Sunday's WaPo features a fascinating discussion of the influence of social activist Saul Alinsky on presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Alinsky isn't discussed much in mass media circles these days but his influence on today's grassroots organizing and activism. Among Alinsky's key insights was that conflict can be used as a catalyst for creating and mobilizing grassroots advocates. Alinsky was also a deep believer in the power of participatory politics as an agent of policy change. However, Alinsky wasn't just focused on the grand gesture or street theater. He certainly appreciated aggressive, PR-friendly tactics but his grassroots strategy based on coalition building as vital to achieving results.
Those are three pretty good lessons for today's advocates (regardless of your view of Alinsky's socially progressive brand of politics): embrace and harnass conflict as a way to organize advocates; successful grassroots movements should be driven by the vision of advocates; and, coalitions of diverse partners linked by mutual self-interest are powerful.
I haven't peeked at Alinsky's books since graduate school but I think those of us working in grassroots might be well served by picking up a copy of : "Reveille for Radicals" and "Rules for Radicals".