A collation of resources about the book – Prisms of the People: Power and Organizing in Twenty First Century America – by Hahrie Han, Elizabeth McKenna and Michelle Oyakawa. (Published in 2021 by the University of Chicago Press).
“Grassroots organizing and collective action have always been fundamental to American democracy but have been burgeoning since the 2016 election, as people struggle to make their voices heard in this moment of societal upheaval. Unfortunately, much of that action has not had the kind of impact participants might want, especially among movements representing the poor and marginalized who often have the most at stake when it comes to rights and equality. Yet, some instances of collective action have succeeded. What’s the difference between a movement that wins victories for its constituents, and one that fails? What are the factors that make collective action powerful?
Prisms of the People addresses those questions and more. Using data from six-movement organizations—including a coalition that organized a 104-day protest in Phoenix in 2010 and another that helped restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in Virginia—Hahrie Han, Elizabeth McKenna, and Michelle Oyakawa show that the power of successful movements most often is rooted in their ability to act as “prisms of the people,” turning participation into political power just as prisms transform white light into rainbows. Understanding the organizational design choices that shape the people, their leaders, and their strategies can help us understand how grassroots groups achieve their goals.
Linking strong scholarship to a deep understanding of the needs and outlook of activists, Prisms of the People is the perfect book for our moment—for understanding what’s happening and propelling it forward.” – Publisher’s description
Book Preview and Excerpt
- Prisms of the People – Google Books Preview
- Beyond Numbers: An excerpt from Prisms of the People on how collective action generates real, durable power. (Standford Social Innovation Review)
Watch the recording of the book talk with Elizabeth McKenna to learn their findings on the organizational design choices that made these organizations powerful. This talk was hosted by Powerlabs in 2021.
“The co-authors examine cases of successful change in Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, and Virginia and show that the most effective movements were the ones that rejected the false choice between idealism and pragmatism, between working inside the system and outside the system, between articulating a bold vision and making political compromises.
Instead, by investing in building constituencies that were flexible and committed, these movements were able to win voting rights for the formerly incarcerated in Virginia, pass universal preschool in Cincinnati, push back against the worst excesses of SB 1070 in Arizona and lay the groundwork for the state’s historic shift in 2020, and elect candidates willing to articulate new vision of multi-racial politics in Minnesota.” – Powerlabs
Listen to this book talk Prisms of the People: Power & Organizing in Twenty-First Century America held by The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at The Harvard Kennedy School in May 2021. The panel included coauthors Elizabeth McKenna and Michelle Oyakawa and Alejandra Gomez and Tomás Robles of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA).
Apply the Lessons
The P3 Lab has undertaken related research and work on Understanding Strategic Capacity in Constituency-Based Organizations. This includes a strategic capacity assessment survey and guide to facilitating a session.
Elizabeth McKenna will present a session on Prisms of the People at the FWD+Organise 2021. Hosted by Australian Progress this conference will be held online 1-2 December 2021.