My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Like much of Billy’s writing this book is written like a polished set of diary entries and calls to action. His style is casual, impassioned, and engaging, though at times borders on frenetic and cheerlead-y. Hard to blame him as he is trying to convey a sense of urgency to motivate readers to take action on impending catastrophes in our environment and the economy.
The larger arc of the book is about movement building, but it is also a very personal book—in some ways more personal than Billy’s earlier books Bomb the Suburbs and No More Prisons. In those earlier works, he collects his thoughts and experiences on hip-hop culture and youth organizing around issues like the prison-industrial complex. In Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs, Billy reflects on his life to that point. He tries to put in perspective everything he’s done, everyone he’s met, and the series of transformations his identity and character has gone through during twenty years of engagement in youth culture and politics. In his own words the book is about “growing up”—for him as a member of the hip-hop generation and for progressive politics as a movement.
His goal is nothing less than to save the world: the pillars of his envisioned progressive super movement are love, survival, and prosperity. And the book is an invitation to reflect on yourself, to think about what you could or should be doing, and to join the movement.
The book has four major threads, in Billy’s words: my stories, movement stories, life strategies, and movement strategies. I really appreciate that he pauses to reflect on the last two. He emphasizes how personal well-being is itself a radical political act in that it serves to strengthen and rejuvenate us to do the important work he outlines. If we expect everyone to work til we drop and we compare ourselves against that ideal we are undermining the movement. He then goes into some straightforward advice on how to run nonprofit and social justice organizations. From the executive director perspective he questions the assumption that the most effective managerial styles are collective, and argues that hierarchy is how you stay truly accountable to your mission and goals, especially when you are managing large organizations. He also encourages EDs to take leadership training and coaching seriously and to form support groups with other EDs in order to collectively vent and share best practices.
Lastly, Billy addresses race and diversity throughout the book. And particularly apropos of the 2014 Michael Brown and Eric Garner protests going on while I read this book, he offers great advice on how to be an advocate and ally in a way that respects race without making everything about race.
Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs would make a great gift for on-the-fence college students that need a sense of what’s possible to spur them into action. And I’m really curious about how successful Billy thinks the book has been since publication in 2010.