FRONT PORCH POLITICS by Michael Stewart Foley


The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s
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American citizens weren't so complacent during the 1970s and '80s.

So argues Foley (American History/Univ. of Sheffield; Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War, 2003), who seeks to correct conventional wisdom about the upheaval of the '60s being followed by exhaustion that led in turn to a surrender to cynical partisan politics. The author explains how he became attuned to "front porch politics," in which neighbors put aside partisanship to address obvious problems at home, during his childhood, when he observed the local democracy of New Hampshire town meetings, sometimes led by his father. Foley believes such activism helped numerous rural and urban areas solve problems, sometimes with help from elected officials, sometimes in spite of those officials. Going more broad than deep, the author examines communities' responses to environmental degradation (toxic waste in the air, land and water); nuclear energy plant sitings; racial discrimination; loss of factory jobs and unemployment generally; homelessness; the AIDS epidemic; gender discrimination; and the controversy over abortion rights. Although Foley disputes the traditional narrative about apathy during the '70s and '80s, he agrees that front porch politics has declined since the '90s, replaced mostly by unfocused rage within the citizenry and a somewhat more focused distrust of government at all levels. Grass-roots organizing to address local problems must return across the nation, he suggests, or the American experience will continue to decline for all but the wealthiest citizens.

An interesting take on American political life during the past 50 years, persuasively backed by anecdotal evidence and macro-level research.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8090-5482-4
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2013


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