Book Review: The Empowerment Manual

Starhawk's guide to collaborative group success.
The Empowerment Manual Book Cover

The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups
by Starhawk
New Society Publishers, 2011, 304 pages, $24.95

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One of the original Occupy Wall Street organizers, Marina Sitrin, told me she hopes the movement will expand by going local, as people organize general assemblies in their schools and workplaces. She may be onto something: In the past month, my coworkers have begun meeting at a local bar under the banner of Workers for a Democratic Workplace, and my church has relaunched its social justice committee. So veteran activist and writer Starhawk has her finger on the pulse with the publication of The Empowerment Manual, a warm-hearted, straightforward guide for creating and sustaining collaborative groups.

Starhawk defines a collaborative group as one “based on shared power and the inherent worth and value of each member.” She’s something of an expert on the topic. Since joining the blockade of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 1981, she has participated in many decentralized groups, including the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and Reclaiming, a Pagan communities network. Her experienced voice is a major strength of The Empowerment Manual, assuring new activists that the problems they face have been worked through before. 

Silhouettes Dancing photo by Zer CabatuanRead an excerpt:
6 Ways to Empower Others

Each chapter takes an element of group work (creating a shared vision, distributing power, communication, dealing with conflict) and breaks it down with the help of exercises such as brainstorming sessions, role-plays, and discussion guides. Woven throughout is the story of Rootbound Ecovillage, a fictional collaborative housing experiment in the Bay Area with group dynamics that will be familiar to most readers, despite the California New Age cultural trappings. Starhawk’s basic recommendations—that groups eschewing a formal power structure find ways to attach influence to responsibility instead of unearned privilege and that conflicts be addressed directly, respectfully, and in person—are clear and wise. Whether you’re starting a new group or strengthening an existing one, The Empowerment Manual is a valuable tool.


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