Ten Ways to Kill a Citizen Movement

by Byron Kennard

ARRS Administrator Note: Some humor-impaired readers have misinterpreted this article as a game plan for destroying a movement. In fact, it is obviously a tongue-in-cheek description of what not to do if you want a movement to be successful. We all know of instances of the behavior below that has led, unfortunately, to our efforts in AR being less successful than we might hope. By being aware of these "killers", we can avoid them in our own movements.

As a veteran community organizer, I know a lot about how to start citizen movements, but only recently did it occur to me that I probably know just as much about how to bump them off. All I have to do is count my battle-scars and recall how I got most of them. If my experience is any guide, far more people are driven out of citizen movements by their own dear brothers and sisters in the cause than by all the shenanigans of the enemy put together.

Friendly Fire on the Social Change Front

Here's how it works. Suppose you want to kill a citizen movement and you come to me for expert advice. I would suggest first that you join it and then proceed to follow these ten basic, simple rules, any one of which will drain the vitality out of a movement faster than you can say Ronald Reagan.

1. Forget your origins

Citizen movements for social change nearly always originate in humble, obscure, or disreputable circumstances. Think of the Wobblies, the early labor organizers, who were jailed, deported, or even massacred for their opposition to industrial abuses. Think of Rosa Parks refusing to take a seat in the back of the bus. Think of the [http://www.snopes.com/history/american/burnbra.htm bra-burners] who endured derision and scorn to help launch the feminist movement, or of the housewives who chained themselves to trees rather than allow the trees to be bulldozed. Later on, when the movement is off the ground and running, these origins become embarrassing to the careerists who have latched onto it in search of gold and glory. At this point it becomes necessary to rewrite history in order to drop the identity of the movement's founders down the memory hole.

It is said that revolutions eat their fathers. Citizen movements do something rather worse: they forget their mothers. The revolutionary who gets beheaded is at least memorialized by history, but you can plow through most history books without finding a clue to the identity of the small bands of volunteer activists -- usually women, in my experience -- who initiate needed social change.

2. Put experts in the driver's seat

Volunteers and generalists may have been good enough to organize the movement, but they aren't good enough to run it. So when the money starts to come in, it's time to kick the volunteers and generalists out and to hire "qualified" persons, preferably someone with a Ph.D in physics, economics, or an Ivy League law degree. (Please note: It is extremely important that such persons be untainted by any direct experience in community organizing. If you have a plethora of applicants, it may be necessary to employ this test. Put each of the applicants into a paper sack. Only those who cannot organize their way out of it will be eligible for employment.)

3. Get serious about your work

I mean, real serious. Work too hard. Put in extremely long hours. Practice looking grim and depressed. If possible, grow morbid. When you have mastered all this, persist in calling your colleagues' attention to the fact of your martyrdom. Broadly hint that if they were as serious as you, they would emulate your example. If this doesn't make them feel sufficiently bad, you might want to go a step further and physically maim yourself. For example, you might shoot yourself in the foot. Screaming in pain, you then demand that your colleagues drop whatever they are doing and rush to aid and comfort you as you suffer from this needless and self-inflicted wound.

4. Motivate others by applying guilt

If a group is working to save endangered species, attack it for its insensitivity to the poor. If they are working to help the poor, attack them for their insensitivity to endangered species. Whatever you do, stick them in a no-win situation. Once they perceive that their work is futile, they will, of course, redouble their efforts.

5. Adopt impossibly high and rigid standards of personal conduct, not only for yourself, but for others, too.

Human frailty has no place in a citizen movement. Whenever it rears its ugly head, you must be prepared to smash it to smithereens. Even slight deviations from your standards must not escape punishment. If, for example, you catch a nutrition activist eating a hot-dog in a fast-food restaurant, condemn him on the spot for the Judas he is (neglecting, of course, to mention that you popped in to buy a pack of cigarettes).

6.Talk a lot about the need to cooperate and to share, but for heaven's sake, don't actually do it.

What you should actually do is attempt to dominate all proceedings through the force of your intellect and personality. However, should you encounter other persons who are foolish enough really to cooperate and share, by all means, take them for everything they're worth.

7. Get yourself into a dither and stay there

Become over-excited. Remember, the end of the world is coming and we haven't got much time. Thus, to demonstrate dedication, everybody should run about like a chicken with its head cut off. If some people in the movement are striving to work calmly and deliberately, making them agitated and anxious should become your priority task.

8. Whatever you do, never share any credit.

Look, it's perfectly clear that the whole thing was your idea in the first place. And nobody, living or dead, contributed anything to you. So why should you share the credit? If, through some miscarriage of justice, other people in the movement begin receiving credit, try to grab it from them. Or try spreading the word that they don't really deserve it. If these techniques don't work, fly into a sick rage and kick nearby objects or people. (Please note: Regrettably, there's no guarantee that these techniques will actually divert recognition away from others and toward yourself. However, such techniques are almost certain to detract from what pride and joy the recognition might give those receiving it. This is a small pleasure to be sure, but by this time you will have learned not to sneeze at small things.

9. Remember that intensity of commitment is best measured by the amount of incivility you display.

Here again, little things mean a lot. For example, you should never be on time to meetings. But when you do arrive, be sure to get interrupted by telephone calls at least once every five minutes. The rest of the time should be consumed by your talking as loudly as possible in accusatory tones. The thrust of your comments should never vary. Again and again you must make clear that both the truth and the democratic process will be endangered unless you get your way. Throw a wild card into each agenda and insist that old questions which have previously been resolved be re-opened. Having made these comments, leave the meeting early without helping to clean up the coffee cups or put the room in order. Now these are fine points, I know, but if you are going to kill off a social movement, you might as well do it in style.

10. Lastly, you must avoid doing any real work for the movement, while creating the widespread impression that you are giving your all.

Scrupulous fulfillment of these ten rules will demand all your time and energy, so none will be left to fulfill any duties to the movement. But don't let this stop you from assuming as much responsibility as you can get. Insist on being part of everything. If possible, try to be put in charge. Then take care not to deliver on any of your commitments. Should others have the gall to point out the discrepancy between your responsibility and your performance, observe in hushed and sorrowful tones how painful and demoralizing this is to you, especially after all you've done. Then nail them to the wall by asking the key question: Don't they realize that we've all got to stick together?

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