Why do activist groups get stuck in routine ways of talking and acting? And why are these so hard to change? Kathleen Blee provides a provocative answer: that the way grassroots groups start can hamper their ability to invigorate political life and change society for years to come. Important for both scholars and activists, it shows how grassroots activism can better live up to its potential, and pinpoints the pitfalls that activist groups should avoid. Based on observing more than 60 grassroots groups in Pittsburgh for three years, Democracy in the Making is an unprecedented look at how ordinary people come together to change society. It gives a close-up look at the deliberations of activists on the left and right as they work for animal rights, an end to the drug trade in their neighbourhood, same-sex marriage, global peace, and more. It shows how grassroots activism can provide an alternative to civic disengagement and a forum for envisioning how the world can be transformed. At the same time, it documents how activist groups become mired in dysfunctional and undemocratic patterns that their members dislike but can't fix.
By following grassroots groups from their very beginnings, Blee traces how their sense of what is possible and appropriate shrinks over time as groups develop a shared sense of who they are that forecloses options that were once open. At the same time, she charts the turning points at which options re-open and groups widen their sense of possibility.