COPS leaders confronting San Antonio City Council, mid-1970s. 12 JULY 11, 1986 They’re changing, we’re in flux. They’re tentative. There was a Greek by the name of Heraclites. He said something about not being able to step twice in the same street. So what has that got to do with us? A.M.: Nothing is constant. NOTHING IS constant, nothing is fixed, everything is tentative, everything is being changed. There’s a basic insecurity that we’ve got to live with. One of the worst things you can be is overly principled. In fact, we asked people to read an article by a guy named John Randall, an essay which he wrote in the American Scholar, I guess it was in 1938, on the importance of being unprincipled. A lot of people have a hard time with it. Now, in that article, Mr. Randall says that there are only two kinds of people in the world who can afford to be principled: lunatics and dictators. Everybody else has got to compromise, adapt, change. So one of the hard things that we’ve always had to learn in the world as it is, is that there are no permanent enemies and no permanent allies. Why not? Because you’re changing and they’re changing. That doesn’t mean that you’re an opportunist if you just drop people, but it does mean that you’ve got to realize that relationships have got to be constantly renegotiated. In our private lives, the world of families and lovers, etc., you know it’s difficult to part, and that’s good. I don’t want my children at age 15 to come to me and say, “Dad, I want a new relationship, a new father and a new relationship. It’s really been nice knowing you, and you’ve been a good father and a good provider, but I’d like somebody else to be my father for the rest of my life. That would not be very appropriate. I wouldn’t like it. But in the world of public life, to renegotiate relationships based upon your interests is not inappropriate. Loyalty is what we look for in our private lives, our private relationships. But in public life what we look for is not loyalty but accountability. We look for quid pro quo. Something for something, and relationships change and situations change. Yesterday’s enemy is today’s ally. Why is that important? A.M.: We generally organize our allies. . . . Yes. But we also tend to stereotype. We live in a world of stereotypes. So we stereotype bankers as always going to be against us. We stereotype developers as always going to be against us. I stereotype farmers as always going to be against us. If I’m organizing farmworkers, I think all farmers are going to be against me. So I live in a world of stereotypes, and you can’t organize around stereotypes. And when you live in a world of stereotypes, you don’t look for people’s interests. You don’t go talk to people in terms of trying to build a relationship. You don’t inquire; you don’t have any curiosity. And, worst of all, when you live in a world of stereotypes, you tend to always sell your movement or your cause, rather than make an offer out of a relationship, out of curiosity, out of some kind of inquiry about the person you might proposition. Organizing is a fancy word for relationship building. No organizer ever organizes a community. What an organizer does is identify, test out, and develop leadership. And the leadership builds the relationships and the networks and, following that, does the organizing. But you don’t organize people around your agenda. If I want to organize you, I don’t come and sell you an idea or a proposal. What I do, if I’m smart, is try to find out your interest. What’s your situation? What are your dreams? I try to kindle your imagination, stir the possibilities, and then propose some ways in which you can act on those dreams and act on those values and act on your own vision. But you’ve got to be the owner; otherwise, it’s my movement, it’s my cause, it’s my organization. And you don’t build power around a single leader. Well, you could build a charismatic movement for a while. You know we’ve had a lot of movements in this country, and they do some good things. Movements are good. What tends to happen to movements once the charismatic leader leaves center stage? The movement dissipates. The energy evaporates because it’s all built around Martin Luther King’s energy and vision and values, and Gandhi’s vision and values. Now, the best movement leaders understand that, and they always tend to build a collective, a collective of leaders who own the organization. But that collective then has got to be in a position to move the leaders off center stage, get rid of them. /N THE WORLD as it is, everything is tentative; it’s in flux. In 1974, in the beginning of the COPS [Communities Organized for Public Service] organization in San Antonio, we were organizing around an issue we called the counter-budget, and we had had a big action with the city council people, two city council people, but we couldn’t get the mayor. We had 2000 people there, and they committed to our counter-budget, which was $100 million worth of capital improvements for the inner-city areas of the west and south sides of San Antonio. We had tried to get the mayor there and he didn’t come. He pleaded that he was out of town, but at the city council meeting the next day he made a big thing of telling everybody how he had had such a good time seeing a movie called The Towering Inferno, which indicated to us that he could have been at our meeting. We were getting nowhere with the city, so we decided on a different tack. We decided that there were some very powerful business people in the city who had some influence on the politicians since they give them money. So we decided to go after them. We went to one of the major retail department stores in San Antonio, called Joske’s, with 300 folks at 10:00 in the morning. And we asked the manager of Joske’s, who was
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