What Good is a Book Club When the Sky is Falling?

Page turning can be more action oriented than you think. Since high school, I've known Julie as an avid self-starter/motivated initiator of many great big and ambitious things (pretty sure she was our class president since the 7th grade). It's no surprise she took on starting this book group and has used post election momentum to morph it into a space for intersectional dialogue. So many groups have been forming since the election; instances like this make me think---maybe we're already part of a group that has the power to shift intentionality and focus on how we can not just resist, but reflect and learn from one another's activism... -emidobz 

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 Over the years, I’ve been invited to or tried to start many book groups. Sometimes they work well, but too often they lose momentum fast. People are busy, and it’s hard to keep up with the reading list. Though many of us say we miss the space for intellectual discussion that high school or college classrooms afforded us, it can just be very hard to make time for book groups in our busy adult lives.

 Nevertheless, after moving to San Francisco I started to launch another book group, hoping to gather some new urban planning friends together to discuss books related to urban planning or civic engagement. Early into the process one group member suggested a twist: why only do books? Why not pick topics of interest and assign other types of material, like documentaries or long-form articles? I loved this idea. We moved to this format and it was incredibly successful for our group throughout 2016. We started hosting monthly meetings with material assigned ahead of time, typically a few weeks in advance. Our assigned discussion material included articles and movies about a variety of topics, from the migration crisis in Europe to the sharing economy and drug trade across the US/Mexico Border (check out the film we watched for that one - Carteland). Ok, and we did include a few books - Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Season of the Witch by David Talbot made the cut. For each meeting, a different member offered to host the gathering at their house - so many people offered we were able to line up locations months ahead of time.  

 When Donald Trump won the election in November of 2016, the group got a true shot in the arm. People recognized that the group had provided an important space for civic discourse throughout the election season, and we had a number of discussions about what would be next - do we march together? Start volunteering as a group? Raise money for something? It was a bit of a frenzy.

 As the dust settled, it became clear that many people were embarking on very specific activist projects related to their skills sets or interests on their own. Some people were becoming newly active in local politics or city projects through groups like the “Yes In My Back Yard” or “YIMBY” party. Others focused efforts in their area of professional expertise - a doctor in our group got involved with colleagues advocating to save the Affordable Care Act. Still others were digging into tough conversations with family members who voted for Donald Trump, trying to keep dialogue open at the scale of their own personal relationships.   

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The more we talked about what people wanted from the group, the more we came back to a very simple baseline: the group should be a reflective space. People need an open forum to learn, discuss, debate, challenge and support each other, and this group provides a unique framework for getting perspective on all of our individual actions. We agreed that the group provides an opportunity to model intersectionality: as individuals we could pursue actions aligned with our top interests (the environment, women’s rights, health care, etc.), and then use the group to step out of these silos and support each other.

We’re two meetings into 2017 and going strong. As simple as it seems, this group has, for me, underscored the importance of space for reflection and civic discussion across disciplines. -Julie Flynn

julie flynn