On This Labour Day
The Slingshot Effect
I’m just finishing reading Frank C. Pierson’s book Sometimes David Wins: Organizing to Overcome “Fated Outcomes”. Frank has been living in Oracle, Arizona for several years, and his wife Kaz (Mary Ellen Kazda) and I share a birthday, but until I read his book I had little to no idea what a journey he’s been on. We have been casual acquaintances for many years so learning about his background as a community organizer along with the astonishing amount of dedicated work to bring about positive change in Tucson (and all of Arizona) is stunning.
I did not know about the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the Arizona Faith Network (AFN), nor the Pima County Interfaith Council (PCIC), all organizations that kick ass to invigorate our civic health through community research and action.
Pierson has followed the path of the man who founded the IAF mentioned above. From the Alinsky website Frank maintains: Saul Alinsky was first and foremost a true believer in democracy and the participation of ordinary people in decisions impacting their lives. He developed a robust expression of this democratic faith in a new organizational format, community organization, that brought together local congregations, unions, neighborhood centers and schools for positive collaborative action on vital issues. In the process he invented an entirely new profession - community organizer.
Attempts to curb the reach of his spirited defense of democratic practice and discredit the values ground from which he spoke and acted have failed miserably. The geometric expansion of broad based community organizations around the United States and abroad coupled with the scale and scope of the positive impacts these organizations have generated is testimony to this enduring legacy.
Pierson also maintains the website Democratic Faith where it sites Alinsky’s Iron Rule (also in his book): Never do for people what people can do for themselves. Instrumental impacts on the lives of individuals who haven't participated in the achievement risk violating the "Iron Rule". Violating the Iron Rule disrespects the human capacity for agency and short circuits the ownership of outcomes.
More about what a victory means in organizing for the people: Claiming victory in the context of democratic practice is more complex than calculating a simple metrics of impact. If ownership is faked or absent entirely, if leaders have learned little or nothing from the experience then the victory is hollow. Such a circumstance may undermine rather than build the power of an organization or more broadly a commitment to public life. In the world as it is, no one ever built a strong organization by losing. Establishing a tradition of specific, immediate, concrete wins is part of what Alinsky taught and the IAF network has practiced since its inception.
All of this is to say, that on this Labour Day, major change in fighting the ‘Goliaths’ of the world (Pierson was peripherally involved with the Rev. Glen Jenks (RIP 2020) and the Valley Interfaith Project which brought down Sheriff Joe Arpaio) is messy and difficult work, but can be done. Change doesn’t happen using potions and wishes. It’s about community-minded humanists like Frank Pierson who put in the hard work of making change.
I highly recommend this book for any of you who want to get involved in making changes against ‘Fated Outcomes’ in your community.
And let’s not ever go here again…
Thanks for this post Gary, I'm familiar with Saul Alinsky but not Frank Pierson. Interested in learning more about him.