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.