The Accidental Activist
Front Porch Politics:
The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s
by Michael Stewart Foley
Hill and Wang
$30.00 List Price
The conservative counterrevolution in American politics has its roots, so the story goes, in a broad-based revulsion at the radical excesses and battles of the 1960s. That long right-wing ascendancy continues today in free-market supremacy and hyperindividualism: in sum, a wholesale repudiation of ’60s-movement values. This plot has become the conventional account of the era. Like any master narrative, though, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Amid the rightward shift, a host of radical movements flared as well—gay rights, women’s liberation, Puerto Rican independence, prisoners’ rights—suggesting that the idealism associated with the ’60s remained relevant long after Kent State and Altamont supposedly brought that era to a close. It is this idea of a “long ’60s,” across which activisms morph and survive, that Michael Stewart Foley aims to expand upon in Front Porch Politics. Here, Foley trains his gaze on the lesser-known community-organizing endeavors that surged in the ’70s and ’80s, taking shape around bread-and-butter issues like jobs and housing.
By chiefly examining small-scale, local efforts, Foley builds a case that the ’60s movements influenced civic action across the political spectrum, changing the look of democracy in the United States, at least for a while. These campaigns, he writes, “demolish the myth that Americans retreated from activism after the Sixties” and “demonstrate how little it matters whether Americans identify as conservative or liberal when the question before them is the safety and security of their families, their homes, and their dreams.”