Saul Alinsky 1946, 1971

alinsky radical

Saul Alinsky was bom in Chicago in 1909, and educated first in the streets of that city and then in its university. Graduate work at the University of Chicago in criminology introduced him to the Capone gang, and later to Joliet State Prison, where he studied prison life.

He founded what is known today as the Alinsky ideology and Alinsky concepts of mass organization for power. His work in organizing the poor to fight for their rights as citizens has been internationally recognized. In the late 193o’s he organized the Back of the Yards area in Chicago (Upton Sinclair’s Jungle). Subsequently, through the Industrial Areas Foundation which he began in 1940,

Mr. Alinsky and his staff have helped to organize communities not only in Chicago but throughout the country from the black ghetto of Rochester, New York, to the Mexican American barrios of California. Today Mr. Alinsky s organizing attention has turned to the middle class, and he and his associates have a Training Institute for organizers. Mr. Alinsky’s early organizing efforts resulted in his being arrested and jailed from time to time, and it was on such occasions that he wrote most of Reveille for Radicals.  He died in 1972.

Reveille for Radicals by Saul Alinsky 1946 The University of Chicago

The clash of Radicals, Conservatives, and Liberals which makes up America’s political history opens the door to the most fundamental question of what is America? How do the people of America feel? It is in this feeling that the real story of America is written. There were and are a number of Americans—few, to be sure—filled with deep feeling for people. They know that people are the stuff that makes up the dream of democracy. (14)

So you’re a Jew. Maybe you’re one of the few living on Park Avenue, or in the upper sixties. You bitterly resent anti-Semitism and regard prejudiced people as uncivilized, irreligious, and definitely un-American. Let’s take a look at you. How do you feel about the Jews on Rivington Street or the East Side? You don’t like them. You think of them as loud, uncouth, and dirty. You don’t like the way they smile or the way they talk. You say it is bad for the Jews. Maybe you are a Spanish Jew and you look down on the German Jew, or you are a German Jew and you look down with utter contempt upon the Russian and Polish Jew. (18)

The Radical places human rights far above property rights. He is for universal, free public education and recognizes this as fundamental to the democratic way of life. He will condemn local abuse of public education whether it be discrimination or corruption, and will insist if necessary upon its correction by national government authority—but at the same time he will bitterly oppose complete Federal control of education. He will fight for individual rights and against centralized power. (24)

Another notorious example of opposition to technological progress is to be found in one of the practices of the American Federation of Musicians. Radio stations and many hotel lobbies that use phonograph turntables are forced by the union to hire and pay a member of the union to “serve as record changer.” Practically all of these machines have automatic record changers and the only function of this so-called “human record changer’ is to stand by and waste time. The Musicians Union fights technical progress not only in this one instance but in a variety of others. This ludicrous type of labor union practice came to full flower at the 1944 C.I.O. National Convention. (39)

The hatred and opposition of big business toward all foes of the status quo is fully shared and participated in by the leaders of the labor movements. The position taken by organized labor is consistent with their role in a monopolistic capitalist economy. They must be opposed to Socialism, Communism or any other philosophy which would destroy private ownership of industry or private employment. From their parents point of view, the introduction of a Socialistic society would mean the death knell of the present organized labor movement. (50)

Then there are those unions which openly practice segregation, admitting Negroes only to special auxiliary memberships. This kind of segregated or auxiliary union is Jim Crow in its most primitive form. (53)

The Chinese write the word “crisis” with two characters. One means danger and the other means opportunity. Together they spell “crisis.” (62)

This same warped outlook applies to a slum community in which the people are living on a low economic level in a life fraught with insecurity. After all, what is a slum? A slum is a dirty, miserable, diseased, human junkyard full of frustration and despair. It is a place where people exist because they do not have the money to live elsewhere. Nobody lives there for any reason except financial pressure. If a community council tries to do anything significant in any of the problems of the local citizenry, it will find itself faced with the prime objecdve of attacking those basic elements which make up the economic decay of the slum and its dwellers. If we free ourselves of the shackles of wordiness, the statement of purpose is clear and simple: the job is the unslumming of the slum. This means the battling of all of those forces in the city and the nation which converge to create the human junkyard—worse, the cesspool—known as the slum. (82)

the question of determining who is a leader involves a large number of partial leaders or leaders of small groups and particularized aspects of their life. These natural leaders therefore run into considerable numbers. It is as true in that community as it is in any other segment of the population, including that of the reader. These natural leaders—the “Little Joes”—may, it is clear, occupy the most humble roles in the community. A window trimmer may be the president of the Holy Name Society. Or your “Little Joe” may be a garage mechanic, a bartender, an elevator operator, a streetcar conductor. These are the common people and in them are to be found the small natural leaders of the natural groups which are present among all people. (96)

Those who build People’s Organizations begin realistically with what they have. It does not matter whether they approve or disapprove of local circumstances, traditions, and agencies; the fact remains that this is the material that must be worked with. Builders of People’s Organizations cannot indulge in the sterile, wishful thinking of Liberals who prefer to start where they would like to begin rather than with actual conditions as they exist. (100)

“You know, there are a lot of outsiders that make bad mistakes on this food business. Now I had a teacher who came into a public school and in one of her talks to the kids she said, ‘Now we are going to learn how to eat good things that have vitamins in them and stuff like that and not be old-fashioned and ignorant and things like that and not just eat spaghetti and things like that.’ The teacher never knew why she got slugged on the way home. She should have known that she was insulting the families of all the kids and was really calling them ignorant.” (104)

Democracy is that system of government and that economic and social organization in which the worth of the individual human being and the multiple loyalties of that individual are the most fully recognized and provided for. Democracy is a system of government in which we recognize that all normal individuals have a whole series of loyalties—loyalties to their churches, their labor unions, their fraternal organizations, their social groups, their nationality groups, their athletic groups, their political parties, and many others. Democracy provides for the fulfillment of the hopes and loyalties of our people to all of the various institutions and groups of which they are a part. (108)

The Radical recognizes that in order to work with people he must first approach them on a basis of common understanding. It is as simple and essential as learning to talk the language of those with whom one is trying to converse. The procedures or tactics that follow from here on should be understood in those terms. They are the simple means with which to rouse people to stand up and move. Some critics have described them as fighting fire with fire. This is not strictly true, because these procedures are used only during the early stages of organizational activities. The Radical is fully conscious of the fact that they are temporary expedients for the beginning of the organization. (116)

A common cause in the failure of organizational campaigns is to be found in a lack of real respect for the dignity of the people. Many organizers inwardly feel superior toward the people with whom they are working. An organizer who has this superior attitude cannot, in spite of all his cleverness, all his protestations of belief in the equality of ail people, including himself, conceal his true attitude. It repeatedly comes out in a gesture, an expression, or the inflection of his voice. People cannot be constantly fooled. Even when that organizer uses a sympathetic approach it is a calculated form of sympathy which is apparent to the people. (123-124)

Another very different type of tactic, also of wide significance, is now being utilized in various parts of the country where. People’s Organizations are being built. It is what these organizations refer to as a program ballot. This program ballot consists of one sheet of paper with one printed paragraph at” the Top of the sheet. The paragraph reads:

“If I had my way, this is what I would do to make my city the happiest, healthiest, prettiest, and most prosperous place in the world.”
‘This paragraph is followed by about fifteen blank lines with a space on the bottom for name and address. (149)

The People’s Organization does not live comfortably and serenely in an ivory tower where it not only can discuss controversial issues but actually possesses the choice of whether or not to take a hand in the controversy. In actual life, conflict, like so many other things that happen to us, does not concern itself too much with our own preferences of the moment any more than it does with our judgment as to whether or not it is time to fight. A People’s Organization lives in a world of hard reality. (156)

We have seen in every actual conflict tactic how organizers and People’s Organization leaders have utilized the place or role of traditions and values in the community in maneuvering the opposition into a vulnerable position. The traditions of a community are so strong that a resourceful People’s Organization leader can utilize these traditions to defeat opposition which is far stronger and far bigger than the actual People’s Orgaiuzation. In many cases the stronger the opposition is, the deeper and more seriously will it impale itself upon the spearheads of community traditions. (172-173)

The People s Organization must create the conditions and climate in which people want to learn because of the learning itself which is essential to their own life. We have seen one example of the creation of a set of circumstances in the preceding report on the approach of the Credit Union to break down the baffling barriers of personal finances. A much more common problem that People’s Organizations must concern themselves with is not only providing access to facts but providing it in a manner in keeping with the dignity and the self-respect in all people. People prefer to get things for themselves rather than have them given, and just as the inhabitants of Muddy Flats balked against organization be cause of their pride, so does the average person possess a latent resentment against having facts given to him on a silver platter. (183)

There are few human activities in which words and ideas are more loosely used and glibly accepted than in the field of organization of people’s movements. Among the various ideas on different aspects of People’s Organizations there is none more misunderstood than that of popular participation. One constantly hears of organizations claiming one hundred per cent participation. It is almost impossible to listen to any speaker on community organization or community movements without eventually hearing the statement, “Practically all of the people in the community are involved in this work and participate in it.” (198)

America was a land green, fresh, and young. It was a land rich not only in natural beauty but richer yet in a vision of a noble life which pervaded the earth and the heavens. A dream of unbounded beauty and dignity. Parts of that dream were written down and we called it the Declaration of Independence. Not just independence from the political rule of Britain but independence from slavery of spirit and soul; a future of freedom for man. Here the first immigrants broke the virgin soil, built their homes, and raised the small white steeples of their houses of worship. Gray smokestacks joined the white steeples. The smokestacks multiplied and grew higher and higher. They belched forth and the clear American dream became smoky and vague. The land that was green became gray, and soot settled over the soul of America. The Industrial Revolution was here. The American dream was wrought in the fire of the passionate hearts and minds of America’s Radicals. It could never have been conceived in the cold, clammy tomb of conservativism. The American Radical descended from those who begot, nurtured, fought, and suffered for every idea that moved men s feet for ward in the march of civilization—the Radicals of the world. (207)

We must face the bitter fact that we have forsaken our great dream of a life of, for, and by the people; that the burning passions and ideals of the American dream lie congealed by cold cynicism. Great parts of the masses of our people no longer believe that they have a voice or a hand in shaping the destiny of this nation.

They have been described as, and are, the forgotten men and women. They have not forsaken democracy because of any desire or positive action of their own, but have been driven down into the depths of a great despair bom of frustration, hopelessness, and apathy. A democracy lacking in popular participation dies of paralysis. There are many conditions in America which we are unable to see in their correct perspective. (110)

The Radical will look squarely at all issues. He will not be so weighted down with material or malignant prejudice that he can only look upwards with a worm’s-eye view. He will not look down upon mankind with the distorted, unrealistic, ivory-tower bird’s-eye view, but will look straight ahead on the dead level, seeing man as a man. Not from a long distance, up or down, but as a man living among men. (220)

alinsky radical

Rules For Radicals by Saul Alinsky Random House 1971

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins—or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.


Few of us survived the Joe McCarthy holocaust of the early 1950s and of those there were even fewer whose understanding and insights had developed beyond the dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxism.

The young have seen their “activist” participatory democracy turn into its antithesis—nihilistic bombing and murder. The political panaceas of the past, such as the revolutions in Russia and China, have become the same old stuff under a different name. The search for freedom does not seem to have any road or destination.

What sense does it make for men to walk on the moon while other men are waiting on welfare lines, or in Vietnam killing and dying for a corrupt dictatorship in the name of freedom? These are the days when man has his hands on the sublime while he is up to his hips in the muck of madness.

First, there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time.

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.

Let us in the name of radical pragmatism not forget that in our system with all its repressions we can still speak out and denounce the administration, attack its policies, work to build an opposition political base. True, there is government harassment, but there still is that relative freedom to fight. I can attack my government, try to organize to change it. That’s more than I can do in Moscow, Peking, or Havana.

Remember: once you organize people around something as commonly agreed upon as pollution, then an organized people is on the move. From there it s a short and natural step to political pollution, to Pentagon pollution.

People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people.

The Purpose

We are talking about a mass power organization which will change the world into a place where all men and women walk erect, in the spirit of that credo of the Spanish Civil War, “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” This means revolution. (3)

The Have-Nots of the world, swept up in their present upheavals and desperately seeking revolutionary writings, can find such literature only from the communists, both red and yellow. Here they can read about tactics, maneuvers, strategy and principles of action in the making
of revolutions. Since in this literature all ideas are imbedded in the language of communism, revolution appears synonymous with  communism. (8)

We have permitted a suicidal situation to unfold wherein revolution and communism have become one. These pages are committed to splitting this political atom, separating this exclusive identification of communism with revolution. (9)

The Ideology of Change

An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological dilemma. To begin with, he does not have: a fixed truth—truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing. He is a politcal relativist. He accepts the late Justice Learned Hand’s statement that “the mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right.” (10-11)

The C.I.O. was the militant champion of America’s workers. In its ranks, directly and indirectly, were all of America’s radicals; they fought the corporate structure of the nation and won. Today, merged with the A.F. of L., it is an entrenched member of the establishment and its leader supports the war in Vietnam. (16)

Once we accept and learn to anticipate the inevitable counterrevolution, we may then alter the historical pattern of revolution and counterrevolution from the traditional slow advance of two steps forward and one step backward to minimizing the latter. (18)

Class Distinctions: The Trinity

These Do-Nothings appear publicly as good men, humanitarian, concerned with justice and dignity. In practice they are invidious. They are the ones Edmund Burke referred to when he said, acidly: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (20)

A word about my personal philosophy. It is anchored in optimism. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and  therefore, a will to fight for a better world. Without this optimism, there is no reason to carry on. If we think of the struggle as a climb up a mountain,
then we must visualize a mountain with no top. We see a top, but when we finally reach it, the overcast rises and we find ourselves merely on a bluff. The mountain continues on up. Now we see the “real” top ahead of us, and strive for it, only to find weve reached another bluff, the top still above us. And so it goes on, interminably. (21)

Unlike the chore of the mythic Sisyphis, this challenge is not an endless pushing up of a boulder to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back again, the chore to be repeated eternally. It is pushing the boulder up an endless mountain, but, unlike Sisyphis, we are always going further upward. And also unlike Sisyphis, each stage of the trail upward is different, newly dramatic, an adventure each time. At times we do fall back and become discouraged, but it is not that we are making no progress. (22)

Of Means and Ends

The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt and bloody. (24)

These non-doers were the ones who chose not to fight the Nazis in the only way they could have been fought; they were the ones who drew their window blinds to shut out the shameful spectacle of Jews and political prisoners being dragged through the streets; they were the ones who privately deplored the horror of it all—and did nothing. This is the nadir of immorality. (26)

Our cause had to be all shining justice, allied with the angels; theirs had to be all evil, tied to the Devil; in no war has the enemy or the cause ever been gray. Therefore, from one point of view the omission was justified; from the other, it was deliberate deceit. History is made up of “moral” judgments based on politics. (28)

We have already noted that in essence, mankind divides itself into three groups; the Have-Nots, the Have-a-Little, Want-Mores, and the Haves. The purpose of the Haves is to keep what they have. Therefore, the Haves want to maintain the status quo and the Have-Nots to change it. The Haves develop their own morality to justify their means of repression and all other means employed to maintain the status quo. The Haves usually establish laws and judges devoted to maintaining the status quo; since any effective means of changing the status quo are usually illegal and/or unethical in the eyes of the establishment, Have-Nots, from the beginning of time, have been compelled to appeal to “a law higher than man-made
law.” Then when the Have-Nots achieve success and be come the Haves, they are in the position of trying to keep what they have and their morality shifts with their change of location in the power pattern. (42-43)

The organizer, the revolutionist, the activist or call him what you will, who is committed to a free and open society is in that commitment anchored to a complex of high values. These values include the basic morals of all organized religions; their base is the preciousness of human life. These values include freedom, equality, justice, peace, the right to dissent; the values that were the banners of hope and yearning of all revolutions of men, whether the French Revolutions “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality,” the Russians’ “Bread and Peace,” the brave Spanish people s “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” or our Revolution’s “No Taxation Without Representation.” (46-47)

A Word About Words

First, by using combinations of words such as “harnessing the energy” instead of the single word “power,” we begin to dilute the meaning; and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the bitterness, the anguish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph attached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life. In the politics of life we are concerned with the slaves and the Caesars, not the vestal virgins. It is not just that, in communication as in thought, we must ever strive toward simplicity. (49)

When we talk about a person’s “lifting himself by his own bootstraps” we are talking about power. Power must be understood for what it is, for the part it plays in every area of our life, if we are to understand it and thereby grasp the essentials of relationships and functions between groups and organizations, particularly in a pluralistic society. To know power and not fear it is essential to its constructive use and control. In short, life without power is death; a world without power would be a ghostly wasteland, a dead planet! (52-53)


Self-interest, like power, wears the black shroud of negativism and suspicion. To many the synonym for self-interest is selfishness. (53)

We repeatedly get caught in this conflict between our professed moral principles and the real reasons why we do things—to wit, our self-interest. We are always able to mask those real reasons in words of beneficent goodness—freedom, justice, and so on. Such tears as appear in the fabric of this moral masquerade sometimes embarrass us. (58)


A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises—which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and on ad infinitum. Control of power is based on compromise in our Congress and among the executive, legislative, and
judicial branches. A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian. If I had to define a free and open society in one word, the word would be “compromise.” (59)


The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monumental than the ego of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. The organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach—to create, to be a “great creator,” to play God. (61)

Ego must be so all-pervading that the personality of the organizer is contagious, that it converts the people from despair to defiance, creating a mass ego. (61)


Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to project the democratic way of life in the form of a musical score, its major theme would be the harmony of dissonance. (62)

The Education of an Organizer

Besides the full-timers, there were the community leaders whom we trained on the job to be organizers. Organizers are not only essential to start and build an organization; they are also essential to keep it going. Maintaining interest and activity, keeping the groups goals strong and flexible at once, is a different operation but still organization. (65)

Then there were tnose rare campus activists who could organize a substantial number of students—but they were utter failures when it came to trying to communicate with and organize lower-middle-class workers. Labor union organizers turned out to be poor community organizers. (66)

During a seminar I would say, “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.” (69)

The qualities we were trying to develop in organizers in the years of attempting to train them included some qualities that in all probability cannot be taught. They either had them, or could get them only through a miracle from above or below. Other qualities they might have as potentials that could be developed. Sometimes the development of one quality triggered off unsuspected others. I learned to check against the list and spot the negatives; and if it was impossible to develop that quality, at least I could be aware and on guard to try to diminish its negative effect upon the work. (71)

Actually, Socrates was an organizer. The function of an organizer is to raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern. (72)

To the questioner nothing is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality, rebels against any repression of a free, open search for ideas no matter where they may lead. He is challenging, insulting, agitating, discrediting. He stirs unrest. (73)

The organizer knows that the real action is in the reaction of the opposition. To realistically appraise and anticipate the probable reactions of the enemy, he must be able to identify with them, too, in his imagination, and foresee their reactions to his actions. (74)

The organizer must become schizoid, politically, in order not to slip into becoming a true believer. Before men can act an issue must be polarized. (78)

Hiis is the basic difference between the leader and the organizer. The leader goes on to build power to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield the power for purposes both social and personal. He wants power himself. The or ganizer finds his goal in creation of power for others to use. (80)


I remember explaining relativity in morals by telling the following story. A question is put to three women, one American, one British, and one French: What would they do if they found themselves shipwrecked on a desert island with six sex-hungry men? The American woman said she would try to hide and build a raft at night or send up smoke signals in order to escape. The British woman said she would pick the strongest man and shack up with him, so that he could protect her from the others. The French woman looked up quizzically and asked, “What’s the problem?” (84)

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. (85)

For another example of the same principle, here is a Christian civilization where most people have gone to church and have mouthed various Christian doctrines, and yet this is really not part of their experience because they haven’t lived it. Their church experience has been purely a ritualistic decoration. (87)

While the organizer proceeds on the basis of questions, the community leaders always regard his judgment above their own. They believe that he knows his job, he knows the right tactics, that’s why he is their organizer. The organizer knows that even if they feel that way consciously, if he starts issuing orders and “explaining,” it would begin to build up a subconscious resentment, a feeling that the organizer is putting them down, is not respecting their dignity as individuals. (93)

It should be obvious by now that communication occurs concretely, by means of one’s specific experience. General theories become meaningful only when one has absorbed and understood the specific constituents and then related them back to a general concept. Unless this is done, the specifics become nothing more than a string of interesting anecdotes. That is the world as it is in communication. (97)

In The Beginning

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. (100)

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. Here the tool of the organizer, in the agitation leading to the invitation as well as actual organization and education of local leadership, is the use of the question, the Socratic method. (103)

Policy After Power

Once people are organized so that they have the power to make changes, then, when confronted with questions of change, they begin to think and to ask questions about how to make the changes. (105)

It is the creation of the instrument or the circumstances of power that provides the reason and makes knowledge essential. Remember, too, that a powerless people will not be purposefully curious about life, and that they then cease being alive. (106)


Indians: Well, we can’t organize.

Me: Why not?

Indians: Because that’s a white man’s way of doing things.

Me (I decided to let that one pass though it obviously was untrue, since mankind from time immemorial has always organized, regardless of what race or color they were, whenever they wanted to bring about change): I don’t understand.

Indians: Well, you see, if we organize, that means getting out and fighting the way you are telling us to do and that would mean that we would be corrupted by the white man’s culture and lose our own values.

Me: What are these values that you would lose?

Indians: Well, there are all kinds of values.

Me: Like what?

Indians: Well, there’s creative fishing.

Me: What do you mean, creative fishing?

Indians: Creative fishing.

Me: I heard you the first time. What is this creative fishing?

Indians: Well, you see, when you whites go out and fish, you just go out and fish, don’t you?

Me: Yeah, I guess so.

Indians: Well, you see, when we go out and fish, we fish creatively.

Me: Yeah. That’s the third time you’ve come around with that. What is this creative fishing?

Indians: Well, to begin with, when we go out fishing, we get away from everything. We get way out in the woods.

Me: Well, we whites don’t exactly go fishing in Times Square, you know.

Indians : Yes, but its different with us. When we go out, were out on the water and you can hear the lap of the waves on the bottom of the canoe, and the birds in the trees and the leaves rustling, and—you know what I mean?

Me: No, I don’t know what you mean. Furthermore, I think that that’s just a pile of shit. Do you believe it yourself? (111-112)

The Process of Power

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. (113)

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. (116)

Let’s take a common case in the ghetto. A man is living in a slum tenement He doesn’t know anybody and nobody knows him. He doesn’t care for anyone because no one cares for him. On the comer newsstand are newspapers with pictures of people like Mayor Daley and other people from a different world—a world that he doesn’t know, a world that doesn’t know that he is even 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. (121)

Process and purpose are so welded to each other that it is impossible to mark where one leaves off and the other begins, or which is which. The very process of democratic participation is for the purpose of organization rather than to rid the alleys of dirt. Process is really purpose. Through all this the constant guiding star of the organizer is in those words, “The dignity of the individual.” Working with this compass, he soon discovers many axioms of effective organization. (122)


Always remember the first rule of power tactics: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have. The second rule is: Never go outside the experienceof your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear, and retreat. It  also means a collapse of communication, as we have noted. The third rule is: Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat. (127)

The resources of the Have-Nots are (1) no money and (2) lots of people. All right, lets start from there. People can show their power by voting. What else? Well, they have physical bodies. How can they use them? Now a melange of ideas begins to appear. Use the power of the law by making the establishment obey its own rules. Go outside the experience of the enemy, stay inside the experience of your people. Emphasize tactics that your people will enjoy. The threat is usually more terrifying than the tactic itself. Once all these rules and principles are festering in your imagination they grow into a synthesis. (138-139)

With this in mind, the tactic becomes obvious—we tie up the lavoratories. In the restrooms you drop a dime, enter, push the lock on the door—and you can stay there all day. Therefore the occupation of the sit-down toilets presents no problem. (142)

Every organization must have two or three stool pigeons who are trusted by the establishment. These stool pigeons are invaluable as “trustworthy” lines of communication to the establishment. (147)


Once we understand the external reactions of the Haves to the challenges of the Have-Nots, then we go to the next level of examination, the anatomy of power of the Haves among themselves. But let us go deeper into the psyche of this Goliath. The Haves possess and in turn are possessed by power. Obsessed with the fear of losing power, their every move is dictated by the idea of keeping it. The way of life of the Haves is to keep what they have and wherever possible to shore up their defenses. (148-149)

Their Own Petard

In Chicago the Haves slipped badly when both a judge and a district attorney muttered that the book of regulations banned attempts to induce the absence of public school students, and growled ominously about an injunction against all civil rights leaders taking part in the development of the boycott. Here, as always, whenever the Haves start living by their book they present a golden opportunity to the Have-Nots to transform what had been a terminal tactic into a sweeping advance on many fronts. The children wouldn’t need to be absent–the leaders would be the only people who needed to act. (153-154)

Time In Jail

Jailing the revolutionary leaders and their followers performs three vital functions for the cause of the Have-Nots: (1) it is an act on the part of the status quo that in itself points up the conflict between the Haves and the Have-Nots; (2) it strengthens immeasurably the position of the revolutionary leaders with their people by surrounding the jailed leadership with an aura of martyrdom; (3) it deepens the identification of the leadership with their people since the prevalent reaction among the Have-Nots is that their leadership cares so much for them, and is so sincerely committed to the issue, that it is willing to suffer imprisonment for the cause. (155)

Your jailers are rough, unsociable, and generally so dull that you wouldn’t want to talk to them anyway. You find yourself in a physical drabness and confinement, which you desperately try to escape. Since there is no physical escape you are driven to erase your surroundings imaginatively: you escape into thinking and writing. It was through periodic imprisonment that the basis for my first publication and the first orderly philosophical arrangement of my ideas and goals occurred. (158)

Time In Tactics

human beings can sustain an interest in a particular subject only over a limited period of time. The concentration, the emotional fervor, even the physical energy, a particular experience that is exciting, challenging, and inviting, can last just so long—this is true of the gamut of human behavior, from sex to conflict. After a period of time it becomes monotonous, repetitive, an emotional treadmill, and worse than anything else a bore. From the moment the tactician engages in conflict, his enemy is time. (159)

New Tactics And Old

All banks want money and advertise for new savings and checking accounts. They even offer premium prizes to those who will open accounts. Opening a savings account in a bank is more than a routine matter. First, you sit down with one of the multiple vice-presidents or employees and begin to fill out forms and respond to questions for at least thirty minutes. If a thousand or more people all moved in, each with $5 or $10 to open up a savings account, the bank’s floor functions would be paralyzed. Again, as in the case of the shop-in, the police would be immobilized. There is no illegal occupation. (162)

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy

The history of Chicago’s Back of the Yards Council reads, “Out from the gutters, the bars, the churches, the labor unions, yes, even the communist and socialist parties; the neighborhood businessmen’s associations, the American Legion and Chicago’s Catholic Bishop Bernard Sheil. They all came together on July 14, 1939. July 14, Bastille Day! Their Bastille Day, the day they deliberately and symbolically selected to join together to storm the barricades of unemployment, rotten housing, disease, delinquency and demoralization.”

That’s the way it reads.

What really happened is that July 14 was selected because it was the one day the public park fieldhouse was clear—the one day that the labor unions had no scheduled meetings—the day that many priests thought was best—the one day that the late Bishop Sheil was free. There wasn’t a thought of Bastille Day in any of our minds. That day at a press conference before the convention came to order a reporter asked me, “Don’t you think its somewhat too revolutionary to deliberately select Bastille Day for your first convention?” I tried to cover my surprise but I thought, “How wonderful! What a windfall!” I answered, “Not at all. It is fitting that we do so and that’s why we did it.” I quickly informed all the speakers about “Bastille Day” and it became the keynote of nearly every speech. And so history records it as a “calculated, planned” tactic.  (168-169)

The first real breakthrough followed my address to the National Unitarian Convention in Denver on May 3, 1967, in which I asked for and received the passage of a resolution that the proxies of their organization would be given to FIGHT. The reactions of the local politicians made me realize that senators and congressmen up for reelection would turn to their research directors and ask, “How many Unitarians have I got in my district?’ The proxy tactic now began to look like a possible political bank-shot. Political leaders who saw their churches assigning proxies to us could see them assigning their votes as well. This meant political power. (172-173)

The Way Ahead

Activists and radicals, on and off our college campuses —people who are committed to change—must make a complete turnabout. With rare exceptions, our activists and radicals are products of and rebels against our middleclass society. All rebels must attack the power states in their society. Our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized, and corrupt. They are right; but we must begin from where we are if we are to build power for change, and the power and the people are in the big middle-class majority. (185)

The issues of 1972 would be those of 1776, “No Taxation Without Representation.” To have real representation would involve public funds being available for campaign costs so that the members of the lower middle class can campaign for political office. This can be an issue for mobilization among the lower middle class and substantial sectors of the middle middle class. (191)

The middle classes are numb, bewildered, scared into silence. They don’t know what, if anything, they can do. This is the job for today’s radical—to fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame to fight. To say, “You cannot cop out as have many of my generation!” “You cannot turn away—look at it—let us change it together!” “Look at us. We are your children. Let us not abandon each other for then we are all lost. Together we can change it for what we want. Let s start here and there—let’s go!” (194)

Tactics must begin within the experience of the middle class, accepting their aversion to rudeness, vulgarity, and conflict. Start them easy, don’t scare them off. (195)

The great American dream that reached out to the stars has been lost to the stripes. We have forgotten where we came from, we don’t know where we are, and we fear where we may be going. Afraid, we turn from the glorious adventure of the pursuit of happiness to a pursuit of an illusionary security in an ordered, stratified, striped society. Our way of life is symbolized to the world by the stripes of military force. At home we have made a mockery of being our brother’s keeper by being his jail keeper.

When Americans can no longer see the stars, the times are tragic. We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world; we will see it when we believe it. (196)


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