Rules for Radicals – by Saul D. Alinsky

Humor is essential, for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously.

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be – it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.

Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people.

Great dangers always accompany great opportunities. The possibility of destruction is always implicit in the act of creation. Thus the greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself.

The opposition’s means, used against us, are always immoral and our means are always ethical and rooted in the highest of human values.

The purpose of the Haves is to keep what they have. Therefore, the Haves want to maintain the status quo and the Have-Nots to change it. The Haves develop their own morality to justify their means of repression and all other means employed to maintain the status quo. The Haves usually establish laws and judges devoted to maintaining the status quo; since any effective means of changing the status quo are usually illegal and/or unethical in the eyes of the establishment, Have-Nots, from the beginning of time, have been compelled to appeal to “a law higher than man-made law.” Then when the Have-Nots achieve success and become the Haves they are in the position of trying to keep what they have and their morality shifts with their change of location in the power pattern.

To the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100%, then compromise for 30%, you’re 30% ahead.

The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. The organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach – to create, to be a “great creator,” to play God.

Egotism is mainly a defensive reaction of feelings of personal inadequacy – ego is a positive conviction and belief in one’s ability, with no need for egotistical behavior.
Ego moves on every level. How can an organizer respect the dignity of an individual if he does not respect his own dignity? How can he believe in people if he does not really believe in himself? How can he convince people that they have it within themselves, that they have the power to stand up to win, if he does not believe it of himself? Ego must be so all-pervading that the personality of the organizer is contagious, that is converts the people from despair to defiance, creating a mass ego.

Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns, and synthesized.

“Life is the expectation of the unexpected – the things you worry about rarely happen. Something new, the unexpected, wull usually come from outside the ball park. You’re all nodding as if you understand but you really don’t. What I’ve said are just words to you. I want you to go to your private cubbyholes and think for the next four hours. Try to remember all the things you worried about during the last years and whether they ever happened or what did happen – and then we’ll talk about it.”

The function of an organizer is to raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern.

The organizer knows that the real action is in the reaction of the opposition. To realistically appraise and anticipate the probable reactions of the enemy, he must be able to identify with them, too, in his imagination, and foresee their reactions to his actions.

A sense of humor enables him to maintain his perspective and see himself for what he really is: a bit of dust that burns for a fleeting second.

With very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons. […] The organizer should know and accept that the right reason is only introduced as a moral rationalization after the right end has been achieved, although it may have been achieved for the wrong reason – therefore he should search for and use the wrong reasons to achieve the right goals. He should be able, with skill and calculation, to use irrationality in his attempts to progress towards a rational world.

An organizer must become sensitive to everyhting that is happening around him. He is always learning, and every incident teaches him something.

Ego is unreserved confidence in one’s ability to do what he believes must be done.

The basic difference between the leader and the organizer:
The leader goes on to build power to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield the power for purposes both social and personal. He wants power himself. The organizer finds his goal in creation of power for others to use.

The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.

Communication with others takes place when they understand what you’re trying to get across to them. If they don’t understand, then you are not communicating regardless of words, pictures, or anything else. People only understand things in terms of their experience, which means that you must get within their experience.

I know that I have communicated with the other party when his eyes light up and he responds, “I know exactly what you mean. I had something just like that happen to me once. Let me tell you about it!”

Personal experience was necessary to real understanding.

Every now and then I have been accused of being crude and vulgar because I have used analogies of sex or the toilet. I do not do this because I want to shock, particularlym but because there are certain experiences common to all, and sex and toilet are two of them. Furthermore, everyone is interested in those two – which can’t be said of every common experience.

Since people understand only in terms of their own experience, an organizer must have at least a cursory familiarity with their experience. It not only serves communication but it strengthens the personal identification of the organizer with others, and facilitates further communication.

When you are trying to communicate and can’t find the point in the experience of the other party at which he can receive and understand, then, you must create the experience for him.

When you go outside anyone’s experience not only do you not communicate, you cause confusion.

People react strictly on the basis of their own experience.

In mass organization, you can’t go outside of people’s actual experience. […] Approach them on the basis of their own self-interest.

Communication for persuasion, as in negotiation, is more than entering the area of another person’s experience. It is getting a fix on his main value or goal and holding your course on that target.

In effective communications people have to make their own decisions. […] No organizer can tell a community what to do. Much of the time, though, the organizer will have a pretty good idea of what the community should be doing, and he will want to suggest, maneuverm and persuade the community toward that action. He will not ever seem to tell the community what to do; instead, he will use loaded questions. (What do YOU think we should do now? What about YOU?What’s something that worries YOU?)

The organizer recedes from the local circle of decision-makers. His response to questions about what HE thinks becomes a non-directive counterquestion, “What do YOU think?” His job becomes one of weaning the group away from any dependency upon him. Then his job is done.

The organizer knows that it is a human characteristic that someone who asks for help and gets it reacts not only with gratitude but with a subconscious hostility toward the one who helped him. It is a sort of psychic “original sin” because he feels that the one who helped him is always aware that if it hadn’t been for his help, he would still be a defeated nothing.

This element of the specific that must be small enough to be grasped by the hands of experience ties very definitely into the whole scene of ISSUES. Issues must be able to be communicated. It is essential that they can be communicated. It is essential that they be simple enough to be grasped as rallying or battle cries. They cannot be generalities like sin or immorality or the good life or morals. They must be THIS immorality of THIS slum landlord with THIS slum tenement where THESE people suffer.

Love and faith are not common companions. More commonly power and fear consort with faith. The Have-Nots have a limited faith in the worth of their own judgments. They still look to the judgments of the Haves. They respect the strength of the upper class and they believe that the Haves are more intelligent, more competent, and endowed with “something special.” Distance has a way of enhancing power, so that respect becomes tinged with reverence.

Power means strength, whereas love is a human frailty the people mistrust. It is a sad fact of life that power and fear are the fountainheads of faith.

It is power and fear that are essential to the development of faith.

The organizer’s job is to inseminate an invitation for himself, to agitate, introduce ideas, get people pregnant with hope and a desire for change and to identify you as the person most qualified for this purpose.

If people feel they don’t have the power to change a bad situation, THEN THEY DON’T THINK ABOUT IT.

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.

Every move revolves around one central point: how many recruits will this bring into the organization?

If by losing in a certain action he can get more members than by winning, then victory lies in losing and he will lose.

One of the criteria in picking your target is the target’s vulnerability – where do you have the power to start? Furthermore, any target can always say, “Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?” When you “freeze the target,” you disregard these arguments and, for the moment, all the others to blame.
Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all of the “others” come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target.
The other important point in the choosing of a target is that it must be a personification, not something general and abstract such as a community’s segregated practices or a major corporation.

Here was a man who said things that made real sense to a guy who worked on a tire machine at Goodyear. (On talking through people’s experience)

It should be remembered that you can threaten the enemy and get away with it. You can insult and annoy him, but the one thing that is unforgivable and that is certain to get him to react is to laugh at him. This causes irrational anger.

Tactics means you do what you can with what you’ve got, and that power in the main has always gravitated towards those who have money and those whom people follow. The resources of the Have-Nots are (1) no money and (2) lots of people.

Use the power of the law by making the establishment obey its own rules. Go outside of the experience of the enemy, stay inside the experience of your people. Emphasize tactics that your people will enjoy. The threat is usually more terrifying than the tactic itself. Once all these rules and principles are festering in your imagination they grow into a synthesis. (baked beans story)

We have the universal rule that while one goes outside of the enemy in order to induce confusion and fear, one must not do the same with one’s own people, because you do not want them to be confused and fearful.

There would be no way for the authorities to cope with any future attacks of a similar character. What could they do? Demand that people not eat baked beans before coming to a concert? Ban anyone from succumbing to natural urges during the concert? Announce to the world that concerts must not be interrupted by farting?

On the Symphony Tactic (baked beans story):
To start with, the tactic is within the experience of the local people; it also satisfies another rule – that the people must enjoy the tactic. Here we have an ambivalent situation. The reaction of the blacks in the ghetto – their laughter when the tactic was proposed – made it clear that the tactic, at least in fantasy, was within their experience. It connected with their hatred of Whitey. The one thing that all oppressed people want to do to their oppressors is shit on them. Here was an approximate way to do this.

On the Nation’s First “Shit-In” Tactic:
The threat of this tactic was leaked (again there may be a Freudian slip here, so what?) back to the administration, and withing 48 hours the Woodlawn Organization found itself in conference with the authorities who said that they were certainly going to live up to their commitments and they could never understand where anyone got the idea that a promise made by Chicago’s City Hall would not be observerd.

On doing what you can with what you’ve got:
“Now what have you got?” I asked. “What do they permit you to do?” “Practically nothing” they said, “except – you know – we can chew gum.” I said, “Fine. Gum becomes the weapon.”

Remember the rule – the threat is often more effective than the tactic itself, but ONLY if you are so organized that the establishment knows not only that you have the power to execute the tactic but that you definitely will. You can’t do much bluffing in this game; if you’re ever caught bluffing, forget about ever using threats in the future. On that point you’re dead.

The threat was delivered to the authorities through a legitimate and “trustworthy” channel. Every organization must have 2 or 3 stool pigeons who are trusted by the establishment. These stool pigeons are invaluable as “trustworthy” lines of communication to the establishment.

No organization, including organized religion, can live up to the letter of its own book. You can club them to death with their “book” of rules and regulations.

There is a way to keep the action going and to prevent it from being a drag, but this means constantly cutting new issues as the action continues, so that by the time the enthusiasm and the emotions for one issue have started to de-escalate, a new issue has come into the scene with a consequent revival. With a constant introduction of new issues, it will go on and on. This is the case with many prolonged fights; in the end, the negotiations don’t even involve the issues around which the conflict originally began.

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