Saul Alinsky

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Saul Alinsky (1909 - 1972) was a liberal community organizer in Chicago who developed a method of local organizing that was widely copied by Democrats, and influenced Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He is credited with coining the term "community organizer." His most well-known accomplishment was the book Rules for Radicals. He wanted reform inside the system by pressuring government officials to take into account the needs and wants of neighborhood residents. He was opposed by far-left radicals who wanted to destroy capitalism and who feared that Alinsky was strengthening it by resolving the issues most important to the poor.

He was awarded a doctorate in archaeology from the University of Chicago and was awarded a fellowship in sociology, which he never completed. He was nicknamed "The Red" for his radicalism --his book was dedicated tongue-in-cheek to Lucifer, the first radical. [1]

Alinsky's approach to community organizing stressed "self interest as the generating reality of life." This view arose from his experiences in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as an organizer in the style of labor union leaders Samuel Gompers and John L. Lewis. Alinsky produced notable results like the Back of the Yard and the Woodlawn organizations in Chicago. Alinsky and his Industrial Areas Foundation utilized confrontational tactics and dramatic protests to help members gain bargaining status and a larger share of the local pie. He disavowed with increasing vigor any national issue strategy or ideological outlook. The weakness of his emphasis on the organizer as a tactician only and the granting of control to those organized was that racist goals could be chosen by the membership as a whole.[2]

Contents

Community Organizer

In 1931, he went to work as a sociologist for the Illinois Division of Juvenile Research.[3] It was through this work that he attributed much of America's criminal activity to poverty.[4] In 1936 he left the Division of Juvenile Research in order to form the Back-Of-The-Yards Neighborhood Council. This was his first act of "community organizer," and cemented his position as a radical reformer. He went on to found the Industrial Areas Foundation, which was largely responsible for most of the liberal community groups throughout the country.

Alinsky had a tendency to rub the sores of a community raw. During the Great Society campaigns of Lyndon Johnson, he pushed the Eastman Kodak Company to hire more black workers. However, his hard-knock, do-anything techniques rubbed many leaders the wrong way, and in 1967 he found himself without a contract. This led him to label Johnson's "war on poverty" as a political pork barrel.

The Black Panther movement in the 1960s made it hard for Alinsky to organize the black populace; they had a difficult time dealing with white leadership. He finally settled with organizing middle-class white Americans to protest against the deterioration of the suburban markets.

Association with subversive organizations

The CPUSA newspaper, the Daily Worker named Alinsky as one of the sponsors of a dinner for Pearl Hart, a notorious communist fronter, arranged by the Midwest Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. Alinsky was identified in the Daily Worker as chairman of the Public Housing Association of Chicago Illinois. The American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, with which the Midwest Committee was affiliated, was cited by the President Harry S. Truman's Attorney General Thomas Clark as subversive and Communist. It was also cited by the Special Committee on Un-American Activities as one of the oldest auxillaries of the Communist Party of the United States.[5]

Legacy

Many right-wing talk radio hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage, attribute many of the strategies of the Democratic Party to Alinsky's Rules For Radicals. Hillary Clinton's senior honors thesis was an analysis of the works of Saul Alinsky and the effect that they have on politics today. Barack Obama can also trace his roots to the teachings of Saul Alinsky.[6] Obama had a passion for Alinsky's work. Before he left Harvard, Barack wrote "After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois." Under the tutelage of an Alinsky admirer John L. McKnight, Obama says he got the "best education I ever had, better than anything I got at Harvard Law School." [7]

Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals"

Alinsky wrote: "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away."

His “rules” derive from many successful campaigns where he sowed the seeds of class warfare with community organizing, getting people fighting power and privilege, whom he convinced people were the root of all their "problems".

For Alinsky, organizing is the process of highlighting whatever he believed to be wrong and convincing people they can actually do something about it. The two are linked. If people feel they don’t have the power to change a situation, they stop thinking about it.

According to Alinsky, the organizer — especially a paid organizer from outside — must first overcome suspicion and establish credibility. Next the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and searching out controversy. This is necessary to get people to participate. An organizer has to attack apathy and disturb the prevailing patterns of complacent community life where people have simply come to accept a situation. Alinsky would say, “The first step in community organization is community disorganization.”

Through a process combining hope and resentment, the organizer tries to create a “mass army” that brings in as many recruits as possible from local organizations, churches, services groups, labor unions, corner gangs, and individuals.

Alinsky provides a collection of rules to guide the process. But he emphasizes these rules must be translated into real-life tactics that are fluid and responsive to the situation at hand.

  • Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.
  • Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.
  • Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.
  • Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
  • Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
  • Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”
  • Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.
  • Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”
  • Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.
  • Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”
  • Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.” [8]

The astute reader can readily identify many of these rules on the "Talk" pages of Conservapedia. The enemies of conservatism and Christianity (or indeed any Religion) have practiced without end, Alainsky's "rules", especially numbers 11, 8, 5 and 4.

See also

Works

  • Reveille for Radicals, 1946
  • Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, 1971. and text search
  • The Philosopher and the Provocateur: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky edited by Bernard E. Doering (1994), 118pp. Maritain was a conservative Catholic theologian

Further reading

  • Bailey, Robert, Jr. Radicals in Urban Politics: The Alinsky Approach. 1974. 187 pp.
  • Horwitt, Sanford D. Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky: His Life and Legacy (1992), 595pp
  • Levine, Charles F. "Understanding Alinsky, Conservative Wine In Radical Bottles." American Behavioral Scientist 1973 17(2): 279-284.

References

  1. Guess who recommended Obama to enter Harvard Worldnetdaily, September 24, 2008
  2. Alan S. Miller, "Saul Alinsky: America's Radical Reactionary." Radical America 1987 21(1): 11-18. 0033-7617
  3. Answers.com Biography of Saul Alinsky
  4. Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. 1. 1971.
  5. Reports of the Commission on Subversive Activities of the Territory of Hawaii, p. 12 pdf.
  6. NPR, Democrats and the Legacy of Activist Saul Alinsky (audio file)
  7. Guess who recommended Obama to enter Harvard Worldnetdaily, September 24, 2008
  8. STRATEGIC PUBLIC RELATIONS; Alinsky's Rules for Radicals
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