A "Meet and Greet" with a candidate for the Arizona Corporation Commission was an example of small town politics at its best.
The group got a real good sense of the candidate, how she thinks and what she would try to do if elected. Zero posturing, no pandering, no reading from scripts, no canned messaging. The questions posed were excellent, the responses crisp. I think everyone came away more hopeful and informed than at the start of the event.
Yeah, I sold a few books but that actually contributed to the spirit of the gathering and maybe the "credentials" of Oracle Town as a place to be taken seriously by politicos of all stripes.
Hands down the best thing about my book writing experience is reconnecting literally and spiritually with so many folks I met over my 76 years of life on earth.
I had lost touch with two great friends from my college years - Eddy McCaul and Tim Stutzman. Chalk it up to the passage of time and inattention. Both were from Hyde Park, Chicago. Eddy was goalie on the Earlham soccer team varsity. A great one. Among other things we had basketball obsessions in common. And Tim introduced me to strategic borrowing of bicycles which enabled wild night time rides into downtown Richmond, Indiana where Earlham is located.
I just forwarded to both of them copies of Sometimes David Wins. I hope they read it (and review it on Amazon if so inclined). Yes, I'm very curious about their reactions.
“The shop is the center of the school. Working with tools furnishes one of the best disciplines a school can offer. Up to this point in a child’s life, his discipline has come almost always from some person emotionally close to him. With things like tools, he is free to impose his own discipline. He wants the result, or frequently, in a very young child, he merely wants the satisfaction of the act of sawing and hammering. In any case, the desire to make things is so general in children that they are willing to go through much hard work to reach their ends. This is discipline.”
Of course, I'm always looking for evidence that the main argument of my new book is right on but, holy smokes, EBC/Rev Brawley/IAF have a story to tell and retell that is drop-dead amazing even to someone like myself steeped in decades of citizen organizing work. Like David v. Goliath, the Nehemiah story just doesn't get old. In fact, as the years pass, it just gets better.
Yes, Sometimes David Wins big!
In addition to being one of Tucson's top musicians, Gary is a writer/Substack blogger of wide repute:
Tales From the Homestead
On This Labour Day
The Slingshot Effect
"I’m just finishing reading Frank C. Pierson’s book Sometimes David Wins: Organizing to Overcome “Fated Outcomes”. Frank has been living in Oracle, Arizona for several years, and his wife Kaz (Mary Ellen Kazda) and I share a birthday, but until I read his book I had little to no idea what a journey he’s been on. We have been casual acquaintances for many years so learning about his background as a community organizer along with the astonishing amount of dedicated work to bring about positive change in Tucson (and all of Arizona) is stunning...
...Change doesn’t happen using potions and wishes. It’s about community-minded humanists like Frank Pierson who put in the hard work of making change.
I highly recommend this book for any of you who want to get involved in making changes against ‘Fated Outcomes’ in your community."
Read Gary's impressive full review HERE.
I started writing with consistency when I began work in Las Vegas. My need was to make sense of a personally and politically chaotic situation. At first, living in Las Vegas was mind-blowing. How do people live like this? All the stereotypes ran circles in my brain. So writing - even in fits and starts - helped. Not only to shape an organizing narrative, but also to locate my place in it.
I wasn't sure I could make a go of the project until after a year or so. That would be early 2011. I never did shrink from plunging in to settings with dramatic potential. Las Vegas was that in spades. Early on, I knew it wasn't a good place for "three yards and a cloud of dust" relational organizing - to which IAF organizing sometime seemed to boil down. Of course, I had to do the hundreds of individual meetings - that's a given - but at my age I figured I'd be long gone before anything of substance happened if I didn't try to break things open pretty fast. Plus, I was getting impatient with overly patient organizer colleagues.
So it was a conscious gambit, a gamble - on an approach radically different from my other efforts and what IAF - at least the West/Southwest part - had adopted as standard issue.
There's a sweet spot in the organizing business between patient, plodding work and trying to blow the cover off a place. IAF history suggests that either can fail. One, through a surfeit of actions that don't build much. The other levelling down into power/political invisibility and irrelevance. It's not an either/or, which is where instinct, judgment and risk tolerance come in.
Decades after he parted from Alinsky, Nick von Hoffman levelled a sharp critique of the modern IAF in Radical, A Portrait of Saul Alinsky. It was published in 2011 about the time I landed in Las Vegas. I'd put it high on the list of must-reads for organizers of all stripes, even though I was pretty defensive about some of what he had to say when it first came out. More on this to come.
I was on the receiving end of some helpful and encouraging counsel from Mike Gecan as I launched into the writing of my first book. "Write what you know." "Tell a story." Above all, "Write!" Those wise words taken together became my north star.
This web/blog journal is something else again. The admonitions still apply, but because there's no permanency in this format I can be more experimental, try some shit out - a bit like community organizing in a new context. Sure, there are habits and practices associated with organizing work just like there are with literary endeavours, but common to both is the requirement of invention.
The way to break out of an organizing rut is to move somewhere else and try to create something fresh. For me, when I retired from organizing, that breakout was a plunge into a book length project. It was a new and somewhat scary place because I had never done it before and wasn't sure I could pull if off. It was risky - like starting from scratch in Las Vegas - because my own sense of self was at risk, along with the success or failure of the venture itself.
There were breakthroughs along the way. One was triggered during my struggle to figure out a frame for the book as a whole. Mike jumped in with the suggestion of a sharpened tension between my two grandfathers (one familial, the other political). Another was inclusion of IAF's statewide organizing in Arizona, which mysteriously I had overlooked (credit Linda Victoria with calling me to account on this). A third was going stream-of-action-as-it-happened in the two Las Vegas chapters. Greg highlighted the shift at first as a negative, then resolved it with a tight reframe before moving the reader to the LV chapters themselves.
Then there was the problem of how to end it. My first idea was to attempt a fairly abstract grand summation. You know, the kind that tops off a lot of academic texts and explains and integrates everything. I wasn't happy with that because I figured the reader would find it tedious (as I did just thinking about it). Academic books on organizing drive me crazy with all the blah, blah, blah boiled down into grand summations of importance as if the reader didn't get it the first couple of times around. So fuck that. Greg must have read my mind. Out of the blue he says, "How about moving the bus blockade chapter to the end?"
When I agreed he opined, "That's why I get the big bucks." (Yes, he deserves them, skimming from the huge sales haul from books like mine.)
I've known Linda Victoria for what seems like forever (she appears in the lower right corner of the above pic, snatched from a Victoria created collage). During my last years organizing in Tucson, she anchored the Pima County Interfaith Council office while studying digital arts under Steve Romaniello at Pima Community College. Since then, she's scratched out a living running a small business as a creative.
You may have taken note of the collages that appear in this website, along with the design of the site itself. All Linda's work. I won't detail the numerous other examples of her craft with which I'm familiar (neighborhood street signage, websites, promotional materials, and so on) but I do need to mention her contribution to my book. Because she writes and edits so well, she was able to lend shape and substance to my first draft. A good thing too because it held up well after being forwarded to editor/publisher Greg Pierce with Acta Publications.
It helps to write a good book filled with stories folks can relate to, but that doesn't mean anyone is going to buy it and read it. My sales guru says there's something like 4 million books published a year. So the odds of a breakthrough by a novice are long indeed.
Still, we little person authors soldier on, believing we have something important to say to the world out there. In fact, I'm sure of it and so are 4 mil others.
My sales guru stunned me when she said that on Amazon, everyone's equal. Well, not entirely, but more so than when competing for position on a Barnes and Noble display shelf or a New York Times Book Review (ha, ha). The truth is, get ready for it - Amazon reviews matter more to authors like me than the Gray Lady's reviews, whose cataracts would likely reduce Sometimes David Wins to a blurry insignificance anyway. So go ahead buy my book, read it and review it on Amazon. You'll be better for it and so will I. Yep, right here: Sometimes David Wins: Organizing to Overcome Fated Outcomes: Pierson Jr Frank C: 9780879467067: Amazon.com: Books
Novice writers like me have to wade through a thicket of difficulties. Setting aside the challenge of what to say and how to say it, when it's done and published, a whole new set of uncertainties kick in.
It may go without saying that I came at the sales question strictly old school. You know, traveling with a bunch of books in the back seat, contacting indie bookstores, book signings with a handful of customers (or not), local talks, maybe some sort of book tour.
When editor/publisher Greg Pierce suggested connecting with Mary Doyle, I jumped at the chance. She's been through all this and come out of it with a ton of sales reflective of her learn-by-doing (yeah, trial and error).
I don't think I'm revealing any trade secrets here because whatever the aspiring author/bookseller does depend mostly on the individual - relational assets, energy, and skill sets - that good coaches like Mary and Greg build on. The first key point that came through loud and clear: What not to do. Uh, oh! The what-not-to-do's line up pretty well with what I thought I had to do - the old school stuff. (To be continued as the plot thickens.)