Pho to by Ala n Pog u e one-on-one basis for 30 minutes and practice that very lost art of listening, asking a few key questions and asking a couple of what-if questions. Drawing them out, drawing them out of their cynicism, drawing them out of their dependency, drawing them out of their passivity, drawing them out of their alienation and their bitterness. It takes somebody who has got the maturity not to be rebuffed, somebody who is not insecure, so they don’t get turned off or they don’t worry about the guided missiles they duck. When somebody walks in and says, “Well I don’t like Mexicans,” or, “What are you doing here, Mexican?” who can take that kind of guff. You need somebody who’s got that kind of ego, who is not insecure or self-centered, who can get into other people’s skins and can understand their situations. And then you have to teach them that, if they’re going to move on their issue, they’re going to have to get into a relationship with other people. And they’re going to have to do some listening. The best organizer always knows that the last shall be first. Your issue gets dealt with last. If you want your issue dealt with first, you’ll never build anything. So you lead with other people’s issues, and you teach them how to act on their issues. Then you model what it is to be reciprocal, you model what it is to have a long-term vision. There has to be that kind of pulling. It’s like a rosary, organizing is like stringing together a rosary bead. It’s hard, patient work. It takes two to three years to build a solid citizens’ organization like COPS or Valley Interfaith or EPISO or the other IAF organizations. You don’t build it around dramatic confrontations. You build it around a lot of patient networking, a lot of patient one-on-one. So you have to raise enough money to allow that kind of process to go on in your local community, to free up somebody to do that kind of organizing. But ultimately that person has got to understand that you’re not going to be successful in building these organizations unless they’re owned by the people who put them together. A COPS organization is totally self-sufficient. The organization has been in existence now for 15 years. They’re going to celebrate their 15th anniversary next year. But the money comes totally from dues, from institutional dues and moneyraising events. You can’t get people dependent upon anybody’s trough because it always can get cut off; there are always strings. . . . If politics is public discourse, the relevant skill is how you hold a public official accountable. A.M.: I want you to expand on your thinking on electoral power. I think that you view electoral power as being primarily the presidential election. That’s how a lot of the American people look at electoral politics. That leaves them feeling very powerless because they say, “My vote is meaningless, it’s the P.R. game.” The city I’m from no one can give more than $50 to the city council campaign. We have a very different kind of city council in our city than other places. I’m just interested in your opinion about electoral power. I’m not against it. A.M.: You can’t be against it. Oh, okay. How do you know what I can be against? A.M.: You can have your own opinion, but if you’re building an organization, you have to work because that’s the way it is. Yes, you do. But you also have to be a little bit more radical, and you have to understand that what organizing is really all about is not electing good men or good women to public office, although we need good men and good women in public office, no question about it. I want to be clear. Don’t walk out of here saying that I don’t think that we need good people in public office, but that’s not fundamentally what is going to change the country. The question always depends on what your perspective is, what your time frame is. Anybody know a guy named Dyson? He’s a physicist who wrote a book in which he said that what is relevant depends upon your time-frame and who you are. If you’re a general, your time-frame may be five years or if you’re a politician it’s two years, but if you’re a mother the relevant timeframe is 20 years because you’re thinking aobut how long it takes your kid to grow and develop and what’s going to happen to him or her. If you’re concerned about a generation, then the issue of electing is not as relevant as developing people. How do people grow and develop? People learn by doing. People learn about politics by doing it. If politics is not electing people, but public discourse, then the relevant skill is not how to get out the vote, the relevant skill is how do you hold a public official accountable, how do you negotiate with someone. Not that you don’t do voter registration, not that you don’t get out the vote, but that’s not the relevant skill. Then you’re just an appendage of the Democratic or Republican Party, or Jim Hightower, or Jim Mattox, or Mark White, or whomever. I’m not interested in teaching people to be appendages of anybody’s movement because, in the final analysis, a political campaign is a movement. It’s built around a single candidate; it will evaporate when he or she gets elected. That’s good we need good people. I would prefer to have somebody else in the White House if I could. I would do everything I could, and we did everything we could. We did voter registration and get-out-thevote drives to try to educate people about what the issues were and what’s important. But that’s not fundamentally what organizing is about. And so you have to be clear about your priorities, and you have to be clear about your posteriorities what do you do last? It’s just as important as what you do first. Or what do you stop doing, what do you get out of, given the limitations of time and energy? A.M.: You echoed something that is often said by . . . people who consider themselves to be activists, community activists, and that is that the right may have money but our alternative is people, power, and perhaps one of the reasons why . . . And money. A. M. : Pardon? I also said you’ve got to have money and institutions. A.M.: Right, I understand. Well, wait a minute. Activists don’t say that because most activists in most 14 JULY 11, 1986
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