Ben Manski's scholarship and the many questions that drive it are rooted in a lifetime of working for democratic change. Influences included an early childhood in Jerusalem, Israel in the late 1970s and the involvement at that time of his parents in peace and community activism. He lived most of the rest of his life in Madison, Wisconsin, where he became a part of the traditions of Wisconsin progressivism and the Midwestern labor movement. Manski's maternal grandmother's civil rights and anti-poverty activism and his paternal grandfather's post-Holocaust activism were also particularly influential in his early political development.
Beginning in the 1980s and continuing through the 2010s, Manski was involved in many of the significant mobilizations of the times, including ongoing activism in anti-racism, civil rights, economic justice, environmental, farm and labor, gender equality, immigrant rights, international human rights, peace, reproductive rights, student, and other progressive campaigns. Out of these experiences, he became convinced of the necessity of political and economic democratization in making possible progressive policy change. Organizations and campaigns that he founded or co-founded in order to expressly further the tasks of "building a democracy movement for the U.S.A." included the Democracy Teach-Ins, 180/Movement for Democracy and Education, Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, and Move to Amend, among others. In 2011-2012 he developed the Green New Deal platform delivered to tens of millions of Americans via TV, radio, social media and other message campaigns of the Green Party. In 2014, he initiated the first organizing for a Global Climate Strike.
Manski has performed a wide range of roles, including working as a public interest lawyer, non-profit executive, campaign manager, registered lobbyist, policy advocate and direct action campaigner, as partially detailed in his CV. As an attorney, he represented community organizations, student unions, and veterans groups in litigation, drafting legislation, and developing comprehensive legal strategies, as well as in mundane legal work. For instance, he was involved in campaigns that placed immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan on the ballots of millions of voters from 2005-2008. In 2006, he helped draft and launch legislation in 13 states that challenged unlawful National Guard deployments. In responding to the Citizens United v. FEC ruling of 2010, he co-authored the We the People Amendment (which as of 2022 had nearly 100 sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives), and he developed the bottom-up direct legislation strategy that produced over 700 local and state government resolutions supporting that proposed constitutional amendment.
While he has worked in a variety of executive capacities, managing staffs, technologies, and budgets, Manski also has had a history of involvement in non-violent direct action campaigning. Thus, he was involved in the organizing and mass actions leading up to, during, and following the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle and the subsequent North American FTAA and IMF/World Bank protests, the Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 presidential recounts, the first major protests against the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the first nationally coordinated rallies against Citizens United v. FEC, and the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011. Throughout the 1990s, Manski was involved in the Earth First! movement, participating in non-violent direct action campaigns against clearcutting, development, and mining in the Pacific Northwest and in the Upper Great Lakes; in 1997 he was a member of the host committee for Earth First!'s Round River Rendezvous. Manski was also an early student anti-sweatshop and anti-corporate campaigner; between 1993 and 2005, he helped lead a series of successful long-term occupations of administrative offices as well as other mobilizations against academic complicity in human rights violations. Other direct action campaigns he helped to build included work stoppages, welfare rights protests, affirmative action and anti-Klan mobilizations, abortion clinic defense, and farmworker solidarity campaigns.
A third area of Ben Manski's work took place in the electoral arena. After nearly a decade of volunteer work as a young member of the Democratic Party, together with other activists Manski left the Democrats in 1992 in response to the presidential nomination of Bill Clinton. He was a co-founder of Progressive Dane, a local independent progressive party in south central Wisconsin, and a member of the Green, Labor, and New parties throughout the 1990s. In 1996 he helped restart the Wisconsin Green Party and co-founded the Four Lakes Green Party of Dane County. In the following years, he served as Co-Chair of the Green Party of the United States, National Director of the Campus Greens, Organizing Director of Progressive Dane, Midwest Field Director for Nader 2000, and the 2012 campaign manager of Jill Stein for President. In 1996 he ran for the Dane County Board of Supervisors, winning the primary and then conceding the general election after an initial recount left him with 49.8% of the vote. In 2010 he ran for the Wisconsin State Assembly as a Green, coming in second with 31% of the vote in a four-way race, and winning late endorsements from most of the Democratic establishment against their own nominated candidate.
Today, Ben Manski is Director of Next System Studies and Assistant Professor of Public Sociology at George Mason University.