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Community Organizing: Fanning the Flame of Democracy

Biographical Sketch

David Walls portraitDavid Walls is professor emeritus of sociology at Sonoma State University. He currently researches, writes, lectures, and consults about social movements and their organizations, leadership, and music.

Growing up on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in Duluth, Minnesota, he graduated from high school in Coral Gables, Florida, in 1959. He received an undergraduate degree in economics in 1964 from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was active in SLATE, the campus political party, and served a term on the board of the Associated Students.

After graduation, he worked for the Community Action Program of the Office of Economic Opportunity in Washington, DC, assisting in the launch of Project Head Start in the summer of 1965, and in funding college student volunteer programs.

In 1966 he moved to eastern Kentucky to work as field coordinator and later executive director with the Appalachian Volunteers, a community organizing project in the central Appalachian coalfields.

He received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from the University of Kentucky, where he taught in the school of social work and helped establish and administer the Appalachian Center from 1974 through 1981.

In 1982 he moved to Sonoma State University, where he served as Director of Sponsored Programs, General Manager of the SSU Academic Foundation, and as dean of the School of Extended Education from 1984 to 2000. He taught courses on social movements for the departments of Sociology, Women's & Gender Studies, History, Environmental Studies and Planning, and American Multicultural Studies.

He is co-editor of Appalachia in the Sixties: Decade of Reawakening (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1972), and author of The Activist's Almanac: The Concerned Citizen's Guide to the Leading Advocacy Organizations in America (Simon & Schuster/Fireside, 1993).

After retiring he taught short courses on social movements for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Sonoma State University and other northern California campuses. From 2009 through 2012 he was the volunteer council coordinator for the Sonoma County Council of  He is one of the co-founders of the North Bay Organizing Project and has served on its leadership council from 2010 to date.

His current research concerns the features that account for successful social movements. His latest book is Community Organizing: Fanning the Flame of Democracy (Polity Books, 2015).

YouTube Video Video: Keynote Address to the 34th annual conference of the Appalachian Studies Association.
March 11, 2011, at Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY
Introductions by Alan Banks and Dwight Billings.