Saul Alinsky would have tweeted “Of Means and Ends.” If not someone else posthumously. Quick tweetables: “The means-and-ends moralists or non-doers always wind up on their ends without any means,” “Men must change with the times or die,” “He who fears corruption fears life.”
I have wondered before that if I were a citizen of Nazi Germany, a good Protestant from an upstanding family, would I protect state targets? Ferry people across borders? Position myself, or my family, to be thrown in a concentration camp? If Jewish people were not dragged out of their homes onto my street, right outside of my window, taken away in boxcars out of sight and out of mind, or ghettoed behind walls within my city, what would I actually do? What would be in my power to do?
Alinsky’s piece was convicting, if disagreeable. I felt convicted, because I doubt any desire I have to be on the “good side” of history is strong enough to take whatever means necessary to achieve a particular desired ends. It takes a whole lot more than that.
“I would rather lose than corrupt my principles.” Perhaps I would state this phrase that Alinsky curled his lip at. I’m competitive, but not that much. Alinsky used arguments from times of war, maybe he saw himself as in a war. Maybe he was right. Even the means to peace requires tremendous sacrifice, just like war. I don’t know if I’ve truly sacrificed.
It’s hard to admit this, but I feel I have not lived enough reality. The Minkler article also talked about competition, the winning and losing, from the vantage point of similar organizations competing for grant funding. That’s a hard reality, and I have yet to experience it, and perhaps will. Another reality is quoted from Gail Siler-Wells: “Behind the euphemisms of participation and empowerment lay the realities of power, control and ownership.” Those three words can be quite corrupting, but without those three things, how effective can one be in achieving any kind of change?
If I’m serious about working in Detroit, for reasons I myself am a little unclear about, I will need to face a lot more reality and become well-verse in “power, control and ownership” and many “means and ends.” That’s daunting, but I have to remind myself that I’m here in Michigan willingly, and it’s not all on me to do some kind of exceptional, city-changing work. There’s a “we” of people taking small steps forward, and I can find my small ways to partner with that. Right now, it’s a dream, but maybe one day, it will become a reality.