Learning From Arnie Graf

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week Arnie Graf, Co-Director of the IAF (Saul Alinsky’s famous school of organising), spoke at a TSSA meeting to share some of his organising experiences. He’s in the UK working for the Labour leadership to bring some much needed organising expertise. Here are some insights and links that he shared.

Power comes from four places:

  1. Status – social position, organisational title, hereditary cultural titles, age
  2. Wealth
  3. Organised people – consistently and persistently
  4. Collective resource – the financial clout of many small amounts brought together

You should only ever take an action in order to get a certain reaction. Otherwise all you’re doing is activity. In the most successful cases, the other side’s reaction does the organising for you by demonstrating precisely what you’re organising against. Your words and actions might not persuade people of your views – but the way that your opposition reacts to it can. For example, when Martin Luther King Jr choose to march in Salem, Alabama – it was a conscious choice to go there rather than Mississippi, Georgia or Virginia. The local Sheriff was known for his extreme racism and use of violence. King expected the Sheriff to over-react, as he went on to do. The images that emerged from the bloody police brutality forced passive supporters of Civil Rights across the country to become active supporters as they could no longer claim ‘I know racism is a problem, but it isn’t that bad’.

I learned about a new hero – James Farmer, one of the founders of CORE, a key organisation in the Civil Rights movement. Here’s an interview with him in 1965,

He also recommended some reading and viewing:

Going Public‘ – a book about community organising which he described as a ‘must read’ for any campaigner.

The Great Debaters‘ – a movie about a debate coach, played by Denzel Washington, at a historically black college to place his team on equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s.

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