Elevate Difference

Please Don’t Bomb The Suburbs: A Midterm Report on My Generation and the Future of Our Super Movement

Depending on your age and your social/political circle, you may not know the name William Upski Wimsatt. In his youth, Wimsatt was the youngest Utne Reader “Visionary” award winner. In the last two decades, he’s written several books about the suburbs, the prison industrial complex, white urban subculture, hip-hop, and graffiti. These days, he’s mostly known for political organizing and working with and supporting groups like Generational Alliance and Resource Generation.

Following up his 1994 book Bomb the Suburbs, which garnered him a bit of a cultish progressive following, Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs is Wimsatt’s older (if not much wiser) take on adulthood, organizing, and personal politics. The book’s basic premise is this: Get power, get corporate power, use it for good. If you don’t agree with that message from the jump—or you’re not already a fan of Wimsatt’s grandstanding and youth minister-esque appeal—you may not get a whole hell of a lot out of Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs.

From the jump, Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs is a bit confusing for folks new to the activist’s work. Written as one man’s account of what has been important in the last thirty years of American progressive organizing, it’s anything but comprehensive or objective. Mixing storytelling and action plans in a somewhat haphazard fashion and at times reading like a who’s who of modern progressive activism, Wimsatt shamelessly name-drops seemingly everyone he’s ever known or worked with, from Van Jones to Adrienne Marie Brown. While that’s not inherently bad, it’s terribly insular and not very interesting—especially to the outsider, non-activists Wimsatt claims to want to reach.

Wimsatt writes that his audience for the book is two groups: seasoned forty-two-year-old businesspeople and curious seventeen-year-olds just learning about progressive movements. That said, he also wants desperately to identify with people across this entire spectrum of age and experience. By Wimsatt’s definition, he and I share a generation—he claims both Gen X and Gen Y as “his”—even though he’s more than ten years older than me, and I’m one of the oldest in the Millennial club. This sort of confusing, broad, and aimless reaching to include people is the ultimate weakness of the book, when it was no doubt intended to be its strength.

Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs isn’t an analytical dissection of movements and organizing. If anything, it’s one man’s self-congratulatory journey through youthful transgressions to his late thirties, when he realized, as he writes in the book, “Adulthood hits you like whoa.” That same tone, carried throughout, makes the book feel more like a blog than an actual literary accomplishment. I’m sadly not post-print enough to think that turning blog-like ramblings into a bound publication is a good idea; nevermind whether I agree that adulthood “hits you like whoa.”

Wimsatt covers a lot of topics without nuance. He praises the work of non-profits without addressing the non-profit industrial complex. He warns of how overpopulation is pushing humanity to the brink of disaster, and on the same page, questions whether or not he’ll have children. Wimsatt blindly embraces new media, excited about the potential for change using online tools, without considering the drawbacks and legitimate reasons why Facebook is not part of a truly progressive revolution.

It’s incredibly difficult to write a book that appeals to a thirty-eight-year-old suburban homeowner with nephews and a sixteen-year-old urban blogger who’s just learning about environmentalism. It’s also difficult to explore nuance and history when you believe your own experiences and your own self-selected version of history takes precedent. As much as I’d like to believe in the collectivism of a movement necessary for the generation- and experience-breaking organizing that Wimsatt tries to hawk in Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs, this conversational plea to remain relevant didn’t sell me on anything.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, December 22nd 2010