By Jack Jodell, Jan. 29, 2012
“Tactics mean doing what you can with what you have.”
“Last guys don’t finish nice.”
– Saul Alinsky –
Mouthy, grandstanding Republican presidential wannabe NUT GINGRICH, ever the master of hyperbolic distortion, has been running around lately claiming that President Obama has been following “the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” Like most of the self-described “historian”‘s recent statements, this, too, is a load of poppycock. For this late great political organizer was no wild-eyed radical or far-left socialist. Instead, he was the father of modern community organizing, and devoted nearly four decades to improving the living standards of the poor across North America, and trying to empower them via the ballot box.
Saul David Alinsky was born in 1909 to Russian strict-orthodox Jewish immigrants. He grew up with them in Chicago, and observed years later that “their whole life revolved around work and synagogue…I remember as a kid being told how important it was to study.” He studied hard and worked his way through the University of Chicago, where he majored in archaeology. With the Depression at hand and archaeology majors definitely not in great demand, he dropped out of graduate school after two years and became a criminologist for the state of Illinois. In his spare time, he also began to organize for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O.). By 1939, he found himself becoming more active in organizing the community around and in the slums of the city than he did for labor. He began a determined effort to “turn scattered, voiceless discontent into a united protest.” His efforts soon gathered the attention and respect of Democratic then-governor Adlai Stevenson, who praised Alinsky by saying his aims “most faithfully reflect our ideals of brotherhood, tolerance, charity, and dignity of the individual.” As a result of this recognition, Alinsky spent the next 10 years repeating his organization work all across the country, giving the poor unprecedented access to government and input along the way.
He was once asked by the San Francisco Bay Area Presbyterian Churches to help organize the black ghetto in nearby Oakland. Then as now, the citiy’s leaders took a reactionary approach to their problems by hurriedly passing a resolution banning him from their city. He often employed highly original techniques to get his message across. One time, in Rochester, NY, he threatened to stage a “fart-in”, whereby community leaders would ingest large quantities of baked beans and then descend on a concert hall being played by the Rochester Philharmonic, whereupon they would loudly and forcefully expel their noxious vapors in such a manner as to compete with the woodwinds for attention. He also threatened Chicago with a “piss- in”, whereby nicely-dressed blacks would occupy all of O’Hare airport’s urinals and toilets until the city would come to the bargaining table. The threat alone got the city to comply.
Alinsky published two books, “Reveille for Radicals” in 1946, and “Rules for Radicals” in 1971. In the latter, he 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.” He also advised, “the job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will attack him as a ‘dangerous ebemy.’…the hysterical instant reaction of the establishment [will] not only validate [the organizer’s] credentials of competency but will also ensure automatic popular invitation.” He was once asked whether ge had ever considered becoming a Communist Party member. “Not at any time,” he replied. “…I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it’s Christianity or Marxism.” So much for Gingrich’s hyperbolic accusations of “Marxist radicalism”!
Saul Alinsky was planning a massive action on behalf of the white middle class in 1972. This great visionary correctly saw that those whom Richard Nixon had termed “the silent majority” were being sadly misled, and that someday they would need to rise up or fall prey to the false promises of reaction, such as we have been seeing with the recent aberration known as the Tea Party. Regrettably, before Alinsky could initiate such an action, he died of a massive heart attack on a street corner in Carmel, CA.
Rather than being reviled, as NUT Gingrich would have us do, Saul Alinsky should be revered for his lifelong efforts in trying to level the political playing field for the poor and marginalized members of our society. He was out pushing for the majority 99% long before it was fashionable to do so, and provided inspiration to such notable progressive leaders as Cesar Chavez, Ralph Nader, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. HE WAS A TRUE AMERICAN HERO!