So Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky's 1989 manual for progressive community organizing, is enjoying a resurgence of popularity. It's now ranked #157 in sales at Amazon. The only problem is who's buying it. The Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought, almost exclusively...books by Glenn Beck, Jonah Goldberg, Michelle Malkin, and other propagandists of the lunatic Right.
The Right is organizing. They think Alinsky got Obama where he is today, so there must be something worth learning from his methodology:
Next Monday, in Kansas City, Missouri, a group of conservative organizers will conduct a most unusual training session. They will teach the "Rules for Radicals" laid down by the god of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. The idea: learn to recognize the footprints of the enemy.
Ambinder suggests the right-wing activists are doing this simply to better understand what they believe are Obama's secret subversive methods, and that they won't find the effort useful because Obama abandoned them himself as he climbed the ladder of power and influence. Whatever. That's really beside the point. The Right is interested in the organizing, radicalizing, mobilizing methodology itself.
The spectacle of elderly white people on Medicare bawling in public over the terrifying prospect of "government health care" and screaming about bureaucratic death panels has a riveting level of attention-getting absurdity Alinsky himself would have admired.
Consider the fabled "fart-in":
Another idea I had that almost came to fruition was directed at the Rochester Philharmonic, which was the establishment's -- and Kodak's -- cultural jewel. I suggested we pick a night when the music would be relatively quiet and buy 100 seats. The 100 blacks scheduled to attend the concert would then be treated to a preshow banquet in the community consisting of nothing but huge portions of baked beans. Can you imagine the inevitable consequences within the symphony hall? The concert would be over before the first movement -- another Freudian slip -- and Rochester would be immortalized as the site of the world's first fart-in.
PLAYBOY: Aren't such tactics a bit juvenile and frivolous?
ALINSKY: I'd call them absurd rather than juvenile. But isn't much of life kind of a theater of the absurd? As far as being frivolous is concerned, I say if a tactic works, it's not frivolous. Let's take a closer look at this particular tactic and see what purposes it serves -- apart from being fun.
First of all, the fart-in would be completely outside the city fathers' experience. Demonstrations, confrontations and picketings they'd learned to cope with, but never in their wildest dreams could they envision a flatulent blitzkrieg on their sacred symphony orchestra. It would throw them into complete disarray. Second, the action would make a mockery of the law, because although you could be arrested for throwing a stink bomb, there's no law on the books against natural bodily functions. Can you imagine a guy being tried in court on charges of first-degree farting? The cops would be paralyzed. Third, when the news got around, everybody who heard it would break out laughing, and the Rochester Philharmonic and the establishment it represents would be rendered totally ridiculous. A fourth benefit of the tactic is that it's psychically as well as physically satisfying to the participants. What oppressed person doesn't want, literally or figuratively, to shit on his oppressors? Here was the closest chance they'd have. Such tactics aren't just cute; they can be useful in driving your opponent up the wall. Very often the most ridiculous tactic can prove the most effective.
The Right has been trying for a while to adapt Alinsky's tactics to suit themselves:
Leahy’s book, "Rules for Conservative Radicals," boils them down and scraps Alinsky’s more "amoral" suggestions. "The problem that conservatives have with Alinsky is that, for him, the ends justified the means," explained Leahy. "I’m suggesting that we take the successful Alinsky rules, we update them and apply them to new social networking technology, and we execute them in the Judeo-Christian tradition."
Good luck with that!
Some people think that these tactics won't be nearly as useful for the Right as they've been for the Left. As Alinsky disciple Gregory Galluzzo of the Gamaliel Foundation says:
"They polarize," said Galluzzo. "They’ve got that part down. They do direct action. But that’s not the kind of organizing we do. We end up building relationships with the people we oppose.
I’m not going to go up to Mayor [Richard] Daley and say ‘you’re just a Nazi.’ I want to end up working with him."
But according to Galluzzo, if Alinsky could take a look at the Alinsky-cons, he’d call them "petty protesters" who want to destroy the system without offering solutions. "If you just go around calling people assholes," Galluzzo said, "you’re not going to get anything done."
But that isn't a problem really for people who want to keep the status quo. All they have to do is block change from happening, and they win (or think they do).
If you haven't already read Rules for Radicals, I strongly recommend you do. At the very least it'll give you a clearer perspective on the tactics of the Tea Partiers, the Birthers, the Deathers, and all the other absurd political theater currently emerging from the Right.