Rules for Revolutionaries

Want a post-internet, post-elitist update to Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals"? Here it is: "Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything" (2016) by Becky Bond and Zack Exley. The book is about 'big organizing' which the authors say "isn't just about the effective use of the newest technology to scale participation in politics. As the most fundamental level, big organizing is how we create campaigns that allow people to work together to realize their dreams for a more just world. Big organizing is big is more ways that one. We have to have a meaningful message and big goals. Instead of asking for the change that politicians think is possible, we have to ask for the change that is actually needed to solve problems" (p. 5).

Some of their experiences and tips:

  • "the revolution is not something you can order to your own specifications. You have to take the obstacles with the opportunities. There is no provider of revolutionary conditions whose job it is to set everything up just right for you." (p. 20)
  • "In distributed organizing, the work may be distributed, but if you're going to win something big, you need a centralized plan… Delegate chunks of work from a centralized, strategic campaign plan to a distributed network of volunteer leaders who can work across space and time, and in the numbers necessary, to meet concrete goals that put victory within reach." (p. 49)
  • The revolution will not be funded by traditional donors, but the people. "The stewards of all those foundation billions are not going to pay you to overthrow the system. The people running the nonprofits participating in the coalition are not going to support you when you try to blow everything up… you can also raise money on the internet in small donations from the same people who will be a part of and benefit from your work" (p. 67-68)
  • "Radical trust, with some limits, can build community that scales" (p. 90)
  • "In a successful movement, campaign, or revolution, everything is growing and changing too fast to make detailed long-term plans." (p. 120)
  • "As conditions change, what used to be "best practices" can become counterproductive distractions. Don't enshrine "best practices." Continually reevaluate best practices not just to improve on them but so you can throw them out when a counterintuitive approach proves to be far more valuable." (p. 139)
  • "the best experiments to run are those that probably won't work, but if they do work, they represent not just a small incremental improvement but a breakthrough" (p. 147)

And some valuable, concluding reflections: "Revolutions are messy, wonderful, maddening, and joyful all at once. They alternative between inspiring unbelievable elation and taking your heart and crushing it in a vise, sometimes both in the same day. Revolutions rarely succeed immediately. But when they do achieve their ultimate goal – even when it seems sudden – it's usually a result of years of accumulated confidence, new tactics, and momentum. All of this is gained through defeats and setbacks that train and galvanize an ever-growing base of people who believe that change is possible if they all stand up and fight for change together." (p. 183)

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