[#RapplerReads] Non-fiction books in the arsenal of social justice warriors

Julian Cirineo

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[#RapplerReads] Non-fiction books in the arsenal of social justice warriors
Taking action starts with education. Here are book recommendations from advocates for climate justice, social justice, gender equality, and more.

Editor’s note: #RapplerReads is a project of the BrandRap team. We earn a commission every time you shop through the affiliate links below.

While some corners of the internet have been inundated with toxicity and people with skin-deep “wokeness,” you can’t deny that many of those who share pain online and call for justice come from a genuine place of concern. After all, we’re slowly becoming more cognizant of people’s experiences and how the system was made to benefit a few and not the majority.

If you’ve been wanting to fight more effectively for gender equality, social justice, better healthcare, or other civic causes, a good place to start is educating yourself. Having a deeper understanding of what people are fighting for will help you better advocate for them too.

And in the spirit of seeking better education from those who experience or witness the injustices of the world firsthand, we asked social justice warriors from different sectors and advocacies to share with us how to learn more about what they are fighting for.

See what they’re fighting for and what their book recommendations are below.

Learn about sex positivity, gender equality, body autonomy

Sunday Nudes is a creative space for women and queer folks. We host art events and discourse that center on feminist issues like gender and identity, sex-positivity, anti-ableism and fat liberation, consent and bodily autonomy, among others. The primary advocacy of Sunday Nudes is fostering spaces where people (of minority identities) feel safe to engage in these difficult but necessary conversations that help dismantle societal oppressive programming.

A great feminist non-fiction read that does just that is Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are. Get the 2021 revised edition if you can. With its tagline –  The surprising new science that will transform your sex life –  it can easily be dismissed as a sex book. But in reality it is science-backed research that breaks down patriarchal and destructive notions surrounding sex and pleasure.

Dr. Nagoski gives us neutral and inclusive language in talking about our bodies and our sexuality to ourselves, our partners, and our peers. It dispels internalized fears about being “broken,” “not normal,” “repressed,” “not good enough,” “sinful,” etc. around the orgasms we are having or not having, our state of arousal vs actual desire, our genitals looking a certain way, etc.

It’s easily digestible despite being science-y. It invites compassion towards our bodies and full ownership of our sexuality. It’s informative. It’s kind. It’s liberating. It’s empowering.

This book – no exaggeration – has literally changed my life. I read it in 2018 and that first brush lead to the exploration of my queer identity. After featuring it as our first book club read last August, the feedback was the same from everyone: “I’M RECOMMENDING THIS TO ALL MY FRIENDS!”

And you should too.

– Dear Prudence, organizer of Sunday Nudes

Read on environmental restoration and conservation

The bottom line of what we do is the restoration and conservation of our lands and forests, hurdling challenges on the ground such as land-grabbing, illegal quarries, and other forms of development aggression. We use the three-pronged approach of conservation, education, and sustainable development through geotourism, strengthened by creative engineering and enforcement. This is our brand of destination stewardship. 

Even after learning much about how biodiversity and elements in an ecosystem interact, I found The Hidden Life of Trees fascinating.  It gives a glimpse of how trees support and interact with each other, going as far as making one reflect on the role that collaboration (versus competition) has played in evolution. 

Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World brings an even wider awareness of our Earth’s history, our place in it, and adopting a perspective of protecting the earth across timescales and generations.

Last, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman captures the thought process, journey and process behind Yvone Chouinard who is behind one of the most environmentally responsible companies in the world and is also a huge influence to one of the women in land conservation that I look up to – Kristine Tompkins. 

– Ann Dumaliang, co-founder and project officer of the Masungi Georeserve

Fight for children’s rights and alleviating poverty

I advocate for all children’s rights to education, especially for children living in poverty.   Fair access to quality education can contribute to reducing poverty. Education is extremely important because it helps eradicate not just poverty but also hunger. Education is a great equalizer that would give people a chance at better lives.

The book I would recommend is Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor by Thomas A. Nazario. With a foreword by the Dalai Lama, the book is a passionate call to action that delivers a thought-provoking examination of global poverty, and how it impacts the poor and the rest of the world. And more importantly, how change is possible through education, empowerment and organizations and individuals can collectively help break the cycle of poverty. 

– Melissa Villa, founder and executive director of Project Pearls

Find out more about sustainable tourism and ocean preservation

I think it’s important in any industry to strive to create a good social impact, especially with the level of awareness everyone can now access through social media. Since the pandemic, there seemed to have been a significant growth in people’s interest in setting up their own businesses. I was one of these people and decided to take helping others to the next level and become a social entrepreneur.

I searched for mentors who I could learn from. There aren’t that many of us here in the Philippines, but thankfully I got a hold of the book Looptail by Bruce Poon Tip. It’s a memoir of an Asian social entrepreneur based in Canada.

Bruce founded one of the most successful tour companies in the world. What’s amazing is how he was able to sustainably fund his own non-profit through the company’s operational expenses. Through the revenue of his tour company, his non-profit was able to build the capacity of marginalized communities around the world to operate sustainable tours.

Bruce takes us through the ups and downs of his journey as he maneuvered through the many challenges he had to face. It’s inspiring and worth learning from if you truly want to run a business while making the world a better place.

– Gela Petines, conservationist and co-founder of Reef Nomads

Find out why food sustainability matters

Our lives revolve around meals. It only makes sense to give eating the conscious attention it deserves, so I have spent the last few years learning more about the food and agriculture industries (that now largely influence our health and habits) and developing a more holistic relationship with food. A cornerstone book in this venture of mine is Mark Bittman’s Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal which walks us through much of human history from the perspective of food.

In his work, Bittman reveals the complex relationship between food and some of humanity’s darkest moments, like colonialism, genocide, and the climate crisis, revealing the major flaws in our food and agricultural systems then and now, all of which stem from various forms of greed and corruption. Bittman compels us to examine the many forces that bring food to our plates, as well as those that inform our dietary choices (and thus, much of our lives).

The book disillusions, but also ends with a glimmer of hope that we can still collectively work towards a future where food not only sustains existence, but nourishes every human life.

Guided by this book and many others, I do my best every day to eat better — on my own terms, according to what my body needs — and to inspire others to rediscover what food really means, and what it can be.

– Lian Sing, writer and brand manager, Denuo Store

Learn about veganism and its impact on the world

How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger shares his findings on chronic illnesses and recommends what food to eat so we can prevent, even reverse disease, while Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, RD is a comprehensive guide great for beginners to the vegan diet. It also includes information that applies to seniors, pregnant women, and children. It answers most questions people may have about going vegan but are too afraid to ask.

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy gives fascinating insights into the psychology behind our consumption, which will help us understand our behaviors as a society and as a consumer and what to do about them.

– RG Enriquez-Diez, founder and content creator of Astig Vegan 

Read about sustainable and affordable healthcare

I’m an advocate of sustainable heath, particularly accessible, affordable and quality healthcare.  I highly recommend Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth & Happiness by Thaler and Sunstein. I also recommend Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman and Mindset by Dweck.

Both deal with behavioral economics and making informed choices. When it comes to a very personal matter such as health, you can’t just tell or force people to do what is healthy for them. Simply presenting facts or evidence is not enough.

It is more effective & sustainable when people own their healthy choices. This requires us to slowly nudge ourselves and others towards  developing the right habits and creating the most optimal conditions that can enable us to make healthier decisions.

Apart from those, I also highly recommend Emperor of All Maladies and Immortal Life of Henrietta Sacks. Both deal with cancer diagnosis and management while giving a glimpse into the world of healthcare. 

– Dr. Dexter Acosta Galban, commissioner of the Commission on Population & Development (POPCOM-NEDA), and CEO & founder of Alaga Health and Experto PlayLabs International Consultancy

Learning effective campaigning and campaigning for the environment

This last entry is from me personally. For a brief time in my life, I actively campaigned against plastic pollution as a member of Break Free From Plastic, which is a global movement of organizations and volunteers. While I’m no longer actively involved with the group, I still believe in the values they espouse.

To prepare myself for that journey, I started reading books and also asked those who would be my mentors for their recommendations.

I started with The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells who took a more alarmist perspective and painted a picture of how drastic life would change if global warming was kept unchecked. It spoke of possible class wars and conflict against nations, and how the inequality and injustices we experience today (even those we think are beyond the domain of climate change) would exacerbate.

Jed Alegado, who was the movement’s communications officer for Asia Pacific recommended two books that also helped me: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein, and How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change by Chris Rose.

Klein’s book changed my perspective on environmentalism a lot. While I did understand that inspiring individual action was important, it had not dawned on me that systemic change was the far more effective way to address climate change. As those born into a capitalist society, we’re usually left with no choice but to participate in an already moving mechanism. The only way to fix a problem is by addressing the root causes and not the symptoms. And it was through Rose’s book that I learned how to communicate some of these ideals and hopefully helped in the process of shifting the narrative.

How about you? Do you believe in a cause or an advocacy? What books would you recommend to those wanting to learn more about it? – Rappler.com

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Julian Cirineo

Julian is a senior content producer for Rappler's BrandRap. Before joining the team, he worked for an NGO focused on plastic pollution, and was also a managing editor for a magazine. He started his career as a producer and writer for a TV news network.