Alinsky on Where to Start Your Activism

computerhandOne theme organizer Saul Alinsky repeats again and again in Rules for Radicals is the need to accept the world as it is, and not how one wants it to be, and to begin activism from where the world is. In the preface, Alinsky laments how the young people at the time he wrote Rules, in 1972, weren’t getting this:

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[…]

Our youth are impatient with the preliminaries that are essential to purposeful action. Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change, or as I have phrased it elsewhere the demand for revelation rather than revolution. It’s the kind of thing we see in play writing; the first act introduces the characters and the plot, in the second act the plot and characters are developed as the play strives to hold the audiences attention. In the final act good and evil have their dramatic confrontation and resolution. The present generation wants to go right into the third act, skipping the first two, in which case there is no play, nothing but confrontation for confrontation’s sake — a flare-up and back to darkness. To build a powerful organization takes time. It is tedious, but that’s the way the game is played — if you want to play and not just yell, “Kill the umpire.”

Elaborating on this a bit further, he speaks of the importance of creating a reformation in pubic opinion before major political change can happen:

We will start with the system, because there is no other place to start from except political lunacy. It is most important for those of us who want revolutionary change to understand the revolution must be preceeded by reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive without the supporting base of a popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in politics.

Men don’t like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way.

Alinsky was also a big fan of fighting today’s battles on today’s terms, and focusing on your battles right now, rather than fighting today the battles you should be fighting tomorrow. Politically speaking, this can be an important reminder.

Similar Posts