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Book review - “Rules for Revolutionaries” by Becky Bond and Zack Exley

Soma Fuxreiter

"Rules for Revolutionaries" emerges as a riveting and inspiring narrative penned by the formidable duo Becky Bond and Zack Exley, whose pivotal roles in Bernie Sanders' 2016 Democratic primary campaign have etched them into the annals of political activism. In this literary exploration of that transformative period, Bond and Exley transcend the confines of a mere memoir, elevating their work into a profound examination of grassroots campaigns and a manifesto for reforming our collective initiatives.

Picture of the cover of the book Rules for Revolutionaries

Drawing on their unparalleled insider perspectives, the authors deliver insights that resonate beyond the typical behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Their overarching ambition is nothing short of using the Sanders campaign as a blueprint for revitalizing political campaigns and advancing common causes. The narrative doesn't merely retrace historical steps but unveils a set of rules and principles essential for anyone aspiring to usher in revolutionary change.

A deliberate nod to Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" sets the stage, positioning Bond and Exley as torchbearers of a renewed approach to organizing. They assert that Alinsky's tried-and-tested recipe, while enduring, demands rejuvenation. The authors advocate for crafting new rules, emphasizing mass outreach over insular methods like micro-targeting. In this strategy, the goal is not just to preach to the choir but to engage a broad audience, identifying potential leaders within that vast spectrum who can catalyze significant change.

The heart of their philosophy lies in "big organizing" – a departure from conventional small-scale methods. The authors champion a structure where volunteers collaborate with the campaign team, assuming leadership roles across various levels. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and autonomy among volunteers, enabling them to contribute meaningfully. The book illustrates this paradigm shift with compelling examples, showcasing how individuals like Corbin Trent transitioned from a chef to becoming a campaign leader.

Navigating the complexities of a large-scale campaign, as the authors candidly reveal, is fraught with challenges. The network of small volunteer teams presents its own set of difficulties, from organizing phone banks to addressing conflicts within the volunteers or basic technical problems in key events. Yet, Bond and Exley propose simple yet powerful solutions – communication and trust. The narrative underscores the value of verbal communication, emphasizing the engagement achieved through personal interactions, particularly over phone calls.

Trust emerges as the linchpin of volunteer responsibility, as the authors advocate for entrusting meaningful tasks to volunteers, challenging them to contribute authentically. This approach is validated by the staggering success of events like barnstorms, where a substantial majority were organized entirely by volunteers - 650 out of 1,000, to be precise.

The unexpected triumphs of the 2016 Sanders campaign serve as a living testament to the authors' 22 rules, a testament that transcends their initial context. However, Bond and Exley stress that these rules are not immutable but open to scrutiny, testing, and refinement. In an explicit call to action, readers are urged to glean lessons from their narrative and actively contribute to the ongoing dialogue.

In summation, "Rules for Revolutionaries" is not merely a literary account of historical events but a dynamic toolkit for those aspiring to engage meaningfully in revolutionary movements and social change endeavors. Beyond imparting principles, the book provides pragmatic guidance and a refreshing perspective, making it an invaluable resource for anyone committed to pursuing a better world.

Need other ideas on what to read? Check out our Summer reading suggestions from the ECDA team on this link.

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