Words for Democrats from an iconic organizer: “The fundamental idea is that one communicates within the experience of his audience — and gives full respect to the other’s values.”
by Bob Schwartz
I last wrote about legendary political organizer Saul Alinsky and his book Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971) in February 2016, months before the presidential election.
Alinsky’s thinking was informed by decades of organizing for change in an America that resisted change. He recognized the mistakes made in the 1960s and would recognize the mistakes being made right now.
Like it or not, the Democrats, as one of only two parties, are not just the primary champions for change, but are the current hope for defending and securing democracy in America. The 2022 elections are the next test of that, but not the last.
It isn’t easy to heed Alinksy’s call to communicate giving “full respect to the other’s values.” Maybe Democrats think there is a point beyond which those values are so abhorrent—or completely absent—that respect is out of the question. Maybe we’ve reached that point.
But Alinsky’s wisdom can’t be dismissed. Read the final paragraph, written more than fifty years ago. Americans who are “hurt, bitter, suspicious, feeling rejected and at bay”, whose “fears and frustrations at their helplessness are mounting to a point of a political paranoia which can demonize people to turn to the law of survival in the narrowest sense.” Sound familiar?
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….
This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience — and gives full respect to the other’s values — would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America’s hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience….
The “silent majority,” now, are hurt, bitter, suspicious, feeling rejected and at bay. This sick condition in many ways is as explosive as the current race crisis. Their fears and frustrations at their helplessness are mounting to a point of a political paranoia which can demonize people to turn to the law of survival in the narrowest sense. These emotions can go either to the far right of totalitarianism or forward to Act II of the American Revolution.
Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals