Community organizers embody a progressive, reformist temperament. Community organizing taps most deeply into human concerns and aspirations. Organizers may have multiple agendas, seeking to assess needs, mobilize resources and human capital. They can seek to redress specific grievances, lead protests, promote neighborhood wellness and prevention programs, or simply agitate on behalf of the neglected and give voice to those most marginalized. One could argue that community organizing best emerges naturally through informal neighborhoods associations, collaboratives or other civic organizations.
How to Learn
“PICO is a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities. Since 1972 PICO has successfully worked to increase access to health care, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing, redevelop communities and revitalize democracy.”
President Barack Obama as a Community Organizer: The most powerful man in the world wants to return to community organizing after he hands over the keys to the White House in 2017
“I’ll be done being president in a couple of years and I’ll still be a pretty young man, and so I’ll go back to doing the kinds of work I was doing before, just trying to find ways to help people” (Sink 2015).
True North’s organizing process is guided by a relational model developed by PICO (people improving communities through organizing). At True North, we believe that power is in the relationship. Unlike many organizing models, PICO organizing does not rally communities around a single issue, launch a campaign, and walk away at the end of a loss or victory. We believe that to truly change the issues that plague our communities, we must first commit to knowing each other, finding shared values, treating all people with dignity, and respecting cultural differences.
Sociologist as Community Organizers
Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) – Sociologist. Community Organizer. Activist.
The inspiration for Rules for Radicals was drawn directly from Alinsky’s personal experiences over the course of his career as a community organizer. The methods he developed and practiced across the country were placed directly into the book as a guide on future community organizing for the new generation of radicals emerging from the 1960s. In his book, he articulated 13 rules ‘rules for radicals’:
- “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
- “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
- “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
- “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
- “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
- “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
- “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.
- “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
- “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
- “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.
- “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
- “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.
- “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
-Saul Alinsky (1971)
Written by: Burke Zen and Janae Teal
Last updated: 15 January 2016