The Next American Revolution (Book Review)

Grace Lee Boggs takes us through her life of activism and the lessons she’s learned

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Grace Lee Boggs is a radical American social activist, philosopher and feminist who has written many books, and pioneered many initiatives in her home town of Detroit. In the 1940s and 1950s she worked closely with Marxist leaders in the US, but in the 1960s she and her husband Jimmy Boggs created their own political direction which Grace continued until the end of her life in 2015. Grace Lee Boggs, of Chinese-American descent, was actively involved in the Black Power movement with her husband.

In The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, Grace Lee Boggs final work in 2011, she takes us through her theoretical political journey- beginning as a Marxist and moving to Detroit to get involved in the workers movement, but over time becoming more anarchistic and creating her own vision of the future.

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Quoting Martin Luther King Jr. she writes, “Communism fails to see the truth in individualism. Capitalism fails to realize that life is social… work which improves the conditions of mankind… work which extends knowledge and increase power and enriches literature and elevates though… [work that] is not done to secure a living… it is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master of by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake and not that they may get more to eat or drink or wear or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased.”

In addition to questioning the meaning of work, Boggs speaks about the difference between rebellions and revolutions throughout the book, citing many social justice leaders along with adding her own thoughts. She quotes Paulo Freire in that people “cannot enter the struggle as objects in order to later become human beings.” Stressing communal learning as well as valuing individuals, Boggs questions our public schools system, and imagines a different future.

“Our schools have been in a continuing crisis because so few educators are able to or willing to take the risk of leaving behind the old factory model and creating a new one that meets the human and social needs of young people to be creators of knowledge and social change,” Boggs writes.

In addition to questioning current social structures that maintain the status quo, Boggs is also critical of progressive movements trying to change the world:

“The movements of the sixties, I noted, were led mostly by men coming out of patriarchal culture. So there was a lot of top down vertical leadership… However, since discovering that the personal is political, women activists have been abandoning the charismatic male, vertical, and vanguard party leadership patterns of the 1960s and creating more participatory, empowering, and horizontal kinds of leadership. Instead of modeling their organizations on the lives of men outside the home… they are beginning to model it on the love, caring, healing, and patience that, along with an appreciation of diversity and of strengths and weaknesses, go into the raising of a family,” Boggs writes.

Grace Lee Boggs asks us to become leaders in our own destiny, and asks us to dream big and work hard toward those dreams. Her work did not center on what was easy, but what was necessary for a society which respected all human life, and maximized human potential.

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