Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s

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"Reading this book revives the spirit of civic action today for those who are unjustifiably forlorn about overcoming injustice."—Ralph Nader

An on-the-ground history of ordinary Americans who took to the streets when political issues became personal

The 1960s are widely seen as the high tide of political activism in the United States. According to this view, Americans retreated to the private realm after the tumult of the civil rights and antiwar movements, and on the rare occasions when they did take action, it was mainly to express their wish to be left alone by government—as recommended by Ronald Reagan and the ascendant New Right.
In fact, as Michael Stewart Foley shows in Front Porch Politics, this understanding of post-1960s politics needs drastic revision. On the community level, the 1970s and 1980s witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of innovative and impassioned grass roots political activity. In Southern California and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, tenants challenged landlords with sit-ins and referenda; in the upper Midwest, farmers vandalized power lines and mobilized tractors to protect their land; and in the deindustrializing cities of the Rust Belt, laid-off workers boldly claimed the right to own their idled factories. Meanwhile, activists fought to defend the traditional family or to expand the rights of women, while entire towns organized to protest the toxic sludge in their basements. Recalling Love Canal, the tax revolt in California, ACT UP, and other crusades famous or forgotten, Foley shows how Americans were propelled by personal experiences and emotions into the public sphere. Disregarding conventional ideas of left and right, they turned to political action when they perceived, from their actual or figurative front porches, an immediate threat to their families, homes, or dreams.
Front Porch Politics is a vivid and authoritative people's history of a time when Americans followed their outrage into the streets. Addressing today's readers, it is also a field guide for effective activism in an era when mass movements may seem impractical or even passé. The distinctively visceral, local, and highly personal politics that Americans practiced in the 1970s and 1980s provide a model of citizenship participation worth emulating if we are to renew our democracy.

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About the author

Michael Stewart Foley is the author of Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War, winner of the Scott Bills Memorial Prize from the Peace History Society. He has edited or coedited three other books and is a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture. A native New Englander, he has taught American history at the City University of New York and, in England, at the University of Sheffield. He is now a professor of American political culture at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Hill and Wang
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Published on
Sep 17, 2013
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Pages
432
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ISBN
9780374711085
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Political Science / Civics & Citizenship
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In 1978, San Francisco, a city that has seen more than its share of trauma, plunged from a summer of political tension into an autumn cascade of malevolence that so eluded human comprehension it seemed almost demonic. The battles over property taxes and a ballot initiative calling for a ban on homosexuals teaching in public schools gave way to the madness of the Jonestown massacre and the murders of Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk at the hands of their former colleague, Dan White.

In the year that followed this season of insanity, it made sense that a band called Dead Kennedys played Mabuhay Gardens in North Beach, referring to Governor Jerry Brown as a "zen fascist," calling for landlords to be lynched and yuppie gentrifiers to be sent to Cambodia to work for "a bowl of rice a day," critiquing government welfare and defense policies, and, at a time when each week seemed to bring news of a new serial killer or child abduction, commenting on dead and dying children. But it made sense only (or primarily) to those who were there, to those who experienced the heyday of "the Mab."

Most histories of the 1970s and 1980s ignore youth politics and subcultures. Drawing on Bay Area zines as well as new interviews with the band and many key figures from the early San Francisco punk scene, Michael Stewart Foley corrects that failing by treating Dead Kennedys' first record, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, as a critical historical document, one that not only qualified as political expression but, whether experienced on vinyl or from the stage of "the Mab," stimulated emotions and ideals that were, if you can believe it, utopian.
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Dear Reader, 

In February 2013 I gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Standing a few feet from President Obama, I warned my fellow citizens of the dangers facing our country and called for a return to the principles that made America great.

Many Americans heard and responded, but our nation’s decline has continued. Today the danger is greater than ever before, and I have never shared a more urgent message than I do now.

Our growing debt and deteriorating morals have driven us far from the founders’ intent. We’ve made very little progress in basic education. Obamacare threatens our health, liberty, and financial future. Media elitism and political correctness are out of control.

Worst of all, we seem to have lost our ability to discuss important issues calmly and respectfully regardless of party affiliation or other differences. As a doctor rather than a politician, I care about what works, not whether someone has an (R) or a (D) after his or her name. We have to come together to solve our problems.

Knowing that the future of my grandchildren is in jeopardy because of reckless spending, godless government, and mean-spirited attempts to silence critics left me no choice but to write this book. I have endeavored to propose a road out of our decline, appealing to every American’s decency and common sense.

If each of us sits back and expects someone else to take action, it will soon be too late. But with your help, I firmly believe that America may once again be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Sincerely,

Ben Carson
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