Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Table Talk for Activists, Part 2: Make the Opponent Follow Their Own Rules

This essay is contained in my new book. I'm delighted to announce that The Sojourner's Passport site has launched! You can visit it at http://www.sojournerspassport.com/.

Everyone, I can't thank you enough for your ongoing encouragement and support; I truly appreciate it. Your support is what made this possible. And here's a special shout-out to my web designers at Educo Web Design. They're nice people to deal with, and they do outstanding work!

Peace and blessings,
Khadija Nassif

One of the rules for power that Saul Alinsky discussed in his book Rules for Radicals was the following: "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules." This is sound advice for several reasons that I discussed in a comment to the post, An Open Letter to Princeton Theological Seminary:

"With my 'editorial' comments about all of this, I wanted to give the general audience an example of an inside view of 'lawyer think' that they can apply to situations.

My first step in evaluating any situation (or preparing a cross-examination of a witness) is to compare what the person did/is doing to what they're supposed to be doing.

Almost every institution and profession has rules, regulations, and codes of conduct that are supposed to govern people's conduct in various situations. Universities, government offices, etc. typically have their own internal rules & regulations. Each profession has its own ethical code of conduct that is established by leading organizations within that profession (ABA, AMA, etc.).

So, with a university situation, my first step is to look at the Student Handbook to see what sorts of things are (or should be) covered by disciplinary rules. The next step is to look at the disciplinary rules themselves. This gives an objective guide for evaluating a university's response to an outrage. . . .

. . . Comparing their actions to their own rules and codes of conduct also prevents activists from being confused by defensive, bad-faith whining from racists about how 'we sponsored a 'healing & learning' festival. What else do you people want from us?!!'

I don't want some fake 'healing & learning' festival. As a first step, I want PTS to follow its own rules & regulations." [i.e., hold disciplinary hearings concerning all of the students involved]

Please know that most of the handbooks, internal regulations, etc. that I've seen are fairly straightforward. You don't have to be an expert to understand them.

I believe that part of the reason why some activists are easily tricked by their opponents' stalling tactics such as insincere calls for dialogue, healing festivals, etc. is because they haven't researched the rules that are supposed to govern how an institution handles a particular situation.

Insisting that, at minimum, an opponent follow their own rules strengthens an activist's position.

First, because it's hard for opponents to make deviating from their own rules sound reasonable. Second, most institutions' in-house attorneys will warn key players that deviating from known standards creates heightened exposure to lawsuits.

And finally, insisting that an opponent follow its own rules applies mental pressure to whatever semi-decent and decent people exist within the opponent organization. Most people like to have a self-image of being reasonable and fair. People like to have this self-image even when it's not accurate. Most people also like to believe that the organizations that they serve are lawful, legitimate institutions. NOT crime cartels.

Take the time to research whatever rules govern the situation you're mobilizing around. Knowing the applicable rules can only strengthen your activism.


PioneerValleyWoman said...

Funny you returned to this point. Yesterday, there was a full faculty meeting to discuss the department's sexual harassment policy. The committee had been working on it for 2 years, studying other schools' policies and considering our own. The discussions was intense, because of the very reasons you mentioned. These sorts of policies have serious consequences, and the male faculty (who are traditionally the ones charged with this) know that this can bring the wrath of the administration upon them. Moreover, this sort of thing makes the school look bad, that it is not a good place for their (white) women students. And as for the men who are bystanders, they get pissed off at it, because it troubles them when Becky is intimidated or when Joe the out-of-control faculty member, acts skeevy.

But where is their policy against racial harassment? I guess that falls under "political correctness" and incursions against "free speech," which should be met with healing speech...As though they don't know what they were doing.

Now, with the Princeton situation, what we have here is Becky, who is protected by sexual harassment policies, gets to join with Rich, her white male cohort, in attacking people of color, and if anything, engage in racio-misogyny (a phrase coined by Halima) against black women.


Khadija said...

Greetings, Pioneer Valley Woman!

Oh yeah...White folks working in these institutions are "hip" to what's up with rules & regulations.

You touched on something that needs to be highlighted: If the target opponent doesn't have regulations of its own covering a situation, the next step is to see what policies similar organizations have for the situation.

The more other institutions that have established a set response to certain outrages, the more unreasonable it looks for the target opponent institution to do something else.

Even policies originally designed to protect Becky (and Becky alone) can be useful to us. A good argument can be made that hate crimes are AS important as sexual harassment [as it IS as grievous as sexual harassment]. Therefore, campus hate crimes should be dealt with in a similar fashion to sexual harassment.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Kofi Bofah said...

I utilize said strategy all the time on the one-on-one.

Khadija said...

Greetings, Kofi Bofah!

Yep. Insisting that opponents follow their own rules is almost always a strong opening move.

Peace, blessings, and solidarity.