Book Club Reading Guides

Introduction

Hey, friends! This is Carla and Sara, two volunteer leaders from Vote Save America, and we’re excited to present to you the VSA Book Club page! This Book Club is our chance to connect with you and other volunteers from around the country, and dive deep into great books and great conversations that help us level up our organizing skills. 

For each book, here’s what you’ll get: 

  • A quick overview of why we chose each book and why we think you should add them to your TBR. 
  • A handy link with info on how to purchase each book.
  • Discussion questions we used when we got together for our book club sessions. Feel free to use these questions as a guide while you’re reading! 

When you’re done on this page, hop over to our Slack and join the conversation. We’re excited to meet you!

The Persuaders, by Anand Giridharadas

Purchase from Carla’s favorite indie bookstore, Skylight Books, bookshop.org, or your own personal fave!

Why we chose this book

When it comes to organizing, few words are as intimidating as the word “persuasion.” For many, the thought of convincing others to vote for your cause or changing someone’s mind about a candidate can feel daunting, if not outright scary. For our very first book club selection, we decided to read a book that would help with these very challenges.

Anand Giridharadas’ The Persuaders is a book that dissolves the trending notion that today’s politics have become so polarized, it is hopeless to try to convince others toward your cause. It argues that persuasion is foundational to our democracy, and as difficult as it can seem, there are still plenty of organizers, activists, and politicians that have been able to successfully do this work of persuading others.

This book follows several of these experts, and our book club sessions allowed us to reflect on their insights, question or learn from their strategies, and ultimately discover the potential we all have as volunteers to make our own persuasion inroads. As timely as it is empowering, it’s a book we’ve referred back to time and time again. We’re confident you’ll love it, too.

– Carla S, Book Club moderator

Discussion questions

Chapter 1 – Linda Sarsour discusses the inner conflict she encountered when faced with the opportunity to work with “imperfect allies.” What do you think of this concept of “imperfect allies,” and also of “meeting people where they are?” When have you encountered similar opportunities in your life? 

Chapter 2 – Alicia Garza describes the difference between an organizer and an activist. She states that an organizer builds a base by bringing people together and bridging gaps; “making space for the waking among the woke.” An activist is focused more on “galvanizing in the short term” to “attract millions of people to an idea or cause.”

Do you agree with this distinction? How might an organizer approach persuasion versus an activist? 

Chapter 3: Bernie Sanders – In this chapter, Giridharadas traces the changes the Bernie campaign went through to adapt their campaign to a broader audience. However, instead of injecting more of himself and his story into his campaign, Bernie chose to highlight the personal stories of his voters. Was this an effective strategy? 

Chapter 4: AOC – Much of this chapter centers on how AOC’s history helped her build her persuasive style, and how much of her story and her personality she uses to bolster her arguments. How does your own background impact your persuasive style? How have you adapted your style to meet the needs of different moments or issues?

Chapter 4: AOC – Chapter 4 positions AOC as an expert practitioner of combining “Bernie’s message of ‘them’ with Obama’s message of ‘us’” (Giridharadas, 150). Do you agree? How can we balance a commitment to our positions and values while still meeting people where they are? Who else can you think of who strikes this balance?

Chapter 5: Messaging – Anat Shenker-Osorio criticizes the Democratic party for making the mistake of following an unchanging piece of advice for the last 25 years: “be milquetoast.” Do you agree with that assessment? What do you feel has caused and perpetuated this reflex for Democrats to play to a moderate base for the past generation?

Chapter 5: Messaging – In her research, Shenker-Osorio describes moderates not as possessing a fixed centrist identity, but rather possessing a “suspended state of mixed opinions” and refers to them as “good point” people. She posits further that a better term for them rather than moderates might be “persuadables.” Reflecting on our own volunteer/organizing experience, has anyone here ever encountered a “good point” person? Were they persuadable?

Chapter 5: Messaging – Chapter 5 also talks about values that are still contested between the right and the left, like freedom and family. Do these resonate with you? How can the left use freedom and family to convince persuadables of our vision? Are there any other values that you can think of that might fit this bill? 

Chapter 6: Disinformation – Both Diane Benscoter and James Cook reached a conclusion that instead of answering disinformation with better information, it can be much more effective to try to “discredit the disinformers.” What opportunities or challenges do you see in this? Have you tried any of these tactics? What has worked and what hasn’t? 

Chapter 7: Deep Canvassing – Many of the organizers described in this chapter seemed to, at first, question the efficacy of deep canvassing but ultimately were surprised by some of their results. Did you identify with any of this when reading this chapter?

End of book questions

  • Which chapters and figures did you find most useful, and why? 
  • Will this change how you are persuaded? Will it change how you approach persuading your friends and family? 
  • Where do you think you’ll next be able to use what you’ve learned in this book? 
  • What are your next steps – where do you plan to do your next persuading

Rules for Revolutionaries, by Becky Bond and Zack Exley

Purchase from Eric’s favorite indie bookstore, The Raven Book Store, bookshop.org, or your own personal fave!

Why we chose this book

Big organizing — the idea that a distributed group of volunteers can come together and do more than any campaign could ever do on its own — is the crux of this pick-up-and-read book. Written as a series of 22 different rules by two alumni of Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, this book centers the efforts of volunteers and how they can provide scale within a campaign. You’ll come away from each chapter with plenty of ideas for how you could plug into the next campaign you decide to volunteer for.

– Eric, VSA Community Manager

Discussion questions

Rules 1-7 questions:

  • What are the keys to having a successful volunteer-led organization?
  • Which of the rules in this section did you agree with the most? Were there any rules you found yourself questioning or disagreeing with?
  • Were there any rules that felt dated? How would you update or improve upon them?

Rules 8-14 questions:

  • In the Rule 9 chapter, Becky Bond notes that there is often a gender element to who talks first/the most. In your experience, what approaches have been successful in ensuring that more marginalized voices have a voice? 
  • Becky Bond’s love for nurses is so strong it was given its own chapter. Is there a group of people that you specifically look for in campaign/organizing/volunteering spaces like Becky does with nurses? What about that group tells you that the organization or cause is worth working with/for?
  • Do you agree with Rule 11’s assessment to “get the work started and figure it out as you go along”…even when it means making mistakes along the way? As volunteers, what is your tolerance threshold? Are you forgiving of groups that might not be super organized or is it a turn-off that might prevent you from returning.
  • Rule 12 focuses on the basics of good management. Which of these do you agree and/or disagree with most strongly? As a reminder, here are the basics:
    • We will be outcome-focused.
    • We will respect and learn from volunteers.
    • We will practice “high input, low democracy” as a team.
    • We will choose speed over perfection.
    • We will embrace productive conflict but not yelling.
    • We will not get into email trouble.
    • We operate on East Coast time.
    • We will not be defeated by meetings.
    • We will eat our own dog food.
    • We will take care of ourselves and each other, and take necessary breaks without slowing down the work. 
    • We will be grateful for our team.

Rules 15-22 questions:

  • Rule 16 talks about how best practices can become worst practices if we don’t continually adapt them to changing circumstances. Have you volunteered on a campaign or in a group where the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality kept the group from reaching its goal? Or, do you have examples of how a campaign adjusted something on the fly to better meet its needs?
  • Rule 19: “Most community organizers have been trained to try to identify and tap into a narrowly defined self-interest. In big organizing we expand that to what is broadly in the interest of everyone. That doesn’t mean finding the lowest common denominator across everyone you are trying to reach. It means taking on all the issues all at once.” (p. 162)
    • How does organizing and activism differ between focusing on a single issue and “taking on all the issues all at once?” What has been your experience? 
  • Rule 20 is tough, “the counterrevolution will include your friends”. How do you deal with it when friends or supposed allies end up on the other side of your revolution, or maybe just aren’t quite as revolutionary?
  • Have you ever volunteered for a losing political campaign? What lessons did you learn from that experience?

Battling the Big Lie, by Dan Pfeiffer

Purchase from Sara’s favorite indie bookstore, Greenlight Bookstore, bookshop.org, or your own personal fave!

Why we chose this book

It’s not because he’s the host of one of our favorite podcasts! (Well, it’s not only because he’s the host of one of our favorite podcasts.) As a former Director of Communications at the White House and a current political analyst, Dan Pfeiffer is an expert on the right-wing media apparatus and its extraordinary influence on our politics and our changing information landscape. Battling the Big Lie will help you understand this influence and how we got here so that you can help develop and amplify better, more progressive pro-democracy messaging. 

We picked this for book club because every day, whether on social media, on volunteer shifts, or at the dinner table, we are confronted with the many ways right-wing disinformation and toxicity shapes our politics and how people see the world. In Battling the Big Lie, Dan shows us how we got here and, more importantly, what progressives and volunteers like us can do to fight back. 

Sara D, Book Club moderator

Pod Save America’s Dan Pfeiffer and two VSA volunteers smile and laugh at a joke at a Vote Save America Book Club virtual Zoom event. They are the three people highlighted on the call. Four additional volunteers are shown above. Three of the four are also smiling into their cameras.
Dan Pfeiffer from Pod Save America discusses topics from his book, Battling the Big Lie, with the VSA book club. VSA moderator Michelle K made Dan laugh.

Discussion questions

Part I – What Happened questions

  • In Ch. 6, Dan Describes what he calls the “MAGA” megaphone as containing the following four rhetorical goals: 1) Reject the Evidence; 2) Flood the zone with shit; 3) Use the “bigot spigot”; and 4) Weaponize information.
    • Which of these four do you think is the most dangerous to our democracy?
  • Can you give an example of a current issue where Republicans are using one or more of these MAGA megaphone strategies? 
  • Were you surprised at the extent to which ultra-wealthy Republicans such as Scaife, Murdoch, and Mercer were willing to “lose money to make money” to make their impact on American politics by funding right-wing media outlets? Why or why not?
  • Have Democrats made any messaging improvements since 2016 on “controlling the narrative” and resisting the urge to engage in right-wing culture wars?

Part II – How it Happened questions

  • In Chapter 9, Dan discusses his first presidential campaign job (Al Gore 2000). He states that local news was the most trusted form of media and how most politicians adhered to the mantra of “all politics is local.” Consider running elections before or during the internet age: what do you feel that the positives and negatives of each are?
  • A lot has changed with regard to social media in the time since this book was written – Twitter is now “X”, TikTok is no longer a fringe platform, etc. Do you still believe, as Dan claims, that Facebook is the most dangerous of all social media platforms? Why or why not?
  • In Chapter 12, Dan talks about the media refusing to call Trump and MAGA Extremists racist. Dean Baquet, then-executive editor of the New York Times, explained in a staff town hall meeting his hesitancy to use words like “lie” and “racist” when covering politicians (page 199). Do you think these words are equally bad when they appear in the media covering US politics? Are you convinced by Baquet’s argument against calling someone a liar or racist? Why or why not?

Part III – What We Do about it questions

  • Part III provides us with several concrete examples of how to better handle trolls or misinformation online (ex. retweet only to amplify messages you support, use humor, etc.) Did any advice stand out to you as particularly useful? Why or why not?
  • Anger and fear are motivators for partisans, but not effective strategies for engaging people who don’t pay attention to politics. What tactics do you use to get disengaged people to pay attention to issues you care about? 
  • In Chapter 18, Preaching to the Progressive Choir, Dan talks about pre-SOTU interviews that Obama did with prominent YouTubers whose content was not explicitly political. Who would you like to see Biden do these sorts of interviews with? What are some of the obstacles of this strategy that Biden might face?
  • Much of the book talks about the influence of right wing billionaires in getting extreme right wing messages out into the world. In Chapter 19, Dan talks about more moderate or progressive billionaires acquiring publications like the Washington Post and the Atlantic. Do you think this is an effective media strategy for progressives? Why or why not?
  • In the final chapter, Dan talks about signs of hope he sees on the messaging front including DemCast and Courier News. What are some other signs of hope you see in messaging and news?

###

Look at you, good reader award. If you made it this far, then you should definitely be a part of our growing community. Hop back over to the Community page and join our Slack community today!