“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.”—Fred Ross
Fred Ross (1910-1992) American community organizer was behind many modern social movements in the USA and also behind the organization of many labour and civil rights activities. Fred was a formidable figure in American grassroots social organization, together with Saul Alinsky (1909-1930), the latter well known beyond his activism by his book ‘Rules for Radicals’, a left wing how-to guidebook that not serious political movement, left or right has ever ignored, either follow it or to counter it.
I have spent my summer reading around the history of social mobilization, which the USA leads in quantity and quality. As I have said before, the USA, more than anywhere else, has been built on social movements. Most of them follow a well studied pattern of struggle, success and exhaustion. Others will remain for longer as public platforms aided by digital world.
History and personal education aside, I found the title of ‘social arsonist’ fascinating. I was not aware of the term until recently, despite the fact that we use routinely in our Viral Change Programmes, where we use the metaphor of ‘the mountain on fire’ to explain how from few points of fire (arsonist?) the fire spreads and suddenly the mountain is on fire. That is, cultures, movements, and organizations themselves.
We say, once the mountain is on fire, it’s on fire. No point to go back and dissect ad nauseam whether it was the quality of the trees, the weather or a few arsonists, or combinations. Deal with the fire!
People mobilization is, by definition, at the essence of leadership . Happy to adopt the ‘social arsonist’ concept, for the Viral Change glossary!