Marching to Clever Campaigns

26 January 2017

Missing from the marches on Saturday was Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer of decades ago who, beyond marching, conceived clever campaigns to drive social change in the U.S.—by driving established authorities crazy.

Here is a simple example, in the spirit of Alinsky: In the late 1960s, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bill by 1¢. That simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied the bureaucracy in knots. It gave in.

From schoolyards to the White House to the global marketplace, it is remarkable how easily bullies can be outmaneuvered by a bit of imagination. To quote Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals: “…the disturbance would [have to] be utterly outside the experience of the establishment, which was expecting the usual stuff of mass meetings, street demonstrations, confrontations and parades.”

David brought down Goliath with an unexpected stone. (Of course, the Bible tells us that Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho with a march. But don’t expect this to happen again.) Trump is big and boastful too—and no less vulnerable. His offensive proposals can be brought down, not by violence or the breaking of laws, but by plain old ingenuity. Hit them where it hurts, bearing in mind one of Alinsky’s basic tactics: “Ridicule is [the] most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.” Trump it is!

Well before Saturday, he was aware of the intense resitance to his election. Indeed, the marches may have strengthened his resolve. While millions of women were voting with their feet, on the ground, one man in the White House was consolidating a cabinet that will violate their interests. And quite the cabinet it is: Exxon and Goldman Sachs taking on the establishment! In alternate fact, there are  two establishments in America, business and government, and the stronger has just taken control of the weaker. Business no longer need merely lobby government; now it is government. Things will likely get worse before they can get better.

How, then, to get them better? Tap into the energy of Saturday’s marches. See them as the foundation on which to build a framework for action.

It is telling how many people were prepared to express their concerns publicly, no few marching for the first time. With a taste of acting together, all these people constitute a potent starting point for change—but only that. Mass action will have to follow, creatively targeted at specific proposals coming out of this administration.

Please understand that this is about more than Donald Trump. He is an extreme symptom of problems that have been festering for years, in America and, increasingly, elsewhere: income inequalities, legalized bribery (in the form of political donations), unregulated globalization run rampant, and so much more, resulting in the demise of democracy and the denigration of decency. Some voters, not knowing which way to turn, have brought into power a slew of bullies all over the world. Figuratively and almost literally, these people will be pouring oil on the fires of this planet.

It will thus fall to the concerned folks, all over the world, to do  something about this. Bear in mind what made America great in the first place: protest turned into inspired action against indecent authority.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili (CC BY-SA 2.0) For more with For more on Saul Alinsky, please see:


Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.