I began looking for a book about Canadian history in order to plug up another hole in my knowledge of world history, and couldn't believe my luck when I stumbled across this. You KNOW this is way more interesting than a Columbus discovered AmericA kind of history! I just thought the stories of activists would be interesting and entertaining, but this volume is way more than that. It is a serious and well documented history. Each chapter covers a particular and specific activist or group with a different focus. Some of the topics covered are immigration, war, indigenous people, the labour movement, the anti-psychiatry movement and human rights. These are not "just stories" however. Neigh begins each chapter by placing the activists in context, that of a specific time and place in history and society as well as drawing a broader connection with other perspectives and experiences from across town to around the world. These are all long time activists within a multi-decade framework, so that we can see their successes, failures, changes and growth over time.
The introduction of this book alone is worth buying the book. There are good reminders about history being written and taught by the victor, along with discussion of power dynamics and control. This is history told "from the bottom up". It is not only about the idea that those with money and power typically control the narrative, but also describes the way history can and is also driven by the lower, middle and working classes. Neigh gives specific examples of this influence which can give hope and purpose to the lives of all people. He also gives a good lesson about the nature of power and its availability to all.
The first chapter is focused on pacifism in the Second World War. A good analysis of different levels of pacifism is given by participants, e.g. those who believe all killing is wrong, those who believe killing in self-defense is acceptable and maybe even a duty, those who believe in war but not unjust war, and more. I found it interesting to learn the perspective that earlier Christians, for example, were against war, but that when Canada decided to enter WWII, most churches changed their direction in support of the state. I was aware of beliefs in no harm by some churches such as Quakers, but not that the mainstream protestant churches had also taught that. It reminded me of the first Iraq/U.S. war when some people were calling for the church to stay out of government, i.e. stronger separation of church and state, while there was another group saying that it would harm the CHURCH, not the GOVT so much for churches to be involved and they needed to pay taxes and stay out of government least their mission be watered down. I hadn't thought about that view.
There is also discussion about the social gospel reflecting the prejudices of the society around it - another well of course moment for me. There were also descriptions of church contributions to social justice within govt agencies during the 1930s.
The second chapter goes into greater depth than I have seen regarding the multiple ways the law and legal system can be used for change from civil disobedience to pushing for new regulations when necessary.
Mostly what set this book apart for me was increased and specific information about the subtleties of social control, helping me to understand on a deeper level than I previously did. For example, I previously understood how local prejudice kept different groups from living in the same neighborhoods, but then learned more about banking, real estate, and town councils' roles.
Altogether a fascinating read. Five stars.