An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s
Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2002
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In this book about the New Left’s Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP), Jennifer Frost tells two stories. First, she discusses the role of gender in the development of New Left activism among the northern urban poor. Second, she outlines the general organizational attitudes, successes, and failures of this SDS experiment, which represented the New Left’s move away from the “labor metaphysic” and toward the idea that the poor—both white and black—would become the new agents of change in capitalist society. On the first point Frost comes up somewhat short. On the second, she breathes new life into the study of this dimension of New Left organization. She concludes that, contrary to conventional interpretations, in the context of historical community movements, “ERAP’s failures were not unusual, nor were its accomplishments minor” (p. 174). Although Frost includes feminism in the ERAP legacy, and although it appears as a major factor in this account of activism and organizational change, the author does not successfully tie it into the greater story of the effort to build alliances among different groups of people. In short, this book is notable for its ambitiousness, but its level of care in tying up loose ends leaves the reader dissatisfied.