Ten New Rules for Radicals: Post-Occupy Lessons for Organizing and Social Change

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February 3, 2012; Source: Truthout | Are Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals” still applicable to the social activists and community organizers trying to effectuate change in our society? AlterNet’s Sara Robinson, a self-described futurist, suggests that the lessons of Occupy Wall Street require a different lens on organizing for social change. Her ten-point architecture of new rules for radicals—or perhaps rules for anyone who wants to promote social change—begin with the obvious #1: “The rules have changed.”  She foresees “a whole new political era, one that runs by an entirely new set of rules—and one in which a great many impossible things may, all of a sudden, become possible.”

Robinson’s other “new rules for radicals” start with what she says is the most important:

#2: “No despair. Despair is a waste of time and energy.”

#3: Because no one really knows what will and won’t work—who would have ever expected Occupy Wall Street to accomplish what it has?—she advised, “try everything. Try it, even if you’ve tried it before and it didn’t work. Try it, even if it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Try it, just because it’s there. It’s going to take many thousands of experiments before we really understand the contours of this new political and economic reality we’re living in.”

#4. “Trust the vision,” she argues, meaning “a strong vision of what this nation can and should become.”

#5. “Focus on our goals, not on our enemies,” Robinson advises. 

#6. “Expect resistance,” or as she says more colloquially, “whatever you do, you are going to piss somebody off.” 

#7. “Find and nurture innovators,” she  says, referring to the “people in our midst who are really good at this stuff…comfortable taking a lot of risks, and not afraid of bombing out.”   

#8. “If there’s promise, stick with it,” Robinson says, “and give the innovator the chance to keep making it better.”

#9. “Celebrate every win, no matter how small. Every one matters.”  Even if the results weren’t totally what was desired, she reminds activists “to reward the politicians who actually managed to deliver the goods for once.”

#10. “Replicate success,” Robinson concludes, writing “if it works, use it. Good ideas belong to everybody, and nobody is going to flunk you for stealing them.”

Maybe these are lessons from the Occupy movement that are making an impression on community organizers and political activists inside and outside of the nonprofit sector, but Robinson’s vision of Occupy-inspired rules for radicals sound much like the principles of good organizing practiced by Alinsky and every other successful grassroots organizer. Alinsky would have consciously changed the rules, always resisted despair, reveled in pissing off his rich and powerful enemies, and tried things that no one else would have ever tried, things that others might have described as silly and absurd, and then tried them again, reminding us that “if a tactic works, it’s not frivolous.”

Robinson’s new rules for radicals in today’s era of technology and social media trace their roots to effective grassroots organizing tactics that have been practiced over the decades.—Rick Cohen