Reading Daniel Hunter’s Strategy & Soul is almost as good as taking one of his Training for Change workshops. It’s a very experiential read, immersing you in the story of community organizing and developing a campaign to keep casinos out of Philadelphia. You quickly find yourself drawn into the details of the struggle and with graceful ease there is a step back to reflect on what is happening and the theory is brought to bear and course corrections are made. It’s the experiential cycle lived out between the author and the reader on the topic of how to effect social change through organizing, nonviolent direct action, community engagement, and the creative building and use of political power.
To be honest, casinos have not been a big issue for me even though my Baptist ethical genes are anti-gambling. Daniel himself seemed in that same boat until a challenge by a community organizer named Jethro Heiko organized Daniel and drew him into a life-changing struggle. I was drawn into the book the same way, sucked in until the fight became mine, too. I lost my objectivity as a reader, feeling the ups and downs of the struggle and moving from thinking about “they” to “we.” Good stories can do that to you.
However, this really isn’t a story about the anti-gambling or anti-casino movements. This is an in-depth case study about community organizing. As such Strategy & Soul fills a huge gap in social movement literature. There are lots of how-to books, lots of stories about great moments and heroes of various struggles, but not many that take you into the nitty-gritty, daily grind of a campaign. So many times we get lost in the details, but that’s where Daniel takes us to help us find our way. All along he helps us get our bearings by the theory that is injected, not in his authorial objectivity looking down at this case study, but in the conversations, strategy sessions, workshops, and in-the-moment “aha’s” of insight. The reader ends up with a ton of theory without realizing it—again, much like a Training for Change workshop.
If there’s one drawback it’s that the book is quite long. Reader fatigue can set in, interestingly about the time Daniel’s own fatigue with the struggle set in. So this experience of both the author and the reader becomes yet another point of learning, for which of us involved in struggles for long has not come to that fatigue point? Daniel takes the book’s weakness and turns it into a plus, the mark of both a good trainer, a good organizer, and a good movement tactician.
Daniel doesn’t preach in this book, but he does bring to bear an explicit moral compass in continually referring to the “higher ground” that needs to be taken. He puts this discussion in the context of developing strategies and taking actions that will really work. This discussion exposes some of the way our social movements can get just as stuck in uncreative ruts and demonizing of opponents. Daniel brings the “soul” into the book with this ethical depth as well as his own personal honesty. The flaws, failings, and missteps of Daniel, his companions, and their movement are shown as well as the insights, creativity, and victories. Daniel wears his feelings on the page.
I could go on about some of the treasures to be found in the rich soil of this story. Instead, I’ll stop and simply tell you to go get this book ASAP if you are involved in any kind of struggle for justice or peace. You’ll learn a lot from Daniel’s story to enrich the shaping of your own.
Strategy and Soul is authored by Daniel Hunter. Reviewed by Rev. Dan Buttry — Dan Buttry has co-facilitated with Daniel Hunter around the world in various trainings. Dan is the Global Consultant for Peace and Justice for International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches. He has authored the recent books Blessed Are the Peacemakers and Interfaith Heroes (Vol 1 and 2).