In addition to being a brilliant political strategist, Saul Alinsky was a keen observer of human nature.
Human beings can sustain an interest in a particular subject only over a limited period of time. The concentration, the emotional fervor, even the physical energy, a particular experience that is exciting, challenging, and inviting, can last just so long —this is true of the gamut of human behavior… After a period of time it becomes monotonous, repetitive, an emotional treadmill, and worse than anything else a bore.
Alinsky warns readers that the worst opponent activists battle isn’t the other side. “From the moment the tactician engages in conflict, his enemy is time.”
Of course, Alinsky doesn’t blame people for losing interest in a cause as time goes on. “New issues and crises are always developing, and one’s reaction becomes, ‘Well, my heart bleeds for those people and I’m all for the boycott, but after all there are other important things in life’—and there it goes.”
This fatigue applies to everyone involved in the activism process.
- It applies to the media, because they constantly need new stories to report on, and you repeating the same tactics over and over won’t get readers.
- It applies to the public at large whose opinion you’re trying to influence, because after a while they’ll start tuning you out.
- It applies to the activists you’re counting on to keep showing up, because doing the same thing over and over with little results can be disheartening.
- It applies to organizers like you, because getting stuck in a rut can be discouraging enough to make you want to quit.
Remember that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
When you’re developing your strategy, look for ways to be creative and innovative. Try new tactics and test whether they’re effective. Ask your activists to give you their ideas. Don’t let your tactics become a drag.
And above all, avoid being a bore.
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