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Change is possible when democracy runs deep

  • 22 March 2016


Life is there ahead of you and either one tests oneself in its challenges or huddles in the valleys of a dreamless day-to-day existence whose only purpose is the preservation of illusory security and safety. The latter is what the vast majority of people choose to do, fearing the adventure into the unknown.

— Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals


When I received my invitation to 'lead' the Palm Sunday Walk for Refugees my first response was to ignore it. This was partly ego and partly disillusionment. I don't think marches help any more.

It's true that in Melbourne at least 6000 people walked or struggled or strode along Spencer Street, some behind banners (Labor for Refugees, The Greens, Socialist Left), some from religious groups (from Quakers to Jesuits), and some with other agendas, such as the beefy unionists who haven't done well in the public eye of late.

Also a fair few ordinary mums, dads and grandmothers for refugees, and dismayed Liberals offended by the cruelties inflicted in our name.

These were the sort of protestors who picketed Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane to stop Immigration contractors from forcing a burned baby and her mum back to Nauru against medical advice. So the minister moved her to community detention whence she may be removed at any time without notice.

I no longer believe that broad marches for huge national issues have any effect on local powerbrokers. I believe as Saul Alinsky said that the most powerful force for change is local activism on local issues and generational organisation from the grass roots up.

Alinsky wrote the 'bible' for protest-led change. He was a Chicago organiser whose tactics Obama used as a young civil rights lawyer to build 'change you can believe in for local Chicago families'. He wrote a lot between the 1940s and the 1970s, when he wrote and I read his Rules for Radicals [PDF].

Some of his 24 rules are gospel today. Thirteen are rules of 'power tactics', including:


1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

2. Never go outside the experience of your people.

5. Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.

6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

8. Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilise all events of the period for your purpose.

12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

13. Pick the target,