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Surmountable: How Citizens from Selma to Seoul Changed the World

By Brian Gruber & Adam Monier Edwards

The concept for Surmountable began February 15, 2003, when over 600 protests around the world took to the streets to voice opposition against the invasion of Iraq. Twelve million activists coordinated the largest ever public demonstration of political advocacy. However, despite the historic turnout, the event was a failure as the “coalition of the willing” (officially deemed the “Multi-National Force”) proceeded with a longer conflict than WWII that engaged over 40 countries. Half of the nations involved suffered at least one military death, casualties in Iraq itself amounted to at least 1 million, regional destabilization displaced 10 million people from their homes, and taxpayers incurred over $2 trillion in financial costs. And, crucially, the marches did not lead to any change in party leadership as voters failed to hold either the US or UK administrations accountable during the elections that followed in 2004 and 2005. Subsequent demonstrations on other topics broke records as well while also failing to achieve their primary goals. Yet numerous examples from the past century illustrate what can be possible with social activism from women’s suffrage to civil rights to changes in political administrations.

With that dichotomy in mind, we visited 15 cities across four continents near where history was made to seek answers to these burning questions:

  1. Is there a checklist, an effective playbook for the modern activist, even as heroic fourth quarter wins are often unpredictable, astonishing, and subject to serendipitous external forces?
  2. How is success – and failure – measured?
  3. How universal are the values in the U.S. Constitution?
  4. What can we learn from those who act outside the U.S., who may be outperforming us in the fierce pursuit of freedom, justice, and prosperity?

Selected interviewees from over 40 within the book


  • Lucy Beard, Alice Paul Institute executive director
  • Sam Walker, National Voting Rights Museum and Institute historian
  • Colleen Sheehan, Villanova University professor, Heritage Foundation scholar, and 5-time author
  • Dr. Todd Gitlin, Columbia University professor, sociologist, and 16-time author

  • Gregory Watson, driving force behind the 27th Amendment
  • Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive founder and Alexa Internet co-founder
  • Lamine Alibi, Tunisia Patriotic Democratic Unity Party central committee member
  • Kalle Lasn, Adbusters co-founder and Occupy Wall Street co-creator

  • Jay O’Neal, West Virginia teacher strike leader
  • Sergii Kharchuk, Euromaidan activist and Kyiv city councilman
  • Dr. Hong-koo Han, Sungkonghoe University professor of Korean history and author
  • LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Standing Rock historian and NoDAPL movement co-founder

“Surmountable is required reading for any aspiring change agent who seeks to understand the sacrifices and contributions of past trailblazers and apply their lessons to solve our society’s greatest challenges.”

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State

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