These are Gwendolyn's notes summarizing the following book:
Alinsky, Saul D. Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. New York: Random House, 1971.
- Accept reality as it is…not how you would have it be. Be guided by your aspirations, but work with the world as it is.
- Communication is the most important thing in community. Eliminate unnecessary barriers to communication.
- Ideological purity is a trap.
- Effective organization is thwarted by a desire for instant or dramatic change.
- Encouraging revolution without reformation…where people have a change in values… is the fast road to tyranny.
- We must always demonstrate high morals and restraint or it will be used to invoke “law and order” and we will have retrogression into tyranny.
- Organize on a common topic….he uses pollution as the example, but it could be human rights.
- Voting is important, but insufficient. We have to keep pressure on the representatives. “No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.”
- When too many citizens are denied the ability to participate meaningfully, there is a sickness that descends on the society. NOTE: I think this is where we are. Through superPACS, Citizens United, lobbyist run amok, the lack of voting rights, gerrymandering, and the electoral college…to many people have no way to meaningfully participate in the process and our society is sick. We need to attack these aspects of the way the system is corrupted itself. I think we should use the language of “rigged.”
- For the “have nots” to take power away and give it to the people.
- Massive cultural changes are always from revolution.
- Evolution is just looking from the outside at particular stages of revolution.
- · Dogma and ideological purity if a trap that will destroy the revolution every time.
- · The only dogma should be “for the general welfare.”
- · Change is the only constant – understand the dynamics of change.
- · “Radicals must be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, and sensitive enough to the process of action and reaction to avoid being trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their choosing. In short, radicals must have a degree of control over the flow of events.” 6-7.
- · READ Thoreau’s essay “The Duty of Civil Disobedience”
- · The “haves” will always declare any threat to the status quo as unpatriotic…whereas we must remember the ideals of our nation’s revolution and understand our own patriotism.
- · “Political realists see the world as it is: an arena of power politics moved primarily by perceived immediate self-interests, where morality is rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest.” 12-13
- · “Reconciliation” typically means when one side gets the power and then the other is reconciled to it.
- · Whitehead: “In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat; but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress towards a victory.” 16
- · All Light has within it the Dark and vice versa. Everything good is capable of being corrupted. [NB – this is a need for spiritual alchemy]
- · Accept the inevitability of the counter-revolution and plan to mitigate it.
- · Haves, Have Nots, Have a Little but Want More. The Have a Littles is the middle class. Most of the revolutionary leaders come from here, but there is also a strong propensity to fall into “do nothings” and a tendency to say that they share the VALUES but not the tactics of revolution…becoming a wet blanket. They become Do-Nothings. They may appear as “good” people, calling for restraint…but all that is required for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.
- · Self-indulgence combined with personal materialistic concern is the major menace to the USA and has been noted as such since Tocqueville
- · Must destroy the illusion that man’s individual welfare can be separated from all others. It does a disservice to elevate this to altruism. There is self-interest in helping each other and if we are too stupid to see it, then we are in trouble. A man who has a loaf of bread next to a man who is starving and will not share is going to get knifed.
Of Means and Ends
- · The man of action considers discussions of means and ends pragmatically and strategically.
- · Does this particular means justify this particular ends?
- · Ends: are they achievable and worth the cost? Means: will they work?
- · The real arena is corrupt and bloody…get over it.
- · Goethe: “conscience is the virtue of observers and not of agents of action.”
- · “In action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter. Action is for mass salvation and not the individual’s personal salvation.” P 25
- · Jacques Maritain: “The fear of soiling ourselves by entering the context of history is not virtue but a way of escaping virtue.” 25-26
- · “The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means.” 26
- · One’s concerns with means and ends is inversely related to how personally involved one is and the distance from the conflict. [in other words – a White majority person sitting in a red enclave will judge the means and ends of a POC protesting in a far away neighborhood against police brutality, whereas the means and ends for the POC in that situation is less importat.]
- · Judgments about ends and means depend on whether your are in alignment with the ends.
- · In times of war, almost all means get justified.
- · Judgment about means and ends must be made from within the context it exists, not in reference to any other chronological time.
- · Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
- · The less important the situation, the more one can debate about its morality.
- · Success or failure is a strong determinant of ethics. There is no such thing as a successful traitor…that person becomes a founding father.
- · An important ethical determinant is whether the means is employed in the moment of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
- · Any effective means will automatically be judged by the opposition as unethical, no matter what.
- · You do what you can with what you have and then cloth it with morality.
- · “All effective actions require the passport of morality”
- · “The goal once named cannot be countermanded.” Whitman. Be careful how you name the goal. Make sure it is your vision. “Liberty” “For the Common Good” “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
A Word About Words
- · Power = ability (physical, mental or moral) to act
- · The real quote was “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton
- · The corruption is not in power but in ourselves.
- · Self-interest is a real motivator and also needs to be cultivated, even if it is framed as a higher motive. Don’t underestimate it.
- · There is tremendous shame in admitting that we are affected by self-interest, so we shift and try to rationalize our self-interest using other language. (This is what a LOT of White people are doing right now).
- · Compromise: For an organizer, this is a key and beautiful concept.
- · Ego – also self-confidence. MUST have it. It is NOT egotism. The organizer is driven by a desire to create. Egotism comes from inadequacy.
- · Conflict – necessary and empowering. The music of democracy is the harmony of dissonance.
The Education of an Organizer
- · “The education of an organizer requires frequent long conferences on organizational problems, analysis of power patterns, communication, conflict tactics, the education and development of community leaders, and the methods of introduction of new issues.” 64
- · Strength of an organizer is her/his experiences. “Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns ,and synthesized.” 69
- · Must use the local language and idioms, but be yourself.
- · Essential characterstics of an organizer:
o Irreverence for dogma combined with deep reverence for all humanity
o Imagination – have to be able to identify with those who are unlike you…INCLUDING the opposition so that you can forecast their response.
o A sense of humor
o A blurred vision of a better world
o An organized personality
o A well-integrated political schizoid – To act, you must believe that you are 100% right…that is what you have to be in the ring and when rallying people…but then when you get to the point of negotiation, you have to be able to see what is able to be compromised and what cannot be…which means being able to back of the 100%.
o Ego: Not egotism, but “Ego is unreserved confidence in one’s ability to do what he believes must be done. An organizer must accept, without fear or worry, that the odds are always against him. Having this kind of ego, he is a doer and does.”
o A free and open mind, and political relativity. – requirements for flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity, the acceptance of uncertainity. These keep the organizer from falling into cynicism and disillusionment.
o Joy that comes from creation.
- · It is futile to worry about whether someone did the right things for the wrong reasons. That is often the case. The point is to get them to do the right thing.
- · Have to build multiple issues to get solidarity
- · Each person and each bloc has a hierarchy of priorities
- · This is the single most important skill of an organizer. One can succeed without some of the other skills, but even having all of the others, but lacking this one, you will fail.
- · “Communication with others takes place when they understand what you’re trying to get across to them. “ 81
- · “People only understand things in terms of their experience, which means you must get within their experience.” 81
- · Two way process – if only speaking and not listening, not communicating.
- · If you can’t find a way into their experience, then you have to create an experience.
- · You can’t communicate with people purely on the basis of ethics or rational facts. It is only when someone is concerned or feels threatened that most people will act.
- · You have to keep your cool, figure out what someone’s prime value is, and go there.
- · You can’t tell a community what to do. But organizers usually see what a community needs to do. The point is to persuade them, maneuver them, make suggestions. Etc.
- · The organizer has to wean leaders from dependency on his/her.
- · If the organizer starts issuing orders and getting too much into explaining – it builds up subconscious resentment
- · One of the ways the left fails is when campus organizers try to go to the poor and tell them about the bankruptcy of their values.
- · "A classic example of a failure to communicate because the organizer has gone completely outside the experience of the people, is the attempt by campus activists to indicate to the poor the bankruptcy of their prevailing values." p 94-95.
- · We have to absolutely personalize the impact. “LGBT people” are threatened is not as compelling as “Greg and Alan are threatened.” People can’t process statistics in an emotionally meaningful way.
- · Issues have to be communicated, but in ways that also have specificity. It is not “gay rights” it is “not allowing children to be electrocuted because they are gay.”
- · The issue has to be simple enough that people can grasp the rallying or battle cry.
- · You have to grasp the general issue, then the specifics that people can relate to, and then help them link it back to the general issue again.
In the Beginning
- · You have to build your credibility with the community
- · Three pieces of credibility:
o That you are on their side
o That you have ideas and know how to change things
o That you are a winner
- · They have to believe in your courage and your competence
- · Instill a determination that together you will be victorious
- · The have-nots tend to look to the haves and be submissive towards them believing they have “something special.”
- · As a radical, getting denounced by the mainstream institution gives credibility (NB: Trump used this to cast himself as an outside…even though he is an insider’s insider as far as having bribed the system mercilessly for years went).
- · You have to be invited by some sector before you begin organizing
- · A huge part of the problem in the beginning is that the “masses” often do not know what they want.
- · “One of the great problems in the beginning of an organization is, often, that the people do not know what they want. Discovering this stirs up, in the organizer, that inner doubt shared by so many, whether the masses of people are competent to make decisions for a democractic society. It is the schizophrenia of a free society that we outwardly espouse faith I the people but inwardly have strong doubts whether the people can be trusted. These reservations can destroy the effectiveness of the most creative and talented organizer.” P. 104
- · “The issue that is not clear to organizers, missionaries, educators, or any outsider, is simply that if people feel they don’t have the power to change a bad situation, then they do not think about it.” 105
- · Uses the Socratic method a lot. Asking leading questions. That is a skill that I need to work on more. *** I love it but I’m rusty.
- · The first thing that has to happen is that they have to begin to have confidence that they can change things for the better, and then they will start thinking. That is where you see that the faith is not misplaced.
- · The resolution of one problem will bring on another problem. The organizer knows this, but doesn’t necessarily speak it. It is important not to allow people to fall into feelings of futility.
- · “In the early days the organizer moves out front in any situation of risk where the power of the establishment can get someone’s job, call in an overdue payment, or any other form of retaliation, partly because these dangers would cause many local people to back of from conflict. Here the organizer serves as a protective shield: if anything goes wrong it is all his fault, he has the responsibility. If they are successful all credit goes to the local people.” 107
- · As the organization matures, more people step out front and take risks.
- · One of the main shadows that has to be faced is fear of the new. So…draping new ideas in the vestiges or language of past ideas can make it less frightening.
- · Must understand group rationalizations that get in the way…and break through them. “Learn to search out the rationalizations, treat them as rationalizations, and break through. Do not make the mistake of locking yourself up in conflict with them as though they were the issues or problems with which you are trying to engage the local people.” 112
- · FIRST STEPS are all about building the power base. You do not confront anything until you have built the power base. The entire goal at that point is to build the numbers. So, if small victories will build numbers…that’s what you go for. If small losses will increase the numbers, then you lose. Everything is about building numbers and consolidating the power base.
- · Functions of an organizer: analyzes, attacks, disrupts the prevailing power pattern
- · “All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new.” 116
- · “No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiations.”
- · In the beginning, the organizer’s job is to define the problems. Need to take the “bad scene” and break it up into the issues that can be addressed.
- · “The organization is born out of the issues and the issues are born out of the organization.” 120
- · “community” = community interests not physical community
- · Posits that “the dignity of the individual” should be the guidestar. NB: I need to think about that.
- · Education is not propaganda. “Real education is the means by which the membership will begin to make sense out of their relationship as individuals to the organization and to the world they live in, so that they can make informed and intelligent judgments.” 124
- · Tactics = doing what you can with what you have
- · If you have enough people, then make yourselves visible. If you do not have as many, then don’t let them see your actual numbers, but make enough noise that they will infer more people. Too few than that? Stink up the place.
- · Power is not only what you have, but what your opponent thinks you have. P. 127
- · Don’t go outside the experience of your people
- · Try to go outside the experience of your enemy
- · Power is derived from two main sources – people and money
- · Make your enemy live up to their own book of rules (NB: so for fundamentalists - call them on the way in which they are breaking their own rules..make their hypocrisy visible)
- · Ridicule is a very potent weapon
- · Tactics must be enjoyable to the people doing them
- · Tactics that drag on to long become a drag
- · Keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions
- · The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself
- · The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
- · Unceasing pressure that causes reactions from the opponents that wins the campaign
- · If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counter-side
- · The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative (in other words…BE ready for exactly what you want if they cave).
- · Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it (don’t let the buck get passed…you’ve got to lock it down)
- · Choosing and ACTING is what is essential
- · Laughing at the enemy is pretty well guaranteed to get a reaction
- · Threatening a tactic is the same as any other situation of deterrence…you must have both the capability and the credibility.
- · Any attack on the status quo must use the strength of the enemy against itself
- · Being jailed as a leader: shakes up the status quo; strengthens leaders by giving them an air of martyrdom; deepens identification since the leader has shown the have-nots that they are willing to go to prison for them; needs to be for something that will only have jail time of overnight to two months; use the time to reflect on vision and philosophy
- · Again…conflicts that drag on too long become challenging.
- · Interesting tactic about banks. Get a ton of people to descend on a bank and open an account with virtually no money in it. Return a week later and close the account. All of that ties up their employees and their paperwork.
- · But the point is that once the tactics are deployed a couple of times…they figure out how to do countertactics.
The Genesis of Tactic Proxy
- · Tactic comes out of the free flow of action and reaction more than reasoned analysis
- · Basically when you realize that something that you are planning has potential symbolic meaning. Such as, for example, when he set up a public action on July 14th because it was the day he could get the permits and then realized it was Bastille Day and claimed it so that it suddenly looked like that was part of the plan.
- · You often choose the tactics as they come up, but then you create your reasons around them.
- · Originally it actually was about asking people to assign their proxy votes as shareholders to an organization that was in a civil rights battle.
- · Trying to organize people to actually attend the shareholder meeting. The reason being that if you can manage to get thousands of shareholders in, even if there is just a single person representing the majority of shareholders…the optics are terrible.
- · Emphasizing the importance of the middle class to actually show up to shareholders meetings – make them have the announcement of their policies that doesn’t get hidden and tapped down. (NB; we could use social media effectively here, I think.)
- · “I suggest that America’s corporations are a spiritual slum, and their arrogance is the major threat to our future as a free society.” 182-183
The Way Ahead
- · Organizing has to take place in the middle class
- · There is a split between the upper middle class and the lower middle class…the lower middle class tends towards chauvinism and the upper and middle middle classes tend to assume a liberal, democratic, holier-than-thou position.
- · So, the problem is that if the upper and middle of the middle don’t win the lower, they will go really reactionary. “People must be ‘reformed” – so that they cannot be deformed into dependency and driven through desperation to dictatorship and the death of freedom…. Their fears and frustrations at their helplessness are mounting to a point of a political paranoia which can demonize people to turn to the law of survival in the narrowest sense. These emotions can go either to the far right of totalitarianism or forward to Act II of the American Revolution.” 189-190
- · “The human cry of the second revolution is one for a meaning, a purpose of life—a cause to live for and if need be to die for.” 196
- · “The great American dream that we reached out to the stars has been lost to the stripes. We have forgotten where we came from, we don’t know where we are, and we fear where we may be going. Afraid, we turn from the glorious adventure of the pursuit of happiness to a pursuit of an illusionary security in an ordered, stratified, striped society. Our way of life is symbolized to the world by the stripes of military force. At home we have made a mockery of being our brother’s keeper by being his jail keeper. When Americans can no longer see the stars, the times are tragic. We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world; we will see it when we believe it.” 196