is service Hersh takes a swing at the problem of political conflict that has engulfed our republic. It sure is good to see someone trying to take a bite out of this problem in an empathetic, clearheaded manner. The author brings to bear on the problem a mix of qualitative, real-life examples of people who have made a material difference in people's lives, usually locally, through politics and action. He calls out the problem that too many people engage too much in political hobbyism, which is simply cheering and jeering from the sidelines, instead of taking real political action. He outlines the fascinating origins of how we've created this problem. Finally, through the stories he shares, he suggests a pragmatic approach. What I really liked about the book was its emphasis on action and empathy. Hersh recognizes that at the end of the day our common goals are safety, prosperity, and peace and that conflict usually comes from not understanding "the other side" and that our situation can be improved more through building relationships and communities than by throwing around insults. Yes, this is boring and favors the long term view and exactly what we need instead of a blitz of political news and pointing fingers at everyone. After all, politics is supposed to serve our communities, not lead to violent upheavals.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This may be one of the most important books I have ever read. Basically Hersh is advocating for the return of tranactional local politics where you build good will for your party/political organization by going out and talking to local voters, doing things to help them, etc. He argues this is a way to curb political hobbyism, which is what so many middle class, college-educated white liberals engage in. These people believe everyone wants to debate lofty ideas, when the majority of Americans wou This may be one of the most important books I have ever read. Basically Hersh is advocating for the return of tranactional local politics where you build good will for your party/political organization by going out and talking to local voters, doing things to help them, etc. He argues this is a way to curb political hobbyism, which is what so many middle class, college-educated white liberals engage in. These people believe everyone wants to debate lofty ideas, when the majority of Americans would be far more impressed with concrete actions in their own communities or even people who would listen to their local concerns. Hobbyists yell into the void and work themselves up, but don't put in the work to engage in meaningful long term change. Showing up to a protest or throwing money at a campaign is easy and it requires a very shallow investment, creating grassroots organizing in your local community is much more difficult and uncomfortable, but much more effective.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Samuel

    “Political power may be the topic of your obsession, but power is not the goal of your actions.” This book was convicting, practical, persuasive, and motivating. Highly recommend for anyone interested in getting involved with politics beyond the political hobbyism actions that Hersh defines here - mainly news consumption and social media posting/scrolling that doesn’t lead to concrete action. I recognize myself in the group of educated, liberal political hobbyists but have been thinking more abou “Political power may be the topic of your obsession, but power is not the goal of your actions.” This book was convicting, practical, persuasive, and motivating. Highly recommend for anyone interested in getting involved with politics beyond the political hobbyism actions that Hersh defines here - mainly news consumption and social media posting/scrolling that doesn’t lead to concrete action. I recognize myself in the group of educated, liberal political hobbyists but have been thinking more about how to work for the common good consistently, not just in one time volunteer actions or events. Hersh offers interesting insights into why large groups of the population describe themselves as being interested or even active in politics yet spending no time doing anything more than simply being informed, as well as stories, strategies, and ideas for how to actually take action and make change. Really enjoyed this book and found it to be a clear and easy to understand read as well.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    A book about being an effective political being Appreciate this call to action. I also finally concluded that political podcast and cable news consumption will not help me change the world. As the author recommends, I have taken action. Also, like the author, find there is a great deal of trial and error. I became a district leader. I canvas. Make calls. Write post cards. All this is way better than consuming endless news and complaining with friends (which literally made me ill over time). I to A book about being an effective political being Appreciate this call to action. I also finally concluded that political podcast and cable news consumption will not help me change the world. As the author recommends, I have taken action. Also, like the author, find there is a great deal of trial and error. I became a district leader. I canvas. Make calls. Write post cards. All this is way better than consuming endless news and complaining with friends (which literally made me ill over time). I too lean into the idea that creating and supporting local community is promising. I have started simply by hosting a local activist group in my home. The group tended to focus conversation and actions on national politics with some canvassing for local candidates. My goal is to steer us increasingly to our local government and local community needs. Relationships are key.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kerri

    This book was written for people like me, whose primary form of political engagement involved interacting with a screen, voting, making occasional donations, and sporadically attending rallies or other one-time events. I’d always felt like I should be doing more, so Hersch’ message immediately resonated with me. He makes a convincing argument for deeper participation in politics and gives examples of what that might look like for those of us who don’t know how to begin. It strengthened my pre-ex This book was written for people like me, whose primary form of political engagement involved interacting with a screen, voting, making occasional donations, and sporadically attending rallies or other one-time events. I’d always felt like I should be doing more, so Hersch’ message immediately resonated with me. He makes a convincing argument for deeper participation in politics and gives examples of what that might look like for those of us who don’t know how to begin. It strengthened my pre-existing resolve to make a career change into politics, which I have since been fortunate to do. I hope I can convince some of my friends to read this book. Ultimately, if you are someone who follows politics but don’t feel that the way you participate is making a real difference, this is a good book for you.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    A book for right now. The author's contention (which I am guilty of is that many of us claim to be interested in politics by which we mean we read newspapers, watch TV, worry about large issues and do very little to affect our immediate world. Hersh gives us many stories of "regular" people who have for one reason or another been moved to change their immediate world. And these are seemingly ordinary people - just like most of us. He finishes by describing his efforts (still ongoing) to move bey A book for right now. The author's contention (which I am guilty of is that many of us claim to be interested in politics by which we mean we read newspapers, watch TV, worry about large issues and do very little to affect our immediate world. Hersh gives us many stories of "regular" people who have for one reason or another been moved to change their immediate world. And these are seemingly ordinary people - just like most of us. He finishes by describing his efforts (still ongoing) to move beyond his own hobbyism, If more of us would read this book and be moved to take action, our country would be a better place. A major point is that by engaging in local issues that are perhaps more non-partisan (affordable housing, education, recreation) it's possible to work on a neighborly basis rather than through the horrible political divisions that face us today.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    I read this book in the midst of steeping myself in race theory and radical historical and contemporary leaders and thinkers. I read this book because I found myself wanting to be involved so I started looking for news podcasts and it felt pointless. I do the readings to do the work. This is a handbook to the work. It’s not about one issue or other and though the author is left-leaning, the tactics are nonpartisan. I’m struck how much his suggestions mirror the best actions of a religious commun I read this book in the midst of steeping myself in race theory and radical historical and contemporary leaders and thinkers. I read this book because I found myself wanting to be involved so I started looking for news podcasts and it felt pointless. I do the readings to do the work. This is a handbook to the work. It’s not about one issue or other and though the author is left-leaning, the tactics are nonpartisan. I’m struck how much his suggestions mirror the best actions of a religious community (the author notices as well). I’m fascinated by the terrifying idea of deep canvassing. I’m convinced that the answer to everything (you won’t be surprised to hear from this artist and art-lover) is storytelling. Stop telling yourself the false story and start telling other people your story. That’s the only way to change anything. This is an excellent guide.

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