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AMERICA, The Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall — And Win

October 18, 2016

Tired of a divisive campaign season full of mudslinging but lacking substantive discussion of important topics? Frustrated at government officials who seem to prioritize gridlock and partisanship over problem solving and progress?

If you’re mad as hell at the political process and don’t want to take it anymore, you’re not alone. In 2015, a Pew Charitable Trusts survey found that 74 percent of Americans believed that most elected officials didn't care what people like them thought. In the 2016 presidential election, people have vented those frustrations with their votes. Republicans nominated a wealthy real estate developer and former reality show host who had never before run for office, and until recently was best known for his sharp rhetoric on immigration and his questioning the current president’s birthplace. Democrats nearly nominated a self-described socialist who criticized previous trade agreements and the influence of big money in politics.

While it is not surprising that Americans would channel their frustrations into contenders pledging to end business as usual, you don’t have to pin your hopes for change on any one candidate. Nor should you throw in the towel on democracy, and simply assume that you can’t fight City Hall. In AMERICA, THE OWNER’S MANUAL: You Can Fight City Hall and Win (CQ Press/SAGE Publishing; October 18, 2016; $33.00), former U.S.Senator Bob Graham and attorney/long-time public servant Chris Hand show us how to discover, build, and flex our citizenship muscles.

As Graham and Hand write, the book explores “what it truly means to be a citizen in our democracy, including the power to engage government directly and move it in a different direction.” Citizens “do have a say about what the government does—if they learn, master, and practice the skills of effective citizenship.” 

In their step-by-step guide, Graham and Hand empower Americans to become change agents for the betterment of their communities.  Each chapter focuses on a specific citizenship skill – such as persuading decision makers, forging coalitions, or engaging the media – and provides step-by-step instructions for citizens to use that skill in making government respond.

The chapters also provide practical advice from experienced civic experts. AMERICA, THE OWNER’S MANUAL contains 35 “Tips from the Pros” offered by people who have served as governors, Cabinet members, members of Congress, mayors, county commissioners, school board members, appointed officials, journalists, public finance professionals, political consultants, non-profit leaders, and business advocates.

But as Graham and Hand write, “[t]he worst mistake we could make in writing this book would be to provide the ‘how to’ of active democratic engagement – a lecture on paper – without showing you how citizens have succeeded in making government respond.” That’s why the book is filled with stories of everyday people who have moved government. These stories include:

  • A Georgia Tea Party founder who formed an unlikely alliance with environmental activists and solar power advocates to demand more solar power from the state’s largest utility;
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which started around a California kitchen table, and in a few short years achieved an increase in the legal drinking age from 18 to 21;
  • University of Missouri football players who took a stand and refused to play until college administrators took serious action to address racial issues on campus;
  • LGBT advocates and business leaders who joined forces and persuaded a reluctant county commission to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • The Boston public health clinic which utilized effective traditional and social media outreach to build the public and financial support needed for an updated facility;
  • Four students who came to the United States as undocumented immigrant children and marched a “Trail of Dreams” to highlight the challenges facing DREAMers like them
  • A sportswriter who learned that African children needed mosquito nets to prevent malaria, and rallied a broad base of donors whose efforts have saved millions of lives

Graham and Hand hope the reader will see themselves in these examples of citizens who chose to be participants rather than spectators in the arena of democracy. Is your goal to clean up a local river? Persuade your school board to invest in needed classroom equipment? Start a city bike share program? By the end of AMERICA, THE OWNER’S MANUAL, you will have new confidence that you can make governments work for you, not the other way around.

When it comes to the state of American democracy, are you a doer or a complainer? Bob Graham and Chris Hand don’t just urge more Americans to be better citizens. They provide the instructions on how to do it.” — Chuck Todd, NBC “Meet the Press”

"Sen. Graham & Chris Hand provide an important read to those who want to see citizens restore governing values in democracy." – Ana Navarro, CNN &ABC commentator

“Bob Graham and Chris Hand's book is an exciting, energizing and hope-giving guide to effective citizenship.” – Donna Brazile, interim Democratic National Committee chair

"Bob Graham and Chris Hand have provided a how-to manual complete with clear examples, simple rules of the political road and smart strategies for Americans ready to get off the couch and get results from their government." – Rick Wilson, Republican media consultant

"Combining expert advice with relevant and timely examples, this is a straightforward and accessible ‘how to’ guide to working for change.” – Annise Parker, former Houston Mayor


About the Authors

Following 12 years of service in the Florida Legislature, Bob Graham was elected governor of Florida in 1978. During two successful terms as governor, Graham was nationally recognized for reforms in education, environmental protection, and economic diversification. Upon concluding his two terms as governor, Graham left office with an 83% approval rating from the people of Florida. Graham was elected to the United States Senate in 1986, serving three consecutive terms. As a member of the Senate Finance, Environment and Public Works, and Veterans Affairs Committees, he was a leader on health, trade, tax, water and infrastructure issues.

One of Graham’s most important Senate contributions came as chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, a role which led him to co-chair the congressional joint inquiry into the 9/11 attacks. In 2016, Graham received international attention for successfully urging President Obama to declassify and make public 28 pages redacted from the final joint inquiry report.  Graham also authored the 2004 book Intelligence Matters and the 2011 novel Keys to the Kingdom, both revealing serious faults in the U.S. national security system. He currently leads efforts to enhance citizen engagement and train future leaders at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida.

Chris Hand is an attorney with a long record of public service. He previously served as speechwriter, press secretary, and campaign press secretary for Senator Graham and as Chief of Staff for the consolidated City of Jacksonville, Florida—the largest city by area in the contiguous United States and the 12th largest by population in the entire nation. In 2008, Hand was one of 27 Florida electors in the United States Electoral College. He graduated with honors from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Fredric G. Levin College of Law at the University of Florida. At Princeton, Chris was honored with the Daily Princetonian Award for his successful efforts to reform the university’s then century old Honor Code. At the University of Florida, the law school student body elected Hand as president of the student bar association.

Read more about AMERICA, THE OWNER’S MANUAL here.

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AMERICA, THE OWNER’S MANUAL: You Can Fight City Hall and Win

By Bob Graham and Chris Hand

October 18, 2016                              328 pages

ISBN: 978-1-5063-5058-5              Print Price: $33.00

eISBN: 978-1-5063-7139-9

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Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 900 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne. 

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