Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Rev Reads it For You: How Do You Make an Effective Organizer? (Rules for Radicals)

Chapter Four is dedicated to "The Education of an Organizer," but it is less about educational methods than the type of characters who can become successful community organizers.

"The marriage record of organizers is with rare exception disastrous. Further, the tensions, the hours, the home situation, and the opportunities, do not argue for fidelity. Also, with rare exception, I have not known really competent organizers who were concerned about celibacy."
Mommas, don't let your children grow up to be community organizers. Perhaps this is why activists are so obsessed with sexual harassment: they're the sort of person most likely to be philanderers.

"The problem with so many of them was and is their failure to understand that a statement of a specific situation is significant only in its relationship to and its illumination of a general concept. Instead they see the specific action as a terminal point. They find it difficult to grasp the fact that no situation ever repeats itself, that no tactic can be precisely the same."
Speaking of students in a community organization course, Alinsky laments that they couldn't understand the difference between a tactic appropriate for a specific time and place and a universal rule. To put this in OODA loop terms, they wanted to skip OOD (observer, orient, decide) and just A(ct).

Anyone can act quickly and repeatedly, but if your tactics don't fit the situation, you'll just miss quickly and repeatedly.

We'll continue after the jump.

"Basically the difference between their goals and ours is that they organize to get rid of four-legged rats and stop there; we organize to get rid of four-legged rats so we can get on to removing two-legged rats."
Still speaking on those useless students. Remember, the key to being a successful community organizer is to get concessions - so that you can get more concessions.

"Among those who, disillusioned, reject the formalized garbage they learned in school, the odds are heavily against their developing into effective organizers. One reason is that despite their verbal denunciations of their past training there is a strong subconscious block against repudiating two to three years of life spent in this training..."
I find this fascinating - even people who know that college-level social justice studies are bullshit have trouble going against what they learned there.

"I know that in a community, working as an organizer, I have unlimited patience in talking to and listening to the local residents. Any organizer must have this patience."
Man, I would make a shitty community organizer. All you basement dwellers better git gud and dealing with flesh people.

“Life is the expectation of the unexpected— the things you worry about rarely happen. Something new, the unexpected, will usually come in from outside the ball park. You’re all nodding as if you understand but you really don’t. What I’ve said are just words to you. I want you to go to your private cubbyholes and think for the next four hours. Try to remember all the things you worried about during the last years and whether they ever happened or what did happen— and then well talk about it.”
At the next session the student reactions were excited, “Hey, you’re right. Only one out of the eight big worries I’ve had ever happened— and even that one was different from the way I worried about it. I understand what what you mean.” And he did."
Alinsky's right, this is a great exercise. It's also a great thing to remind friends/allies of. Planning and training are good things. But if you're cluttering up your brain with an infinite anxiety loop, you can't respond quickly to new developments. It slows your OODA loop and gives victory to the enemy.

"The area of experience and communication is fundamental to the organizer. An organizer can communicate only within the areas of experience of his audience; otherwise there is no communication. The organizer, in his constant hunt for patterns, universalities, and meaning, is always building up a body of experience."
Good public speaking advice - Aristotle also covers this one too. Your experience only matters to other people if it gels with their own.

"He learns the local legends, anecdotes, values, idioms. He listens to small talk. He refrains from rhetoric foreign to the local culture: he knows that worn-out words like “white racist,” “fascist pig,” and “motherfucker” have been so spewed about that using them is now within the negative experience of the local people, serving only to identify the speaker as “one of those nuts” and to turn off any further communication. And yet the organizer must not try to fake it. He must be himself."
Or to summarize: use rhetoric that your audience understands, but let it come from the heart. You speak to your audience, on their level, in terms they understand, but it must come out of your own body of experience.

Following this introduction, Alinsky lays out 10 essential traits for an organizer.

1). Curiosity
"What makes an organizer organize? He is driven by a compulsive curiosity that knows no limits."
Curiosity is what keeps the motor running. "What can I do next? What happens when I try this tactic?" This motor will keep running long after moral indignation gives way.

2). Irreverence.
"Curiosity and irreverence go together. Curiosity cannot exist without the other. Curiosity asks, “Is this true?” “Just because this has always been the way, is this the best or right way of life, the best or right religion, political or economic value, morality?”
Insert your own snarky comments about how Alinsky knows better than thousands of years of his ancestors.
"It could be argued that reverence for others, for their freedom from injustice, poverty, ignorance, exploitation, discrimination, disease, war, hate, and fear, is not a necessary quality in a successful organizer."
Remember: if you want to be a successful organizer, you don't need to give a shit about the poor. This explains the Clinton Foundation.

3). Imagination
"Imagination is the inevitable partner of irreverence and curiosity. How can one be curious without being imaginative?"
Curiosity asks "Is this the right way?" Imagination asks "What else could we do?"
"...this abnormal imagination that sweeps him into a close identification with mankind and projects him into its plight."
But again, you don't have to actually care about the poor. A mental exercise in identification is fine.

4). A sense of humor
"The organizer, searching with a free and open mind void of certainty, hating dogma, finds laughter not just a way to maintain his sanity but also a key to understanding life."
In other words, Alinsky literally does it for the lulz.
"Humor is essential to a successful tactician, for the most potent weapons known to mankind are satire and ridicule."
This is 100% true.

5). A bit of a blurred vision of a better world
"What keeps him going is a blurred vision of a great mural where other artists— organizers— are painting their bits, and each piece is essential to the total."
By this, Alinsky means the ability to transcend the task at hand (which may be mundane, tedious, or seem insignificant) and see it in terms of the greater work. This is that strange ability to act in perfect concert without explicit commands some groups seem to have,

6). An organized personality

Oh shit, I'd make a terrible organizer.
"The organizer must be well organized himself so he can be comfortable in a disorganized situation, rational in a sea of irrationalities. It is vital that he be able to accept and work with irrationalities for the purpose of change."
Note that Alinsky isn't saying you must force irrational people to work for their own self interest with autistic rationality. In fact, he says the opposite:
"It is futile to demand that men do the right thing for the right reason— this is a fight with a windmill."
The rationality, the organization he's talking about is the ability to rationally organize irrational people. It means understanding the operation of irrationality and to bend it to your advantage. This is something that even the smartest people sometimes never understand.

Think of it like the work of a psychologist. A psychologist does not demand his patients start out sane or that they will listen to reason. That would be insane. Insane people don't listen to reason. If you're arguing with a crazy person, you don't use logic because logic does not work on them.
"In a multiple-issue organization, each person is saying to the other, “I can’t get what I want alone and neither can you. Let’s make a deal: I’ll support you for what you want and you support me for what I want.” Those deals become the program."
Here Alinsky describes the thought behind intersectionality. It's not a terrible idea.
"With only one or two issues there will certainly be a lapse of action, and then comes death. Multiple issues mean constant action and life."
So don't just #Gamergate, don't just Rabid Puppies, don't just Pro-Life. You need a pool of controversies to pull up to keep people engaged.

7). A well-integrated political schizoid
"The organizer must become schizoid, politically, in order not to slip into becoming a true believer."
There's the personality trait. Here's how Alinsky explains it:
"What I am saying is that the organizer must be able to split himself into two parts— one part in the arena of action where he polarizes the issue to 100 to nothing, and helps to lead his forces into conflict, while the other part knows that when the time comes for negotiations that it really is only a 10 per cent difference— and yet both parts have to live comfortably with each other. Only a well-organized person can split and yet stay together. But this is what the organizer must do."
Basically, organizers need a split personality. One, a public persona who truly believes the other side rapes kittens and can use rhetoric to stir action. The other, a realist who knows it's better to get 10% today and push for 20% tomorrow than to get nothing.

Autistic rationalists, pay attention.

8). Ego
"Throughout these desired qualities is interwoven a strong ego, one we might describe as monumental in terms of solidity."
One day, I will tire of this image. Today is not that day.

9). A free and open mind, and political relativity
"The organizer in his way of life, with his curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humor, distrust of dogma, his self-organization, his understanding of the irrationality of much of human behavior, becomes a flexible personality, not a rigid structure that breaks when something unexpected happens. Having his own identity, he has no need for the security of an ideology or a panacea."
This is why we call the true believers "useful idiots."

No, but seriously, I mostly agree with Alinsky. The description only becomes an issue when we recall Alinsky's views on ethics. It's one thing to not pin your entire identity on an ideology. It's another to have no core moral values.

10). The organizer is constantly creating the new out of the old
"He knows that all new ideas arise from conflict; that every time man has had a new idea it has been a challenge to the sacred ideas of the past and the present and inevitably a conflict has raged."
In other words, the organizer always seeks out conflict. He does not fight for an idea simply because it is right, or for the lulz, but because he sees the conflict as desirable to create the new.
"For him hell would be doing the same thing over and over again."
Again, the best organizer does not see conflict or change as necessary evils, but as necessary. This is the professional grievance class to a T - they cannot be negotiated with, because what they want is to stir shit. There is no victory condition that does not include stirring more shit in the future.

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