Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rules for Radicals

Sunday is a good day for reading.  So, after reading from the Gospels, The anonymous account of "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" and going to mass, Noman settled down in front of the fire with the bible of the community organizing left, Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals."

The fireplace is an appropriate place to read the book, since it is prefaced with "an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical... who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom--Lucifer."  Noman would stick to Marx and St. Simon for this type of surreptitious thrill were it not for a curious fact noted by the Chicago Sun-Times on the back cover of the book.  "Alinsky's techniques and teaching influenced generations of community and labor organizers, including the church-based group hiring a young [Barack] Obama to work on Chicago's South Side in the 1980s... Alinsky impressed a young [Hillary] Clinton, who was growing up in Park Ridge at the time Alinsky was the director of the Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago."  Since he is the political godfather of the the current Administration's leading lights, Noman thought it worth taking another, long look.

Addressing the revolutionary youth of 1971, Alinsky notes that in seeking to "do their own thing," the young merely seek "what man has always looked for from the beginning of time, a way of life that has some meaning or sense... a chance to strive for some sort of order."  For the true radical, doing his own thing means "to do the social thing, for and with people."  Hence, it is through social order that revolutionary youth will find its meaning.  "When [the young] talk of values they're asking for a reason.  Thay are searching for an man's greatest question, "Why am I here?"  Alinsky will tell them why, and how to get there.

Alinsky offers his experience and counsel to "those young radicals who are committed to the fight, committed to life"  It is important to focus on achievable goals, and to not seek too much from social action.  "We are talking about revolution, not revelation: you can miss the target by shooting too high as well as too low.  First, there are no rules for revolution... but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world."  To know these central concepts of action in human politics is "basic to a pragmatic attack on the system."

Communication is crucial.  "One communicates within the experience of his audience--and gives full respect to the other's values..."  Also, "humor is essential, for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously.

An organizer begins where the world is, not where he wants it to be, but with an eye to where he wants it to be.  "That means working in the system."  This is essential to preparing the ground for revolution, which can only be achieved after a preceding "reformation," after instilling "a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people."  The goal is for people to feel so frustrated, defeated, lost and futureless "in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future."  The organizer has to work within the system to bring about this reformation in hearts and minds, principles, opinions, sentiments and affections.  He must communicate with the middle class and its lower, blue collar end, lest it move to the right.  This all-important reformation is the bridge men need to cross from the security of familiar experience to a new way.  "A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives--agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative non-challenging climate."  Once disillusionment with past ways and values is achieved, "the time is then ripe for revolution."

Organize people around something commonly agreed to, such as pollution; then it's a "short and natural step to political pollution, to Pentagon pollution."  Keep the pressure on the candidates you elect.  Make it hot, as "no politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough."  Individuals must be regularly involved in the action of democratic governance, or they will lose it.  A self governing people cannot be spared the burden of decisions.  "To lose your 'identity' as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing your identity as a person.  "Civic-sclerosis" sets in when citizens sink into apathy, anonymity, depersonalization and dependence.  The "enemy within [is] the hidden and malignant inertia that foreshadows more certain destructions to our life and future than any nuclear warhead."

Next: The Purpose

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