Gabriel Thompson

America's Social Arsonist

Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century

University of California Press 2016

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Latino StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books Network May 16, 2016 David-James Gonzales

“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” This axiom encapsulates both the approach and dedication exhibited by...

“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” This axiom encapsulates both the approach and dedication exhibited by Fred Ross during the five decades he spent organizing impoverished and disenfranchised communities throughout the country. In America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century (University of California Press, 2016), Gabriel Thompson provides the first biography of Ross, one of the most influential, albeit virtually unknown, activists and organizers in American history. Radicalized by his experiences working with impoverished Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression and interned Japanese Americans during World War II, Ross developed an insatiable desire to stand up for those “kept out” of mainstream society. He spent the majority of his career building Latino political power across the state of California aiding in the establishment of the Community Services Organization (CSO) and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), two of the most progressive Mexican American organizations of the post-war and Civil Rights eras. Harnessing a distrust for established institutional structures and middle-class do-gooders, Ross sought to empower communities by developing community leadership from the bottom-up. Above all, Ross believed in the power of ordinary people working together to make democracy work for them. Preferring to work behind the scenes, Ross indelibly shaped the trajectory of American history as his philosophy and tactics continue to be used by community organizations, labor unions, and political campaigns to the present day.

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