Alinsky is that rarity in American life, a superlative organizer, strategist, and tactician who is also a social philosopher.”
— Charles E. Silberman
“He cannot be bought; he cannot be intimidated; and he breaks all the rules.”
— The Economist
“The establishment can accept being screwed, but not being laughed at. What bugs them most about me is that unlike humorless radicals, I have a hell of a good time doing what I’m doing.”
I’ve been re-reading Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinksy, which was published in ’71, Alinsky died in ’72 and was a long time radical organizer who genuinely got stuff done. He started the Industrial Areas Foundations (IAF) in the 40’s which helped desperately poor and exploited people in Chicago gain control over their lives. That organization continues to morph and grow.
The scale of the IAF’s work today–there are some 50 church-based, interfaith and interracial organizations stretching from East Brooklyn to the East Side of Los Angeles–is steadily approaching Alinsky’s unfulfilled dream of a large network of “Peoples’ Organizations” that would provide tens-of-thousands of ordinary working and modest-income Americans with a measure of power to shape decisions that affect their lives and communities.
Sojourners, “Christians for Justice and Peace”, comments:
The origins of community organizing are generally traced to the pioneering work of Saul Alinsky, who built the first community organizing effort in Chicagoâ€™s Back of the Yards neighborhood in the 1930s. Alinsky created the early community-based efforts by organizing existing groups into collective action around particular issues.
In 1952, one of his organizations recruited a young Cesar Chavez.
In 1952, Cesar was laboring in apricot orchards outside San Jose when he met Fred Ross, an organizer for the Community Service Organization, a barrio-based self-help group sponsored by Chicago-based Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation. Within several months Cesar was a full-time organizer with CSO, coordinating voter registration drives, battling racial and economic discrimination against Chicano residents and organizing new CSO chapters across California and Arizona.
Chavez of course went on to co-found the United Farm Workers…
BTW, Alinsky more than once forced Mayor Daley the first of Chicago to back off and back down, something few were capable of.
I’ll be discussing the Rules for Radicals over the next several days, however here are some of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.
These rules take advantage of the patterns of weakness, arrogance, repeated mistakes, and miscalculations large organizations and their leadership make:
- Power is not only what you have, but what the target thinks you have.
- Never go outside the expertise of your people. Feeling secure stiffens the backbone.
- Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the target. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty.
- Make the target live up to its own book of rules. If the rule is that every letter or E-mail gets a reply, send thousands.
- Ridicule, especially against organizational leaders, is a potent weapon. There’s no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force concessions.
- A good tactic is one your people enjoy. They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’ll even suggest better ones.
- Keep the pressure on. Never let up. Keep trying new tactics to keep the opposition off balance. As the target masters one approach, hit them with something new.
- Pick the target. Target an individual, personalize the attack, polarize and demoralize his/her supporters. Go after people, not institutions. Hurting, harassing, and humiliating individuals, especially leaders, causes more rapid organizational change.
I leave you (for now) with one of the dedications for Rules for Radicals, which gives the flavor of the man:
Lest we forget an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical; from all our legends, mythology and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins–or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that at least he won his own kingdom — Lucifer.