Continuing with the chapter by chapter series on Rules for Radicals, today we add our Comments about the chapter called Communication.
Synopsis of the chapter entitled Communication
If you can’t communicate, you can’t agitate. Therefore the ability to communicate is the one quality an organizer absolutely must have. To communicate the organizer must, 1) speak in familiar terms the people understand and 2) listen. He must talk in terms familiar to the people he seeks as his power base. Typically, this requires talking down when speaking to the people he is organizing.
As an example, take the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; an organizer who stresses the multiple thousands of people who died will not communicate well with his audience. Numbers with lots of zeros in them are outside the experience of most people. However, if he tells the personal story of a single family including the details of their suffering, the organizer will reach his people. Family problems and personal tragedies are within everyone’s realm of experience.
By the same token, a leader should not speak of issues in “generalities like sin or immorality or the good life or morals. They must be this immorality of this slum landlord with this tenement where these people suffer”.
When planning the American Revolution founder John Adams said “There ought to be no less than three or four killed so we will have martyrs for the Revolution, but there must be no more than ten, because after you get beyond that number we no longer have martyrs but simply a sewage problem.”
The first thing to note is the goal the author sets out – to agitate, stir up emotions. Beyond that, this chapter offers some good advice; nothing will be accomplished unless you are able to communicate well with your constituency. It is also true you won’t reach them by speaking above their heads and that little heart wrenching stories reach an audience in a way the big picture does not.
Barack Obama is very proficient at speaking in the terms the people he is addressing can understand. Here is what writer Wayne Root had to say about the President’s “put on your marching shoes” speech at the Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in September 2011.
“When speaking before black audiences, President Obama tends to be more charismatic in his delivery. He just plays the room differently — gripping and galvanizing, with a preacher-like cadence that can sometimes rise to a holler at points of emphasis.”
“Throughout our history, change has often come slowly. Progress often takes time,” he said. “It’s never easy. And I never promised easy. Easy has never been promised to us. But we have had faith. We’ve had that good kind of crazy that says, ‘You can’t stop marching.’ “
Obama continued in this vein, with knowing references to the civil rights heroes honored during the night’s awards ceremony. “Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop,” he said, building into an oratory crescendo that had the crowd cheering him on.
The author uses the alleged quote of John Adams to teach the method of communicating by invoking emotions. Senator Inhofe gave us a recent example of this method employing the emotion of fear. The Senator showed a video on April 25, 2012 of an EPA official teaching his philosophy of enforcement to his staff about 2 yrs earlier. The subject, perhaps better said the target, was the oil companies. The official said his philosophy
“was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. Then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
The Romans simply killed a few people arbitrarily to serve as examples of the consequences they might face if they rebelled against a Roman dictate. That is one sure way to communicate to an audience that they had better toe the line.
However, with respect to the quotation, there is no evidence Adams ever said any such thing nor would it be correct to say he planned the American Revolution. A search of internet validators turns up several investigations into the source of the remark about the need for martyrs but none of them found any evidence of its having been said by Adams. One validator offered the opinion that the originator was most likely none other than Saul Alinsky himself.