Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Bookshelf: Rules for Radicals

During our recent exchange, Slacker attempted to raise the ghost of famed community organizer Saul Alinsky, who founded the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in 1940. As the former Co-Chair of an IAF affiliate, AIM, who has been taught many of Alinsky's organizing principles, this got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing). As I sat here at my laptop mulling my experiences, I looked up at my bookshelf and saw one of Alinsky's books, Rules for Radicals.

Originally published in 1971, it was billed as "a pragmatic primer for realistic radicals" in a world that seemed to be screaming for revolutionary change. As Alinsky said, "Revolutions don't have rules, but there are rules for radicals who want to change the world."

Alinsky was both loved and feared in his day, and for good reason. He understood power and self-interest and sought to teach the poor and the powerless how to effect social change. "To hell with charity," he once said. "The only thing you'll get is what you're strong enough to get." He was blunt, tough-talking, irreverent, controversial and... effective.

Alinsky, was certainly a product of his times and experiences, and though the modern IAF has refined and adapted his ideas over the years, the principles are still relevant and Rules remains an incredibly practical guide to community organizing that covers everything from language and words to the theory and tactics of "mass organizations." Such organizing is sorely needed today, as he stated in the prologue:
It is a grave situation when a people resign their citizenship or when the resident of a great city, though he may desire to take a hand, lacks the means to participate. That citizen sinks further into apathy, anonymity, and de-personalization. The result is that he comes to depend on public authority and a state of civic-sclerosis sets in.

From time to time there have been external enemies at our gates; there has always been the enemy within, the hidden and malignant inertia that foreshadows more certain destruction to our life and future than any nuclear warhead [or terrorism, I might add]. There can be no darker or more devastating tragedy than the death of man's faith in himself and in his power to direct his future.
It's a must read if you're interested in effecting social change. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tags: community organizing; Industrial Areas Foundation; IAF; Rules for Radicals; Saul Alinsky

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