Rules are Revolting: a book review

Becky Bond and Zack Exley worked together on Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign. While Bernie’s bid for the Democratic nomination was ultimately unsuccessful, they did mobilize an impressive amount of grass roots support. Rules for Revolutionaries gives a glimpse of the power of ‘big organizing’ and what it takes to ignite a movement. While the anecdotes in this book are drawn also exclusively from the Bernie campaign, Bond and Exley argue that the ‘rules’ reveal what leaders do in movements to mobilize millions of people.

19650The title, Rules for Revolutionaries alludes to the earlier work of Saul Alinsky, the influential Rules for Radicals. Alinksy was a Chicago-based labor organizer (whose work was influential for Obama). His work became a standard for organizers and activists. However Bond and Exley observe that Alinsky’s model was ‘premised on the paternalistic concept that an enlightened core of outside organizers was necessary to show the poor that there was a better way and then to represent them in a battle with elites” (8-9). Alinsky believed in building power so to compel negotiation (rather than revolutionize the entire power structure). Bond and Exley also criticize Alinsky for creating incrementalist Black and Latino groups designed to mitigate anger instead of effecting real change. In contrast, Bond and Exley believe their model provides a more revolutionary way forward:

The big organizing model that can fuel revolutions believes that communities are filled with talented and intelligent people who understand what was broken and, when given material and strategic resources, can wrest power from elites and make lasting change. A political revolution is different from community organizing as we know it today. (9)

The rules aren’t so much ‘rules’ as pithy chapter titles which describe aspects of their strategic vision. Some of these are practical: “Get on the Phone!” The Work Is Distributed. The Plan Centralized,” “Learn the Basics of Good Management,””The Revolution is Not Just Bottom Up; It’s Peer to Peer,” “Put Consumer Software at the Center,” “Get Ready for the Counterrevolution.” Other rules are about the right orientation toward the work of organizing: “You Won’t Get a Revolution if You Don’t Ask for One,” “The Revolution Will not be Handed toYou on a Silver Platter.” A couple of rules describe the issues worth organizing for: “Fighting Racism Must Be the Core Message to Everyone,” “There is No Such Thing as a Single Issue Revolution.”

If organizing is your thing, Bond and Exley have practical advice and hard-earned wisdom to share.  As I said, these really aren’t rules, they are practical description the approach that Exley and Bond took as part of the campaign. Whether or not the new rules overturn the old playbook remains to be seen. This is mostly just an insider’s look atBernie’s historic campaign.

I am not really sure that there is much revolutionary here. There is some good leadership advice such standing for something, giving people a big way to get involved, how to mobilize and empower leaders, and what it means to lead in a more cooperative less elitist way.  All of this is helpful. Revolutionary? Not so much. Will these rules ignite a revolution? That remains to be seen.  The rules begin to feel tedious by the end.  I give this book 3.5 stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody, Everywhere. . .a book review

I review a number of books, mostly of a religious nature but sometimes a topic will pique my interest and you’ll read about it here. One topic I have never before reviewed because I never before finished a book in the genre, is ‘Cleaning & Organizing.’ Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the genre. I have purchased books which promise to help you transform your living space. Mostly I leave these on my wife’s side of the bed hoping that when she trips on them, she’ll read them and go into a cleaning frenzy. This doesn’t happen (and come on, that’s just sexist!).

But then I got The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. The author, Mari Kondo developed the KonMari Method by decluttering and re-organizing her name. As a reader of housekeeping magazines from the age of five, she has invested her life in learning how to tidy and organize and her career is helping others do it too. Her method is relatively simple: throw your stuff away and what you don’t throw away, organize.

Alright maybe it is a little more complicated than that. She advocates discarding anything that is unnecessary (i.e. you haven’t used it, won’t use it, don’t actually like it but have held on to it because you feel guilty because your great-aunt gave it to you, you will only need it in a Zombie Apocalypse, etc). And she exhorts her readers to re-organize in one fell swoop by category instead of location (so you don’t end up with two junk drawers with the same stuff in it).

Kondo has lots of practical tips, but she also sees the transformative power of  a simplified living space. She writes,”In essence, tidying ought to be the act of restoring the balance among people, their possessions and the house they live in (190)” Thus she promotes simplifying your life and getting rid of the ‘things’ that weigh us down. This helpful.

But I didn’t find everything she says helpful. She talks to houses and doesn’t roll up her socks to put them away because it disrespects them (because they never get to rest, but are always tensed up).  She also only owns thirty books and suggests getting rid of most of books you own, especially if touching the book doesn’t make you happy. Here is where I got problems. I like having lots of books, even ones that don’t make me happy.  But following her advice, I have an idea where to file this book. I give this book two stars.

Thank you to Random House for providing me a copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review.