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Alinsky – Education Of An Organizer (Pt 2)

Continuing from part one, here are more excerpts from Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals, pp 81-125: 

The Education of an Organizer (Continued)


ONE CAN LACK any of the qualities of an organizer—with one exception—and still be effective and successful. That exception is the art of communication. It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate to your people. In that event you are not even a failure. You’re just not there.

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…

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, particularly, 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…

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

A classic example of the failure to communicate because the organizer has gone completely outside the experience of the people, is the attempt by campus activists to indicate to the poor the bankruptcy of their prevailing values. “Take my word for it—if you get a good job and a split-level ranch house out in the suburbs, a color TV, two cars, and money in the bank, that just won’t bring you happiness.” The response without exception is always, “Yeah. Let me be the judge of that one—I’ll let you know after I get it.” …

In the Beginning

IN THE BEGINNING the incoming organizer must establish his identity or, putting it another way, get his license to operate. He must have a reason for being there —a reason acceptable to the people.

Any stranger is suspect. “Who’s the cat?” “What’s he asking all those questions for?” “Is he really the cops or the F.B.I.?” “What’s his bag?” “What’s he really after?” “What’s in it for him?” “Who’s he working for?”

The answers to these questions must be acceptable in terms of the experience of the community. If the organizer begins with an affirmation of his love for people, he promptly turns everyone off. If, on the other hand, he begins with a denunciation of exploiting employers, slum landlords, police shakedowns, gouging merchants, he is inside their experience and they accept him. People can make judgments only on the basis of their own experiences. And the question in their minds is, “If we were in the organizer’s position, would we do what he is doing and if so, why?” Until they have an answer that is at least somewhat acceptable they find it difficult to understand and accept the organizer.

His acceptance as an organizer depends on his success in convincing key people—and many others—first, that he is on their side, and second, that he has ideas, and knows how to fight to change things; that he’s not one of these guys “doing his thing,” that he’s a winner. Otherwise who needs him? …

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. The Haves are the authorities and thus the beneficiaries of the various myths and legends that always develop around power. The Have-Nots will believe them where they would be hesitant and uncertain about their own judgments. Power is not to be crossed; one must respect and obey. 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.

The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a “dangerous enemy.” The word “enemy” is sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people, to identify him with the Have-Nots, but it is not enough to endow him with the special qualities that induce fear and thus give him the means to establish his own power against the establishment. Here again we find that it is power and fear that are essential to the development of faith. This need is met by the establishment’s use of the brand “dangerous,” for in that one word the establishment reveals its fear of the organizer, its fear that he represents a threat to its omnipotence. Now the organizer has his “birth certificate” and can begin

Establishing one’s credentials of competency is only part of the organizer’s first job. He needs other credentials to begin—credentials that enable him to meet the question, “Who asked you to come in here?” with the answer, “You did.” He must be invited by a significant sector of the local population, their churches, street organizations, social clubs, or other groups

This advantage is the dividend of reputation, but the important issue here is how the organizer without a reputation gets the invitation.

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.


One of the great problems in the beginning of an organization is, often, that the people do not know what they want. Discovering this stirs up, in the organizer, that inner doubt shared by so many, whether the masses of people are competent to make decisions for a democratic society. It is the schizophrenia of a free society that we outwardly espouse faith in the people but inwardly have strong doubts whether the people can be trusted. These reservations can destroy the effectiveness of the most creative and talented organizer. Many times, contact with low-income groups does not fire one with enthusiasm for the political gospel of democracy. This disillusionment comes partly because we romanticize the poor in a way we romanticize other sectors of society, and partly because when you, talk with any people you find yourselves confronted with clichés, a variety of superficial, stereotyped responses, and a general lack of information…

How can we make them understand? All these and many other perceptive questions begin to arise…

An organizer knows that life is a sea of shifting desires, changing elements, of relativity and uncertainty, and yet he must stay within the experience of the people he is working with and act in terms of specific resolutions and answers, of definitiveness and certainty. To do otherwise would be to stifle organization and action, for what the organizer accepts as uncertainty would be seen by them as a terrifying chaos

He acts as the septic tank in the early stages—he gets all the shit. Later, as power increases, the risks diminish, and gradually the people step out front to take the risks. This is part of the process of growing up, both for the local community leaders and for the organization…


From the moment the organizer enters a community he lives, dreams, eats, breathes, sleeps only one thing and that is to build the mass power base of what he calls the army. Until he has developed that mass power base, he confronts no major issues. He has nothing with which to confront anything. Until he has those means and power instruments, his “tactics” are very different from power tactics. Therefore, every move revolves around one central point: how many recruits will this bring into the organization, whether by means of local organizations, churches, service groups, labor unions, corner gangs, or as individuals. The only issue is, how will this increase the strength of 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.

Change comes from power, and power comes from organization. In order to act, people must get together.

Power is the reason for being of organizations. When people agree on certain religious ideas and want the power to propagate their faith, they organize and call it a church. When people agree on certain political ideas and want the power to put them into practice, they organize and call it a political party. The same reason holds across the board. Power and organization are one and the same…

The organizer simultaneously carries on many functions as he analyzes, attacks, and disrupts the prevailing power pattern…

Therefore, if your function is to attack apathy and get people to participate it is necessary to attack the prevailing patterns of organized living in the community. The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be disorganized if they are to be displaced by new patterns that provide the opportunities and means for citizen participation. All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new.

This is why the organizer is immediately confronted with conflict. The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act

An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent; provide a channel into which the people can angrily pour their frustrations. He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises

The job then is getting the people to move, to act, to participate; in short, to develop and harness the necessary power to effectively conflict with the prevailing patterns and change them. When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an “agitator” they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function—to agitate to the point of conflict

Enter the labor organizer or the agitator. He begins his “trouble making” by stirring up these angers, frustrations, and resentments, and highlighting specific issues or grievances that heighten controversy

And so the labor organizer simultaneously breeds conflict and builds a power structure. The war between the trade union and management is resolved either through a strike or a negotiation. Either method involves the use of power; the economic power of the strike or the threat of it, which results in successful negotiations. No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiation.

This is the function of a community organizer. Anything otherwise is wishful non-thinking. To attempt to operate on a good-will rather than on a power basis would be to attempt something that the world has not yet experienced.

In the beginning the organizer’s first job is to create the issues or problems

Through action, persuasion, and communication the organizer makes it clear that organization will give them the power, the ability, the strength, the force to be able to do something about these particular problems. It is then that a bad scene begins to break up into specific issues, because now the people can do something about it. What the organizer does is convert the plight into a problem. The question is whether they do it this way or that way or whether they do all of it or part of it. But now you have issues.

The organization is born out of the issues and the issues are born out of the organization. They go together, they are concomitants essential to each other. Organizations are built on issues that are specific, immediate, and realizable.

Organizations must be based on many issues. Organizations need action as an individual needs oxygen. The cessation of action brings death to the organization through factionalism and inaction, through dialogues and conferences that are actually a form of rigor mortis rather than life. It is impossible to maintain constant action on a single issue. A single issue is a fatal strait jacket that will stifle the life of an organization. Furthermore, a single issue drastically limits your appeal, where multiple issues would draw in the many potential members essential to the building of a broad, mass-based organization…

People hunger for drama and adventure, for a breath of life in a dreary, drab existence

But it’s more than that. It is a desperate search for personal identity—to let other people know that at least you are alive

When the organizer approaches him part of what begins to be communicated is that through the organization and its power he will get his birth certificate for life, that he will become known, that things will change from the drabness of a life where all that changes is the calendar. This same man, in a demonstration at City Hall, might find himself confronting the mayor and saying, “Mr. Mayor, we have had it up to here and we are not going to take it any more.” Television cameramen put their microphones in front of him and ask, “What is your name, sir?” “John Smith.” Nobody ever asked him what his name was before. And then, “What do you think about this, Mr. Smith?” Nobody ever asked him what he thought about anything before. Suddenly he’s alive! This is part of the adventure, part of what is so important to people in getting involved in organizational activities and what the organizer has to communicate to him. Not that every member will be giving his name on television—that’s a bonus—but for once, because he is working together with a group, what he works for will mean something

You see, you can be “some-BODY.” But only if you work for the organization.

Still doesn’t all of this sound far too familiar?

Is this not now the way of the Democrat Party from top to bottom?

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, September 4th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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