Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I did not rate this higher because there were moments when I found myself struggling with some of Alinsky's ideas. A part of me wondered what Alinsky would have made of the current political climate. Would he still recommend some of the ideas and rules he promoted? Would he have become more radical? Lost hope given that it is extremely difficult to keep hope in this current political environment in the U.S.? I guess as a reader I struggled because sometimes I thought he was too optimistic.
And yet, if you read this book, you will find that Alinsky can be very Machiavellian. You will also find that a lot of what he writes about is very relevant today. To be honest, I found the last chapter to be very prophetic. So you see why I struggled a bit with it; there seem to be two sides.
I picked the book up out of curiosity. I read somewhere that Barrack Obama had read it, and the book was an influence for his community organizing work. I can see why. This book is a primer for community organizing. If you want to learn what it takes to be an effective community organizer, this is a book you should be reading. Now, do keep in mind this book was written in 1971, so there are a lot of references to events prior to that year, a lot of things related to the struggle for civil rights, so on. Having some small grasp of American history at the time will probably be helpful because he uses a lot of examples to illustrate his principles and rules. However, the principles and rules are basically universal; they can be applicable today just as they were at the time the book was written. In addition, this is a book that will make you think. You may agree with some things, disagree with others, but overall, this is a useful book if you want to learn how to be a radical and a community organizer, and I don't mean radical in the negative sense certain people use it today. I think it is a book more people should be reading to educate themselves and others. Overall, I did like it.
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Additional notes and thoughts: If you just needed or wanted a quick review to convince you whether to read it or not, you can stop reading here. If you want to read more about what I got out of the book, notes I made from the book, and some further thoughts, read on.
As I mentioned in my brief review, I struggled with some of Alinsky's ideas at times, even as I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he wrote. I will mention too now that I was reading this at the time that I was also writing out my statements for my application to ACRL's Immersion Program Track, and some of his ideas were on my mind (I may blog on that later over in the professional blog). In addition to my curiosity about the book after reading somewhere that President Obama read it and the book had influence on his community organizing work, I picked up the book because I wondered if there was anything the book might say to me as an outreach librarian. Now that I have a bit of time to think about it, a good amount of work that an outreach librarian does is community and group organizing. I found that the book does say a lot to librarians; well, it said a lot to this librarian, and it made me once more think about the issue about our neutrality illusion, whether as librarians we should remain perfectly neutral or engage in some degree of education and advocacy. The only reason I am posting about the book in my personal blog rather than on the professional blog is that the book, ostensibly, is political, and politics is something I try to limit to the unruly cousin here (we don't discuss politics in polite company, and The Gypsy Librarian is my polite company blog. Here, almost anything goes, which I suppose could prompt another discussion of where we draw our lines as librarians). This may well be a book that we may want librarians to read.
Some notes I jotted down from the book, basically some things I wanted to remember. I am making a selection from what I jotted down in my personal journal. Since this could get long, I am will make another post with more notes:
- A fundamental idea: ". . .one communicates within the experience of his audience--and gives full respect to the other's values. . . " (Prologue, xviii).
- "On another level of communication, humor is essential, for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously" (xviii).
- On freedom: "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" (xxv, emphasis in original).
"The organizer, in his constant hunt for patterns, universalities, and meaning is always building up a body of experience.
Through his imagination he is constantly moving in on the happenings of others, identifying with them and extracting their happenings into his own mental digestive system and thereby accumulating more experience. It is essential for communication that we know of their experiences. Since one can communicate only through the experiences of the other, it becomes clear that the organizer begins to develop an abnormally large body of experience.
He learns the local legends, anecdotes, values, idioms. He listens to small talk. He refrains from rhetoric foreign to the local culture. . . .
And yet the organizer must not try to fake it. He must be himself" (70).
Good lessons for outreach here.
And we'll continue next time.