ILA Book Series

A Grassroots Leadership & Arts for Social Change Primer: For Educators, Organizers, Activists & Rabble-Rousers

A Grassroots Leadership & Arts for Social Change Primer: For Educators, Organizers, Activists & Rabble-Rousers. Editors Susan J. Erenrich and Debra DeRuyver

Editors: Susan J. Erenrich and Debra DeRuyver

A fearless exploration into what it means to be a leader of social change through the arts.  — Professor Jenna Ward, Coventry University

Read the latest review: Sellers-Young, B. (2023). A Grassroots Leadership and Arts for Social Change Primer: For Educators, Organizers, Activists and Rabble-Rousers [Review of the book by S.J. Erenrich and D. DeRuyver, Eds.]. Journal of Dance Education. DOI:

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More than 30 activist-artist leaders discuss their work inspiring and creating the positive changes needed to meet the daunting problems facing people and planet.

Chapters are divided into six broad categories: community engaged theatre; exhibitions of art, politics, and resistance; troubadours of conscience; cultural activists in the fine and performing arts; participatory democracy and the role of the arts in social movements; and people power and community building.

The authors interpret and make sense of the world’s complexities, struggles, and triumphs in ways that help us better relate to each other and work toward our shared future. They are skilled observers and skilled storytellers, whatever their medium — capacities often found in the most effective leaders.

All of us, regardless of the sector in which we work, regardless of if we consider ourselves a business leader, a community organizer or activist, an educator, a public servant, a development professional, an artist, or a rabble-rouser, can learn from their example and be encouraged to continue working on a flourishing future for everyone.


A much-needed guide to nourish the grassroots by someone who’s been doing this for quite a long time. Susie Erenrich has given us a gift that will help build the next generation of leaders and activists. She understands that we must begin with art and culture if we want to stand a chance at changing hearts and minds. — Andy Shallal, CEO and Founder Busboys and Poets

As a longtime artist and activist, I’m delighted to welcome this more than timely book that puts it all together. There’s a lifetime of wisdom in its pages. — John McCutcheon, Folk Musician, Activist, and Author

Whether you’re involved in community theatre, socially conscious music, cultural organizing, grassroots leadership development, community building, direct action organizing, politics, resistance movements, or any of the many ways in which we use the arts to work towards a gentler, kinder, more just world, this book will be a valued lifetime friend. — Si Kahn, Singer-Songwriter, Founder of Grassroots Leadership, and Cofounder of folkVote

If anyone thinks the arts – or culture, broadly defined – are peripheral to social activism and change, this collection of essays is the antidote. The emphasis is on leadership and direct action, aimed at working artists, activists, and educators. The focus is grassroots because all politics, including the politics of struggle, is local. The sensibility is rabble rousing, as today it should be. A combination of Saul Alinsky meets Paulo Freire, this book is timely and essential. — Kevin Avruch, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Conflict Resolution Emeritus, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

What Susie Erenrich and Debra DeRuyver have done in creating this anthology is give the world a most precious gift. For those of us who have and who continue to fight the good fight towards a more just and humane world, they offer us a dance, a song, a visual journey down memory lane inclusive of all its joy and heartache for all the successes and setbacks. They offer new and emerging organizers and rabble rousers a guide to what has come before so that they may learn what has worked and what some of the pitfalls are to avoid. This anthology reminds us to never forget to sing our song, dance our love, paint our struggles and dreams, and write and play our story. — Susan McKevitt, PhD, Author of What Keeps Them Going: Factors that Sustain US Women’s Life-Long Peace and Social Justice Activism 

For grassroots organizers, this book is a collection of the works of masters, works to turn to and learn from so that people can go out and lead social change, show us a different world, and help us enact that different world. — Steven S. Taylor, Playwright and Professor of Leadership and Creativity, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Business School

A pathfinder and profound work of great heart and hope, paving the way in social change. — Carolyn Hester, 60s Folksinger Songwriter

I am thrilled by the range of contributors to this volume, both those whose work I know and those who I have yet to meet. Hailing from theater, song, visual arts, poetry, and other mediums, from across the globe, they are important sources for all of us who embrace both art and social justice. — Jan Cohen-Cruz, Freelance Writer/Researcher and Faculty Member, Performance Creation MA, Touchstone Theater/Moravian University 

As a life-long educator, organizer, activist, and rabble-rouser, I was delighted to see this guide to the work we do appear in an era where these tasks are more imperative than ever before. It’s an inspiring and heartening read, just the thing to sum up long years of hard work and propel new activists along their own paths of action and reflection. — Ken Hammond, New Mexico State University; Answer Coalition


Foreword by Si Kahn

Preface by Debra DeRuyver

Introduction by Susan J. Erenrich

Section 1 Community-Engaged Theatre as Grassroots Leadership

Chapter 1: The Winter/Summer Institute in Applied Theatre: Creating With the Community by Katt Lissard

Chapter 2: The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp by Shaina Low & Jen Marlowe

Chapter 3: Unafraid of Uncertainty: Developing Grassroots Leaders Using Theatre in Afghanistan by Kayhan Irani

Chapter 4: Walk with Me: Decolonization and Reconciliation Through Participatory Theatre by Catherine Etmanski, Will Weigler, Niels Agger-Gupta, Cheryl Heykoop, Lisa Corak, Asma-na-hi Antoine, Krystal Cook, & Shirley Alphonse

Section 2 Interviews With Troubadours of Conscience

Chapter 5: A Voice for Integrity, Justice, and Peace — An Interview With Holly Near

Chapter 6: Allies of the Civil Rights Movement: A Horizontal Leadership Model for Social Change & We Built a Fortress of Folk — An Interview With Carolyn Hester

Chapter 7: Guitar Player for the All-Male Group of the SNCC Freedom Singers — An Interview With Bill Perlman

Chapter 8: Carry It On — A Studio Session With Singer-Songwriter Reggie Harris

Chapter 9: A Studio Session for His 100th Birthday — Magpie Sings Pete Seeger

Chapter 10: Social Consciousness and Cultural Activism — A Conversation With Singer-Songwriter Joe Jencks

Section 3 Exhibitions: Art, Politics, & Resistance

Chapter 11: Imagining and Storying Women’s Activist-Leadership Through the Disobedient Women Exhibition by Darlene Clover

Chapter 12: History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust at American University by Eric Schmalz

Chapter 13: The Long Sixties: Washington Paintings in the Watkins and Corcoran Legacy Collections, 1957 – 1982 by Jack Rasmussen

Chapter 14: Cultural Memory as Social Justice: The Critical Oral History Methodology by Danita Mason-Hogans, Wesley Hogan, and GeriAugusto

Section 4 Grassroots Leadership & Cultural Activists

Chapter 15: The Song I Didn’t Play by John Flynn

Chapter 16: Roque Dalton: Revolutionary Poet of El Salvador by Randal Joy Thompson

Chapter 17: The Chilean Muralist Brigade and Beyond: Cultural Activists Overflowing Boundaries Through Visual Art by Francisco Letelier

Chapter 18: Artist as Activist: Looking at Selected Works by Swoon and Tomás Saraceno by Anu M. Mitra

Section 5 Grassroots Leadership, Participatory Democracy, & the Role of the Arts in Social Movements

Chapter 19: Zilphia Horton: The Singing Heart of the Highlander Folk School by Candie Carawan

Chapter 20: The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party: A Bottom-Up Leadership Model by Mike Miller

Chapter 21: Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era by Jerry Mitchell

Chapter 22: The Form and Pressure of the Time: Artistry and Activism in the 1980s by David Edelman

Section 6 People Power, Community Building, & the Arts for Social Change

Chapter 23: Starting Local, Rippling Out – Hull House, Youth Poetry, and a Musical by Kristin Lems

Chapter 24: Henry Street, the Arts for Social Change, & Other Projects by Naima Prevots

Chapter 25: The Peoples’ Voice Cafe in New York City by Stephen Suffet

Chapter 26: “There and Back Again” — An Audiovisual Journey Into Roadwork, 1978-2018 by Amy Horowitz

Chapter 27: On the Importance of Representation by Ariel Elizabeth Davis

Chapter 28: Consensus in the Arts: Reflections by Jill Strachan

About the Co-Editors

Susan (Susie) J. Erenrich is a social movement history documentarian. She uses the arts for social change to tell stories about transformational leadership, resilience, and societal shifts as a result of mobilization efforts by ordinary citizens.

Susie’s career in nonprofit/arts management, civic engagement, community organizing and community service spans more than four decades. She has diverse teaching experience at universities, public schools, and community-based programs for at risk, low-income populations; has edited and produced historical audio recordings and anthologies; and has extensive performance, choreography, and production experience. Susie holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University. She is the editor of The Cost of Freedom: Voicing a Movement After Kent State 1970Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights MovementKent & Jackson State 1970-1990; co-editor of Grassroots Leadership & the Arts for Social Change (a volume in ILA’s BLB series); and co-editor of A Grassroots Leadership & Arts for Social Change Primer for Educators, Organizers, Activists & Rabble-Rousers. She was the producer/host of Wasn’t That A Time: Stories & Songs That Moved The Nation, a live community radio broadcast that ran on WERA.FM for five years and is now available on-demand.

Debra DeRuyver is Senior Director, Communications and Resources at the International Leadership Association. 

Previously Debra was Internet and Information Project Manager, Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance and Electronic Communications Coordinator, James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. She is ABD in American Studies from the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP). At UMCP, she co-founded the  Cyberculture Working Group and taught one of the first web-based distance education classes on campus, a senior seminar on electronic publications and virtual exhibitions. She also designed and taught a junior seminar on online activism and an Intro to American Studies course that used dance to explore identity, culture, and struggle in the United States. In 2001, her website analyzing online public history won the National Council for Public History’s graduate student project of the year award and she published on the same topic in American Quarterly. Debra served as co-chair of the American Studies Association’s Students Committee (1997-1999) and was active in student government when she attended California State University Fullerton (MA, American Studies) and the University of Michigan (BA, English Literature).

About the Authors

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