This has little to do with refugees, but it is just another in my continuing series on community organizing which ultimately has a lot to do with immigrants.
Good (more than good) communication skills are the key to the kingdom for a community organizer according to Saul Alinsky in “Rules for Radicals.” To be a successful community organizer one must be able to lure people in—people who might be dissatisfied but don’t really know why. The organizer will eventually bring them to the answer, not tell them the answer, by listening and asking leading questions.
In order to suck people in (really that is what it is) the organizer must be a great actor and take himself (or herself) into the EXPERIENCE of the targets—the people who need organizing. Thus for example the white Jewish guy organizing in Chicago’s black neighborhoods sought out someone like Barack Obama to be the point person knowing full well that he himself couldn’t make a credible case for for being black and poor. Although one could argue that Obama didn’t know what that was like either.
Well, Saul Alinsky gives us a little example of how one can’t succeed when one talks about large sums of money that are outside of people’s experience. Regular people tune out and go away. I’m mentioning this here because conservatives might take this lesson and attempt to communicate on the bailout to conservative grassroots by putting the huge sums of taxpayer money that will be used for the bailout into terms people can more readily understand.
In fact, Obama knows full well that by using such large figures most people will just go away.
Here is what Alinsky said in 1971:
This is the problem of trying to communicate on the issue of the H bomb. It is too big. It involves too many casualties. It is beyond the experience of the people and they just react with, “Yeah it’s a terrible thing,” but it really does not grip them. It is the same with figures. The moment one gets into the area of $25 million and above, let alone a billion, the listener is completely out of touch, no longer really interested, because the figures have gone above his experience and almost are meaningless. Millions of Americans do not know how many million dollars make up a billion.
One more thought on this business of getting into someone else’s experience. I think Obama is going to have a really hard time communicating and getting ‘into the experience’ of military men and women. Did you notice at Christmastime how uncomfortable he looked visiting troops stationed in Hawaii? And, how about last summer when he skipped visiting the troops althogether in Germany? Perhaps military service is one experience he can’t act his way into.
To illustrate my point, Time magazine, in an article about Jim Jones, Obama’s National Security Adviser and lifetime member of the military, quoted Jones as saying of Obama, he is “a very very good listener.” But, I have no doubt that he (Obama) knows exactly where he wants to lead Jones.