How a new generation of activists is changing the world
If you care about social change but hate feel-good platitudes, Do It Anyway is the book for you. Courtney Martin’s rich profiles of the new generation of activists dig deep, to ask the questions that really matter: How do you create a meaningful life? Can one person even begin to make a difference in our hugely complex, globalized world?
Among others, we meet Raul Diaz, a prison re-entry social worker at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles; Nia Robinson, an African American climate-change activist in Washington, D.C.; Maricela Guzman of California, a former soldier fighting to end violence against women in the military; and Rosario Dawson, an actor struggling to use her celebrity for social change while staying authentic in her activism.
“Courtney Martin’s portraits of eight young activists reveal people who are flawed, scared, and human—which makes them all the more . An elegant, effortless read that confirms what we already know: young people continue to change the world.” —Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, authors of Manifesta and Grassroots
“Do It Anyway asks the most difficult question possible: how can I make my life meaningful? The answers are varied, transformational, and necessary for us all.” —Jane Fonda
“Courtney Martin is one of our most insightful culture critics and one of our finest young writers. She’s written a lively, compelling, and very important book for people of every generation who want to be fully alive in and to the world. Take in what she says and you may find yourself turning to that impossible cause you care about and ‘doing it anyway.’“
—Parker J. Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak
“Unlike a lot of authors, Courtney Martin isn’t trying to sell you activism and why you should (yawn) get involved. Instead, she goes deep into the stories and lived experience of eight individuals. Do It Anyway is a treasure and deeply affecting.” —Billy Wimsatt, author of Bomb the Suburbs and Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs
Review by: Shannon Drury, Elevated Difference - November 29, 2010
"For anyone already committed to or just beginning to enter the world of social justice, Do it Anyway is a must-read."
Review: Christian Science Monitor - September 9, 2010
“Do It Anyway” offers no blueprint as to how to be an effective activist. Instead, it portrays a “wildly complex, horrifically hypocritical, overwhelmingly beautiful world,” alongside of which walks the hopeful human spirit, expressing both a sense of faith in the moment and in mankind.”
Review: The Real Deal - September 1, 2010
“Put this on your must read list! Courtney Martin, of Feministing and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters fame, has just launched a new book. Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists profiles the work of eight activists, doing what they can to make this world a better place.”
Save the world.
Where were you the first time you heard those three little words
It’s a phrase that has slipped off the tongues of hippie parents and well-intentioned teachers with a sort of cruel ease for the last three decades. In Evangelical churches and Jewish summer camps, on 3-2-1 Contact and Dora the Explorer, even on MTV, we (America’s youth) have been charged with the vaguest and most ethically dangerous of responsibilities: save the world. But what does it really mean? What has it ever really meant--when uttered by moms and ministers, by zany aunts and debate coaches--to save the whole wildly complex, horrifically hypocritical, overwhelmingly beautiful world
I for one had no idea, but that didn’t stop me from internalizing the message. I swallowed those three little words--a trio of radioactive seeds. They looked innocent enough when poured into my palm, but when swallowed, they buried themselves deep in my gut and started to grow. South African novelist J. M. Coetzee wrote, “All creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice.” Shortly thereafter, if all is right, the world breeds in us an outrage over injustice. At first I engaged my outrage like a true-blue white girl from the suburbs. I sent letters to the managers of Arby’s and Wendy’s in my hometown, begging them to stop using Styrofoam cups in their establishments for the good of our Mother Earth. No response.
I volunteered in an assisted living facility, screaming the letter-number combinations for a comatose game of bingo. Though the residents attempted to adjust their hearing aids, my voice was too high to register. They screamed, “What? What did that girl say” to one another, but everyone just shrugged and smiled at me sympathetically.
I worked at the local soup kitchen, dragging wet rags across Formica tables with my eyes diverted straight down, hoping none of the homeless people would actually speak to me. I was frightened by the ones that smelled, but even more frightened by the ones that didn’t smell. The ones that looked like me and my mom. The ones that I’d seen walking around downtown and never even known I was supposed to save. I couldn’t name it yet, but it was the first experience that called the conventional wisdom at the time--that there were savers and those to be saved, and that these were immutable categories--into question. When Sally Struthers commercials came on, featuring little African babies with distended bellies and flies hovering around their eyes, I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I took it personally. After all, I had been charged with saving the world, as had my friends and little bike-riding neighbors. The adults in our lives had drawn a line directly between the suffering of the world--the African babies, the growing hole in the ozone layer, the homeless guy who lay listlessly on the bench outside the library--and our own nascent sense of purpose. Once, agitated with one epiphany or another, I decided I would march around my neighborhood--middle class, suburban, white--and ask people for money for “the poor.” I found an old glass jar in my playhouse, cleaned it fastidiously, and headed into the suburban wilderness for my first experience of fund-raising.
It went pretty well, actually. I was cute at the time--frizzy hair permanently set in a side ponytail, big blue-green eyes with dark, thick eyelashes, and a pair of magenta Converse high-tops (it was the eighties). I think that the smiling neighbors, pried from their daily dose of Oprah, took one look at me, heard my half-formed rationale, and sympathized with the familiar ache in my heart. They dropped quarters, sometimes even dollars, into my jar and sent me on my way.
I rounded the block, growing more and more excited about the efficiency of my tactic. By the time I returned to my playhouse, I had over ten dollars. But as I sat on the wooden planks, my legs splayed, and pushed the coins around with my fingertips, a bad feeling started to creep over me. I realized that I had no idea who “the poor” really were.
I didn’t know if I had met them before. There were kids at my school with less trendy clothes than all the others, but did this really mean they were poor or just that their parents were strict or stingy? There were those little babies with the bloated bellies on the commercial, but would ten dollars really help them It seemed like they needed much more. I could find some of the homeless guys near the library, but they might spend the money on drugs (by age eight, I’d already heard this warning many times). And how would I choose which people to give the money to anyway? Who was the most deserving? How could you predict that they’d use it for good? What if you gave money to someone and they were insulted--angry that you assumed they needed it
The questions washed over me like a tidal wave, and suddenly everything about my initial intention--so pure, so heartfelt-- was murky. I piled the money back into the jar and stared at it disapprovingly. There is, perhaps, nothing more paralyzing than a good intention suddenly proven naive. I decided to bury the jar in the shadow of my playhouse until I knew what to do with it. If you go to 1718 North Tejon Street in Colorado Springs, you’ll find that it’s still buried there, along with my childhood illusions that “saving the world” is a simple or pure prospect.
ìI Am Hungry for One Good Thing I Can Doî
Rachel Corrie, peace activist, Olympia, Washington
An Altar Boy with a Gun
Raul Diaz, prison reentry social worker, Los Angeles
Maricela Guzman, veteransí activist, Los Angeles
Emily Abt, filmmaker, New York City
It Ainít Easy Being Green
Nia Martin-Robinson, environmental justice advocate,
Washington, D.C., via Detroit
Tyrone Boucher, radical philanthropist, Philadelphia
Power Becomes Her
Rosario Dawson, actor and activist, Los Angeles
via New York City
Born to Teach
Dena Simmons, eighth grade teacher, Bronx, New York
- Click to listen to an interview with Courtney on New Hampshire Public Radio's The Exchange
- Click to watch Gloria Feldt's interview with Courtney on TEDwoman
- Read about Courtney's recent appearance at TED Women on Boing Boing.net
- Read aninterview with Courtney in The Forward newspaper
- Click here here to see Courtney Martin's book Do It Anyway featured in the New York Times Sunday business section