#1098 – Dick Bernard: Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day (his birthday January 15, 1929, death April 4, 1968.) The Minneapolis Star Tribune headlines, at page two, “MLK Day to feature conflict and celebration”.
We Americans love conflict, winners, celebration….
It would be interesting to hear Dr. King himself report on this day, in 2016. He’s no longer with us. As I opined earlier, on a great Christmas homily I heard in Hawaii Dec. 25, we need to “get to work, actively, in our own spaces and places to make our community, our world, a better place for everyone”.
Personally, I think Dr. King would be encouraged by the slow but inexorable progress made since his life so tragically and prematurely ended in 1968. But that’s just my personal opinion.
My philosophy has been shaped by many years of experience, where incremental change, often very slow, sometimes going backwards, was a daily reality. If one could stick with it, be persistent, and looked at change over five years, or ten, or more, there was, really, great progress. As I suggested, Jan. 6, “…its best that we nudge ourselves off of our sense of hopelessness or dependence on whatever it is that holds us back…We are, each of us, responsible….”
Yesterday, President Obama, our first African-American President, spoke of the latest accomplishment in improvement of Iran-American relationships. To me, that is a very big deal (albeit very frightening for those whose narrative is the need for endless conflict, mistrust and suspicion).
So it goes with the merchants of doom, for whom only complete dominance of some enemy will keep us safe (an “enemy” being essential to keeping us in line). Negotiations, unless a total “win”, is a sign of weakness, they say.
The argument of negotiations versus war can continue without me.
For this particular day I’ll provide a link to Dr. King’s famous 1967 speech about the Vietnam War, then in its ascendancy. Perhaps there is something to learn about today, there.
Finally, this from my friend Madeline, today, which is appropriate as well:
MLK and Realistic Radicalism
Rev. David Breeden, Senior Minister
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Nowadays Martin Luther King, Jr., day is a national holiday. Once, MLK was “the most hated man in America.” Is the sea-change because his ideas have been accepted by mainstream America or because he is safely dead?
Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals has been used by many groups, including civil rights movement, tea party, occupy movements, black lives matters, and perhaps by the current Republican candidates. Rules_for_Radicals*
Large numbers of whites think that black lives matters tactics are inappropriate/counterproductive; blacks think they are necessary. It’s an example of “white privilege.” Whites don’t think they have to be disruptive to change things; while blacks know they need to.
* – Dick Bernard: Alinsky was a very important part of my training when I became a teacher union representative in 1972. The podcast linked above is excellent listening. Alinsky’s constituents were the powerless in Chicago, people like the folks who cleaned toilets in airports. Alinsky was essential training as teachers moved from being powerless to having some share in decision making power. It was a very uncomfortable transition for both sides, teachers and school boards, and we both made mistakes, sometimes serious, but progress happened, and continues to happen, where people learned to work together. Both sides benefited, and continue to benefit.
Ironically, at the beginning of my career, my organization was subjected to Alinsky’s tactics by a competing organization: it made us very uncomfortable. It took a while for us to effectively counter them. They work.
During the ascendancy of the Newt Gingrich years, especially, I saw abundant evidence that the radical right had learned and applied aggressively the same rules for radicals. It still does….
POSTNOTE February 4, 2016: Further Reflections on Saul Alinsky by Dick Bernard
It should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t, that most people, even political types, were only vaguely aware, if aware at all, of Saul Alinsky.
Perhaps the following might be helpful to supplement the excellent sermon linked above:
I became a full-time teacher union organizer in March, 1972. It was an emergency appointment, for six months, in one of Minnesota’s largest school districts, Anoka-Hennepin, in northwest suburban Minneapolis. A few months earlier Minnesota teachers had been given the statutory right to collectively bargain with their employer. 1972-73 was to be our very first contract which included a grievance procedure ending in arbitration. It was a heady, very nervous time. We were all learning as we went along.
In the early fall I went to a training at the National Education Association in Washington D.C. which included an introduction to the tactics of someone named Saul Alinsky, who I’d never heard of before. (His principles – the ones I and others learned – are in the previously referenced link, above). It wasn’t until years later that I learned that the famous Alinsky had died just three months after I began my staff career, which ultimately spanned 27 years.
We were taught the tactics because, at the time, teachers had little power when it came to negotiations. Yes, bigger districts did enter into negotiations of a sort, and there was some kind of grievance procedure, but in the end, all the ultimate power was invested in the school board and its administration. As suggested above, it was a heady but uncertain time. We had to learn what to do with power; management had to learn how to share a little of its power. It wasn’t always easy.
We had another complicating factor: at the time, there were two competing teacher unions in Minnesota: the Education Association (mine), and the Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO).
The Federation had learned the same tactics we had, but because we were by far the largest union in the school district, we became a target of the Federation. We, not the school district, were in the Federations “bullseye”. And in this new arena, we were an obvious, and juicy, and vulnerable target for a takeover through a bargaining election.
We “dodged the bullet” the first time around: neither side was yet up to speed about this competing union business. We made mistakes; so did the Federation….
The second time around, in the spring of 1974, the Federation got sufficient cards to call for an election, and went on campaign against us with the election scheduled, if I recall correctly, for the month of April. They were “Alinsky’ing” us to our ultimate death – they figured. And we were nervous too.
But at some point we frantic folks in the bullseye took a timeout.
I can remember when it happened; I cannot recall under what circumstances we changed course. I think it was local thinking, not anything else.
We had just been bombarded with another bunch of paper (no e-mails or such in those days), and someone, and then collectively, came to the realization that we were, after all, the union to which most of the teachers belonged, and that had to mean something.
At that moment we made a crucial decision, to stop being defensive, and to go on the offensive.
Everything changed. The election came, and we won approximately 60-40%. This was 1974, and was the last serious challenge the local ever faced.
This was no act of genius; really it was an act of near desperation. And we were fed up with being attacked for doing the best we could under difficult circumstances.
I think of this turnaround often when I see Alinsky tactics being the crucial organizing tactics of the Tea Party and the earlier Newt Gingrich revolution. It is a good time to relearn the old lesson I learned in the spring of 1974.
I note that I previously have written about Saul Alinsky on this page. If you wish, look here.

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