from inspiration to activism

by Mary Lang Sollinger
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Madison author wins Book of the Year Award
from the
Chicago Writers Association in their Non-fiction Category

"Mary Lang Sollinger offers a rare glimpse into the fascinating world of political fundraising in her highly personal, engaging book From Inspiration to Activism. This is a well-crafted, well-paced book that delivers on its title as Mary describes how she was inspired to make a difference in the world, and how that inspiration spurred her to work tirelessly to elect Barack Obama in 2008. Mary’s idealism is refreshing rather than divisive. She writes of her upbringing in a rural, Republican family and how, as Obama’s campaign progressed, she would hear her father’s voice in Obama’s speeches. Mary’s ability to find these connections across political differences undoubtedly led to her fundraising success, yet the book isn’t simply a compilation of Mary’s efforts. Instead, in each story she shares, she shows how she and countless campaign volunteers embody Obama’s mission to respect, empower, and include. She shows how, by listening and being kind, each of us has the power to effect change. From Inspiration to Activism is an enjoyable blend of memoir, history, and ‘how-to’ tips. Lesson one in Mary’s final section is “Be magnanimous.” Her story does this beautifully.”--- --Tammy Letherer, CWA Judge

Mary grew up in a farming town in Wisconsin in a Republican family.  She moved to Madison and opened a store on State Street, near the University of Wisconsin. After becoming a prodigious fundraiser and a community activist. for causes and candidates she believed in, she became a candidate for mayor. Because of these credentials, Mary received a call for an incredible opportunity. It was to host a fundraiser at her home with Senator Obama in the fall of 2007.Mary believed in the issues and values he represented.  Mary, along with many other volunteers, worked tirelessly in canvassing across Madison, Milwaukee, Dubuque, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. While knocking on door after door, Mary found unique ways to overcome obstacles when trying to connect with people on the other side of those doors. She embodied Obama’s campaign mantra of: respect, empower, include, REI. Mary discovered that only in the United States of America could this happen. NOW, more than ever, this book is essential to re-kindle that hope that is in all of us.

For ordering:  A Room of One's Own or the publisher: Little Creek Press
The cost of the paperback is $17.95
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for the paperback book, an E-book ($8.99), available via Kindle or Audible Book.
The book is also available on iTunes.

About the Author

Photo by Ingrid Laas

Mary lang sollinger

Author // Founder // Community Organizer

Mary Lang Sollinger grew up on a small town in Wisconsin’s heartland. There were no big things expected of her after high school, no talk of college. In spite of this, she took some risks and became a candidate for mayor in Madison, a prodigious fundraiser and a community activist for causes and candidates she believes in. Along the way, she discovered that only in the United States of America could this happen. This book is to re-kindle the hope that is in all of us. Mary and her husband Hans, live in Madison, Wisconsin.

As Chair of the Tenney Park Shelter Group ( $1.2M, fundraised privately $700k), Mary played a key role in the design, presented to downtown neighborhoods, and lobbied for all the city permits and approvals for a new park shelter/pavillion). The Pavilion is the most rented in the City Park system.

As Campaign Chair for the Goodman Community Center ($12.3M with $6M coming from Grants and $6M from the community), Mary, with a team, defended a Kresge Foundation grant for $250,000. The Center was built in 2008.

Mary created and chaired the State Street holiday lighting program (10 years ago) and the Folk on State concert series (8 years ago) on State Street and secured all the funds and grants, and obtained all the city approvals.

After many months of debate, Mary was asked by the Mayor’s office to upstart a public art process. Within three years, installed a well-received artwork, The Forum of Origin, located off the Square and on top of State Street (fundraised $190k).

Mary served as a Mayor-appointed commissioner for seven years representing the Downtown area for the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center and chaired several sub-committees. Created the Friends of Monona Terrace and led the inscribed tile campaign for the rooftop garden with over 11,000 tiles, which amounted to $1 million in additional revenues for the Center.

Mary served on many city committees and commissions, including the City Planning Commission.

Mary taught at the University of Wisconsin, as a guest lecturer in Retailing for two semesters.

Mary bought out an adult bookstore, which eventually enabled the design for the Overture Center.

Mary started two women’s stores on State Street and remained in retail for over 25 years. One store, The Peacock, was from a term paper at MATC.

Mary served on the MATC Foundation Board for over 15 years.

THE PURPOSE of the book

I was inspired by REI - respect, empower, include - which was the mantra of the 2008 campaign. The words are based on trust, the total antithesis of what the political world is perceived to be.

Respect, empower, include (REI) felt like the non-profit community culture I was in for many years, in organizations with many volunteers who worked from their hearts and accomplished great things. There were no private agendas, no competing, and no planning for a job in the White House. Everything was based on respect, empowerment, and trusting people's objectives and decision-making, with the end goal of helping our country.

I felt these three words kept Senator Obama and his staff out of the "dirty and mean" part of traditional politics. Very few people want to be a part of the old way of doing politics.

Volunteers and staff not only stayed with Barack Obama,  but brought their friends into the campaign. These three words stabilized and built a formidable foundation - it was the reason why he won in 2008. No one ever left Senator Obama. When only a few did leave him, it was out of respect and dedication to him, to make his life easier. People who had gumption to do the right thing for the President, and the country.

Whenever I am on a podium to give a talk, no matter who the audience is, I incorporate "respect, empower, include" as inspiration, a guideline to live. I saw the change it did for me and how it gave me sustainability more energy to do more. I wanted to share this with others.  

As Heidi Wilde, a dedicated volunteer and friend from the 2008 campaign who is mentioned in the book, says,  "It brings back such good memories of times when we grew personally, challenged ourselves, formed friendships, and learned all the time as we were engaging with other like-minded souls to work for our country.  And the joy of seeing all our work succeed! I hope your book will energize folks once more, especially with the blueprints you provided at the end, to go out and help turn things around so that we will live once more in the United States of America, not the divided ones we currently live in."


Breakfast, Lunch or Happy Hour Obama Book Readings and Conversations

What a time to be releasing a new book!

Necessity and hard times are the “mother of invention”. During the pandemic's health restrictions, we stretched our imaginations. A new, interesting and practical way surfaced—Happy Hour Obama Book Readings and Conversations.

Curious about hearing President Obama's legacy through Mary’s journey in the 2008 campaign? Join Mary for an hour-long Zoom Conversation with your virtual guest list! Learn about her time serving on the National Finance Committee and what it was like to get out the vote in the field by knocking on doors in four states. 

Mary has given over 20 book conversations and book readings for women's groups, book clubs, community, black friends and young activists. She would like to connect with book clubs, community groups, youth organizations who are curious about an insider's story of how ordinary people can make a difference our political process.

How do I set up my own Obama book reading and conversation?

All book reading events have been changed to virtual/Zoom events due to COVID.
If you are interested, please text Mary at 608-212-6889 or email:

No public events are currently on the calendar. Please check back again soon.



"A campaign memoir from an actual campaign worker is rare, even though each presidential campaign gives birth to a small library of books from the higher up insiders and the reporters covering the campaign. MLS gives a look from the trenches. It is a book for students of political science that marries theory with reality.”

Tom Loftus
Former Ambassador to Norway and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker

"What was going to be one became six fundraisers Mary organized for Barack Obama's Presidential campaign. She is a master organizer - energizing everyone, making it fun, making it easy, personalizing each event. I'm not sure how she did it, which is why I want you to take a look at the book.  You'll learn a lot while having fun along the way."

Dr. Zorba Paster
National Public Radio

"Mary is a true example of someone inspired to create change at the local level, and in a short time becoming a major force nationally. I was happy to see the book reflected President Obama's mantra of "Respect. Empower. Include. This is a code of ethics we, in Wisconsin, understand.”

Congressman Mark Pocan

“Sollinger has written a heroic and cultural work of political activism detailing her journey from growing up on a farm, to becoming a business person, ultimately becoming the delegate to the National Democratic convention in 2008. She is Reflective and truthful both in her self discovery and on the most serious challenges of our American Democracy. She reminds us that we should “respect, and empower and include“ as the way to a breathtakingly better world.”

Dennis T. Costakos M.D.
Mayo Clinic Alix College of Medicine

"The great potential of democracy lies in the magic people create when they decide to give of themselves for the broader public good. Here is a story of the extraordinary journey Mary Lang Sollinger experienced through choosing such a path."

Katherine J. Cramer
Author “The Politics of Resentment, Rural Consciousness in Rural Wisconsin and the Rise and Fall of Scott Walker", Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Mary Lang Sollinger has been a friend and advocate for years. As a key player on many successful campaigns and political movements, she has a keen understanding of what it takes to win. Her book offers a great insight into the early rise of President Obama's campaign and the impact individuals can have in changing the course of history.”

Senator Tammy Baldwin

“Mary Lang Sollinger's book reflects a deep conviction she and I share—civic engagement is a unique power, and, through action, we can harness that power to effect change. My involvement with the Obama campaign in 2008 was one of the highlights of my life, and this book does a good job of capturing why.”

Senator Tim Kaine

"The timing for From Inspiration to Activism is crucial for the upcoming elections in November. I am glad that Mary is sharing her journey and hope with us all.”

Gwen Moore
Wisconsin Congresswoman

“This book is a mesmerizing, personal portrait of the 2008 Obama campaign. Sollinger captures the magic of the historic campaign and Obama himself, both full of idealism and hope. She breaks barriers, just as her candidate did in 2008. This is a good read that makes a great moment in American history feel fresh and alive, contrasting them with the dark political times we live in now.”

Jo Handelsman
Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and former White House science advisor

"Mary and I share a deep belief in the Obama campaign mantra: respect, empower, include. By bringing people together with the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things for their country, Mary testifies to the better angels of our democracy. This book has a special place in my heart and is an important read for anyone who wants to help our country.”

Steven Olikara
Founder and CEO, Millennial Action Project; political commentator

"I read how Mary Lang Sollinger started out in politics in peaceful Madison with a fundraiser, and then kept piling them on. By the time I got to this book’s chapter about Indianapolis,  I came a friend and indefatigable Obama supporter. Mary had a vision, and fortunately it matched Barack Obama’s. Read her book.”

Edward Asner
Emmy Award-winning actor, former president of the Screen Actors Guild

"A deeply heartfelt, behind-the-scenes look at how one person can make a difference. An engrossing, personal story about how grassroots activism starts and spreads.”

Veronica Rueckert
author of Outspoken, Why Women’s Voices Get Silenced and How to Set Them Free, and Peabody Award-winning communications specialist

"Mary Lang Sollinger is an inspiration to voters at all levels, from her neighborhood to the nation at large. Her warm and stirring book shows why: a profound commitment to living the principles of Respect, Empower, Include. The book shows how campaigning for Senator Obama changed her. The book will change you, too—and make you want to follow in her footsteps."

Ben Wikler
Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, former Washington DC Director for

"Mary has captured the essence of the formation of a candidate and campaign that changed America and the world. She exemplifies the best of what politics can bring out in us: respect, community and hope. Mary has dedicated her political life’s work into funding, training and mentoring candidates, campaign staff. All she has asked in return is an open heart and mind. I implore you to take all the wisdom you can from her story and put it to action.”

John Pratt
Associate, White House Advance Team for the President, 2012-16

LET’s Get in touch

One of my goals is to have a 20 city national book tour with panel discussions before or after the reading.  If you are interested in having a book reading your town at your civics club or community center, please contact me at for the scheduling and details. Let’s see what we can work out.

Let’s get social