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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Uppity Women

Iranian women
I've been reading over and meditating on Sunday's Gospel lesson (Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28) about the Canaanite woman who was uppity enough to push through the prejudice and negativity of the disciples and persistent enough to challenge Jesus to heal her daughter.

I have lots to say about her and especially Joseph and his brothers in the Hebrew lesson (Genesis 45:1-15) for Sunday. That will have to come sometime tomorrow.

Thinking about both Joseph and the Canaanite woman - comparing and contrasting their stories - suddenly reminded me of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals

Saul Alinsky wrote this entertaining classic on grassroots organizing in 1971. I still have my copy, sitting prominently on my bookshelf.

Those who prefer cooperative tactics describe the book as out-of-date. Nevertheless, I happen to think that it still provides some of the best advice on confrontational tactics ever written.

Alinsky begins this way:
What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.
His “rules” derive from many successful campaigns where he helped poor people fighting power and privilege

For Alinsky, organizing is the process of highlighting what is wrong and convincing people they can actually do something about it. The two are linked.

If people feel they don’t have the power to change a bad situation, they stop thinking about it.

According to Alinsky, the organizer — especially a paid organizer from outside — must first overcome suspicion and establish credibility.

Next the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and searching out controversy. This is necessary to get people to participate.

An organizer has to attack apathy and disturb the prevailing patterns of complacent community life where people have simply come to accept a bad situation.

Alinsky would say, “The first step in community organization is community disorganization.”

Through a process combining hope and resentment, the organizer tries to create a “mass army” that brings in as many recruits as possible from local organizations, churches, services groups, labor unions, corner gangs, and individuals.

Now, combining hope and resentment is an interesting mix, no? All of it sounds to me a bit like the Tea Party folks have taken a page right out of Alinsky's Rule Book.

Then again, so has anyone who wants to change the status quo and shift the paradigm of power. If you listen carefully to the Scripture lessons for this Sunday, you can hear pieces of this strategy at work.

Alinsky provides a collection of rules to guide the process. But he emphasizes these rules must be translated into real-life tactics that are fluid and responsive to the situation at hand.

So, here is Alinsky's 'Rules for Radicals'. Uppity women, please take note:
Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. Alinsky wrote: “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. Alinsky wrote: “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

Rule 12: According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”
Any uppity women out there want to join me in sending a copy of this to the White House?

Jesus said: "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

I'm not a woman from Canaan, and she's centuries away, but I hear her talking.


Ahab said...

“If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

Amen! True social change is not always fun or glamorous, but it should be nourishing and uplifting.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Absolutely, Ahab. Which seems to be the thing the Tea Baggers are missing. Give me some good old fashioned "Street Theater" any day.

Kay & Sarah said...

Sarah and I have a bumper sticker on the back of our car that says, "Uppity Women Unite." We get the most beeps and thumbs up from other cars. People will stop us in the parking lot and ask about it. We will join you!

Anonymous said...

A thought for dealing with Perry's campagn for President. His Houston prayer session appeared to me to have left out the Christ (inclusion).


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kay and Sarah - I used to have that same bumper sticker on one of my cars. Got the same reaction. There are many more uppity women out there than anyone realizes. We just need to unite.

(My other favorite bumper sticker is: "Dyslexic people: Untie!")

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - It sure has. I think his candidacy is the best news yet. He joins the Republican Clown Bus as second banana.

Bex said...

Halfway through this post I was thinking that someone should send this to the president, but you beat me to it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bex - I've copied it and sent it in an email to the White House. They know me by now. I write at least once or twice a month.

JCF said...

[Irony: the need to send Alinsky to Obama! (Wasn't Alinsky one of the main things held AGAINST Obama in 2008? I miss THAT guy!)]

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

This is key. In the humor over Mitt Romney's "Corporations are people" declaration, I think we on the Left missed something important...

...namely, that corporations ARE people. Wealthy, powerful people (like Mitt!) who regularly commit Great Evil. Name them. Blame them. SHAME them! [To wit, my advice re the UK riots. If you want to reduce riots, HM's Government can BEGIN by putting the Murdochs in the dock! And every Murdoch sycophant, including PM Cameron, should be shamed into RESIGNING!]

Bill said...

“the prejudice and negativity of the disciples” I don’t often defend the disciples but this might be the right time. Yes, the Jewish men who made up the disciples were prejudiced, but they were a product of their culture and upbringing. I’m more concerned with the prejudice and negativity of Jesus. He was after all their leader and He remains the founder of our religion. The fact the Jesus would even talk to the woman was an indication of how radical He was. But, and here’s the thing, He was still prejudiced when it came to Jews and non-Jews.
He was preaching salvation for the sons and (possibly) daughters of Israel. That’s right, Israel and only Israel. Maybe that’s why today’s Gospel is so important.
When the Canaanite woman asks Jesus to cure her possessed (mentally disturbed) child, Jesus tells her quite frankly, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” or as the Messenger puts it, “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.”
Jesus goes on to imply and of course we infer that to help her was akin to taking the food out of the mouths of children (Israelites) and giving it to the dogs (everybody else). When the woman retorted that even the dogs get table scraps, Jesus was brought up short. Being “brought up short”, is one of those phrases that we used in the EFM program during Theological Reflections. It means, “what makes you stop and rethink your position”. In this instance, Jesus stops, rethinks, and opens up his teaching to all people, not just the sons of Israel. This is the very beginning of Christianity being inclusive. Over the centuries, the concept of “inclusivity” was hidden away while some very narrow minded Christians began to make Christianity an exclusive club. It’s only in the last few years that we are returning to the words of Jesus in Matthew 15. Maybe that’s why it’s so important to me, as a gay man, to realize that people may not have it right to begin with but if Jesus can change his mind, what’s wrong with the people who allege to follow his teachings.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Bill you make a good case. Actually, it's one feminist theologians have been making about this story for a number of years now.

See? You're in good company.

Kay & Sarah said...

@ Bill; I don't think I have hear anyone clearly make the case that this woman changed the directions for the message that Jesus is trying to make to be inclusive. Thank you from Ms. Sarah.