Let Them Call Me Rebel

“Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul.” Thomas Paine

This was a favorite quote of Saul Alinsky, who developed the idea of community organizing.

One of the reasons that I love my job as a community organizer is the opportunity to directly confront our enemies. Successful community organizations believe in direct action, showing up at the homes or offices of the people, politicians and/or businesses that are screwing up our neighborhoods. We try to have some fun, but our “hits” are deadly serious. We have demands–a meeting, a list of things to fix or maybe just publicity.

In the past couple of years we have gone to the homes and offices of Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll, County Executive Nick Pirro and M & T President Matt Schiro. Just this past month we went to the office of the Onondaga County Republican Party to protest President Bush’s cuts to the Section 8 housing voucher program.

Every time the community group that I work for engages in direct action, or what we call a hit, we come in for criticism from a wide variety of sources.

Saul Alinsky, in a long interview published in the late 1960’s said “People don’t get opportunity or freedom or equality or dignity as an act of charity; they have to fight for it, force it out of the establishment. This liberal cliche about reconciliation of opposing forces is a load of crap. Reconciliation means just one thing: When one side gets enough power, then the other side gets reconciled to it.”

I always tell those people that are opposed to our tactics that we are walking in the footsteps of Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I do believe that, but I hear Alinsky in my mind more than the acknowledged patron saints of non-violent direct action. I also hear the words of one of our members. She’s a very sweet and kind African-American woman in her seventies who cares for her ailing husband. She wishes she could be more active, and she says she really misses being able to go on hits with us. It reminds her of the Civil Rights movement. “I really like it when you shake people up. We need to do more of that.”

See you at the next protest!

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