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1-Page Summary of Rules For Radicals
Rules for Radicals (1971) by Saul D. Alinsky is a guide to political organizers who want to make real, lasting changes in the world. It draws on his decades of experience as an organizer and describes what works regardless of time or place.
Alinsky says that organizers must start with where things are and not with where they would like them to be. They have to work within existing systems, be patient, and understand that change takes time.
Society fears the massive changes that come with revolution, but in fact everything is always changing. All truths are relative and must be embraced.
The organizers must consider that ethics are relative and constantly evaluate the means to achieve their end goals. Their end goal is a free, equal, and just society. They believe that democracy is not an end in itself but rather a means to achieving this goal. Power should be organized for good purposes; it’s vital and necessary for achieving moral societies.
Organizers who are successful have some common qualities. These include curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humor, vision, organization and political conviction. A willingness to compromise is also important because it shows that you’re willing to work with others for the greater good. Confidence is a key quality as well. Communication skills are vital in an organizer because they allow them to communicate their ideas effectively and rally people around the cause.
Organizers must get people to work together. They will not do this unless the organizer disrupts their normal patterns of behavior by focusing them on specific issues that they can change.
Organizers should come up with tactics that take power away from the wealthy elite and give it to the less privileged classes. Tactics must have a goal, be enjoyable for activists to carry out, and sustain their interest. Organizers need to put pressure on opponents while carrying out a tactic in order to get them to agree. They also need an open mind about what might happen during an action. The organizers then need to focus on their target issue and polarize it.
Certain tactics can neutralize the power of the Haves or turn it against them. This occurred, for example, during civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. The Board of Education threatened to suspend schoolchildren who skipped classes to join the demonstrations. However, organizers de-escalated this confrontation by offering an alternative solution that did not involve removing children from their schools and placing them in danger as part of a protest movement. A better tactic would have been to force the board’s hand: forcibly removing hundreds of children from school would have swelled the ranks of protesters at these demonstrations and created an embarrassing situation for the board to resolve.
In the future, we need to look at other tactics that will help us gain more influence. Proxy tactics are a great way for shareholders to hold sway in an arena traditionally reserved for Haves.
In 1969, a civil rights organization in Rochester NY used the first proxy tactic. African Americans wanted Eastman Kodak to hire more African American employees. The group named FIGHT (Facing Important Issues Together) asked stockholders to assign their proxies (representation) to FIGHT so it could vote on behalf of its interests at the next shareholders meeting. This tactic was successful because it pressured Kodak into giving more jobs to black people.
Alinsky says that, as the biggest challenges of his time were war and environmental pollution, it was the job of organizers to get middle-class people involved in helping solve those problems.