Todd’s remarks on our discussion of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals

On October 16th, about 15 of us met in the shade on the grounds of Austin City Hall to discuss excerpts from Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinksy in a discussion led by Marty W. We focused on the chapters of “Tactics” and “The Genesis of Tactic Proxy”.

Summary of the text

In the chapter entitled “Tactics”, Alinsky suggests several rules to offer guidance on tactics for “how the Have-Nots can take power away from the Haves.” Below are short, direct excerpts:

o    Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have

o    Never go outside the experience of your people

o    Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy

o    Make the enemies live up to their own book of rules

o    Ridicule is man’s [or woman’s] most potent weapon

o    A good tactic is one that your people enjoy

o    A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag

o    The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition

o    The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative

o    Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it


The chapter that we discussed next indicated that successful tactics are formed from assessments of situation. Intentional or accidental, predictable or not, successful tactics grow from intelligent improvisation.

Summary of our discussion

We have met more than half-a-dozen times previously; however, this is the first discussion for which we decided as a group to take notes, and, since that decision was made during our last meet-up, these notes may not be inclusive of our entire discussion. Nevertheless, I will attempt to highlight the main themes we traversed, and, more specifically, I will convey some group suggestions for proposed tactical elements for the Occupy movement.

I observed that the conversation centered on appraising our situation, conceptualizing systemic reform, demarcating the actors, and reflecting on tactics. Notably, the group argued that the movement would likely benefit from more reading/discussion groups similar to this one, whereby individuals could present their perspectives on topics relevant to the movement. Two suggestions (perhaps tactics) also arose regarding this reading group, which included 1) the adoption of note taking and blog posting following discussion sessions and 2) the formulation and presentation of ideas in the form of proposals to the General Assembly when appropriate. Furthermore, the conversation led to the idea of a strategic push for more reading and discussion groups, which could strengthen the voices of occupiers by establishing multiple “village” like platforms that support the larger assembly. The idea is that systemic reform could potentially result from the formulation of groups that, in their own way, call to question the omnipresent system of consumer tutelage and the maximization of monetary profits. Scrutinizing the system, acknowledging injustices, and expressing discontent are ways in which the movement is empowered. The strength of the movement, in turn, sends disharmonious feedback to the system currently in place, and therefore asserts pressure for reform. Moreover, in an attempt to target the movement toward specific goals, this discussion group briefly (and incompletely, due to time) outlined some of the actors (which remained open to debate), some differentiation of experiences/knowledge, and some general tactics. The items categorized below are best perceived as ingredients that can be called upon when improvisation demands.

Actors potentially in opposition of the movement: mainstream media, specific corrupt politicians, the Tea Party (some suggested this group could also be an ally), Wall Street (and the image of the charging bull), billionaires (some mentioned that members of the 1% were voicing support), and the ever-controversial police

Concepts in opposition of the movement: “too-big to fail” mentalities, corporate citizenship, “unjust” legislation, uncompassionate people, unchecked capitalism

Tactics: improving public relations, canvassing local disenfranchised peoples

Resources we have that “they” may lack: decentralized organization, consensus decision-making, compassion, empathy, morality, art/creativity, autonomous actors, transparency, unions, and overall the 99% has more life experiences than the 1%

Goals: Reform and systemic change to reduce injustice, rights for disenfranchised and marginalized groups, an end to the two-party system, greater empathy, and a redefinition of “profit” to include standards accounting for negative externalities.



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