Pitchforks For Change

In his new book, "The Uprising," author and populist gadfly David Sirota argues that a "fist-pounding, primal screaming" revolt is brewing in America—and it's about to boil over. He spoke with NEWSWEEK'S Tony Dokoupil:

What kind of uprising are you talking about?
It's actually more than a dozen separate uprisings, connected by a common backlash against the elite domination of government. On the left, it manifests itself as a backlash against the war, economic inequality and conservatism; on the right, it's a backlash against illegal immigration and liberal elites.

They sound more different than the same.
They are different in the specific issues they focus on, but the same in what they are reacting against: the establishment and the status quo.

If the people are always right, what keeps them down?
Social and cultural divides, territorialism and a kind of vanity. There is a huge amount of power to be wielded on the local level, but all the focus is on national targets, like Congress and the White House. Becoming a movement would require less of the glamorous stuff, like the presidential race, and more community organizing, far from the media spotlight. It also requires more democracy. I reserve some tough criticism for organizations whose leaders are not elected and thus face no accountability. Moveon.org, for instance—its leaders are great individuals, but the organization has an undemocratic structure that expresses a lack of trust in the people they serve.

What would a cohesive movement look like?
Something akin to history's past movements—multicultural, locally based and broadly themed so that different individual issues fit under the movement's umbrella.

Why is the time right for a populist revolt?
There is an extremely intense wave of dissatisfaction building right now that mirrors the wave in 1980 that helped the conservative uprising explode into a full-fledged conservative movement.

Do you worry that you ' ll turn off elite readers with a pitchfork mob on your book cover?
Not at all, because this book wasn't written for the establishment crowd. It's not a book by Tom Friedman. It's not a book for wealthy people.

And yet you ' re rather establishment, as the son of a Philadelphia doctor.
"Establishment" is a point of view—do you worship power or challenge it? No one who knows my work would say it is establishment.