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To understand what impact Alinsky has had on our country it is imperative that we first learn about the man first. What better place to find this information but, our friend Wikipedia.
Saul David Alinsky (January 30, 1909 – June 12, 1972) was an American community activist and political theorist. His work through the Chicago-based Industrial Areas Foundation helping poor communities organize to press demands upon landlords, politicians and business leaders won him national recognition and notoriety. Responding to the impatience of a New Left generation of activists in the 1960s, in his widely cited Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer Alinsky defended the arts both of confrontation and of compromise involved in community organizing as keys to the struggle for social justice.
Saul Alinsky was born in 1909 in Chicago, Illinois, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, the only surviving son of Benjamin Alinsky’s marriage to his second wife, Sarah Tannenbaum Alinsky. His father started out as a tailor, then ran a delicatessen and a cleaning shop. Alinsky recalls that “finally he graduated to operating his own sweatshop,” but that whatever business he had, the family “always lived at the back of the store”.
Both parents were “strict Orthodox,” their lives revolving “around work and synagogue.” He himself was devout until the age of 12, the point at which he began to fear his parents would force him to become a rabbi. Although he had “not personally” encountered “much antisemitism as a child”, Alinsky recalled that “it was so pervasive . . . you just accepted it as a fact of life.” Called up for retaliating against some Polish boys, Alinsky acknowledged one rabbinical lesson that “sank home.” “It’s the American way . . . Old Testament . . . They beat us up, so we beat the hell out of them. That’s what everybody does.” The rabbi looked at him for a moment and said quietly, “You think you’re a man because you do what everybody does. But I want to tell you something great: ‘where there are no men, be thou a man'”. Alinsky considered himself an agnostic, but when asked about his religion would “always say Jewish.”
In 1926, Alinsky entered the University of Chicago. He studied under Ernest Burgess and Robert E. Park, “giants in America’s first sociology department.” Overturning the propositions of a still ascendant eugenics movement, Burgess and Park argued that social disorganization, not heredity, was the cause of disease, crime and other characteristics of slum life. As the passage of successive waves of immigrants through such districts had demonstrated, it is the slum area itself, and not the particular group living there, with which social pathologies were associated. Yet Alinsky claimed to be unimpressed. What “the sociologists were handing out about poverty and slums”—”playing down the suffering and deprivation, glossing over the misery”—was “horse manure.”
The Great Depression put an end to an interest in archaeology: after the stock-market crash “all the guys who funded the field trips were being scraped off Wall Street sidewalks.” A chance graduate fellowship moved Alinsky on to criminology. For two years, as a “nonparticipant observer”, he hung out with Chicago’s Al Capone mob (as they “owned the city”, they felt they had little to hide from a “college kid”). “Among other things” about the exercise of power, what they taught him was “the terrific importance of personal relationships”. Alinsky took a job with the Illinois State Division of Criminology, working with juvenile delinquents (“even tougher to get in with” than the Capone mob) and at the Joliet State Penitentiary. It was a dispiriting experience. If he dwelt on the contributing causes of crime, such as poor housing, racial discrimination or unemployment, he was labelled a “Red.”
The Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council
In 1938, Alinsky gave up his last employment at the Institute for Juvenile Research, University of Illinois at Chicago, to devote himself full-time as a political activist. In his free time he had been raising funds for the International Brigade (organized by the Communist International) in the Spanish Civil War and for Southern Sharecroppers, organizing for the Newspaper Guild and other fledgling unions, fighting evictions and agitating for public housing. He also began to work alongside the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and its president John L. Lewis. (In an “un-authorized biography” of the labor leader Alinsky wrote that he later mediated between Lewis and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House).
Alinsky’s idea was to apply the organizing skills he believed he had mastered “to the worst slums and ghettos, so that the most oppressed and exploited elements could take control of their own communities and their own destinies. Up until then, specific factories and industries had been organized for social change, but never whole communities.”
In the belief that if he could trial his approach in these neighborhoods, he could do so successfully anywhere, Alinsky looked to the back of the Chicago Stockyards (the area made infamous by Upton Sinclair‘s 1905 novel The Jungle). There with Joseph Meegan, a park supervisor, Alinsky set up the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (BYNC). Working with the archdiocese, the Council succeeded in rallying a mix of otherwise mutually hostile Catholic ethnics (Irish, Poles, Lithuanians, Mexicans, Croats . . .) as well as African Americans to demand, and win, concessions from local meatpackers (in January 1946 the BYNC threw its support behind the first major walkout of the United Packinghouse Workers), landlords and city hall. This, and other efforts in the city’s South Side to “turn scattered, voiceless discontent into a united protest” earned an accolade from Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson: Alinsky’s aims “most faithfully reflect our ideals of brotherhood, tolerance, charity and dignity of the individual.”
In founding the BYNC, Alinsky and Meegan sought to break a pattern of outside direction established by their predecessors in poor urban areas, most notably the settlement houses. The BYNC would be based on local democracy: “organizers would facilitate, but local people had to lead and participate.” Residents had to “control their own destiny” and in doing so not only gain new resources but new confidence as well. “Some of Saul’s real genius,” according to one observer, was “his sense of timing and understanding how others would perceive something. Saul knew that if I grab you by the shoulders and say do this, do that and the other, you’re going to resent it. If you make the discovery yourself, you’re going to strut because you made it”.
The Industrial Areas Foundation
In 1940, with the support of Roman Catholic Bishop Bernard James Sheil and Chicago Sun-Times publisher and department-store owner Marshall Field, Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a national community organizing network. The mandate was to partner with religious congregations and civic organizations to build “broad-based organizations” that could train up local leadership and promote trust across community divides. For Alinsky there was also a broader mission. In what sixty years later, with publication of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, would have been understood as a concern for the loss of “social capital” (of the organized opportunities for conviviality and deliberation that allow and encourage ordinary people to engage in democratic process), in his own statement of purpose for the IAF, Alinsky wrote:
In our modern urban civilization, multitudes of our people have been condemned to urban anonymity—to living the kind of life where many of them neither know nor care for their neighbors. This course of urban anonymity…is one of eroding destruction to the foundations of democracy. For although we profess that we are citizens of a democracy, and although we may vote once every four years, millions of our people feel deep down in their heart of hearts that there is no place for them—that they do not ‘count’.
Through the IAF, Alinsky spent the next 10 years repeating his organizational work–“rubbing raw”, as the Chicago Tribune saw it “the sores of discontent’ and compelling action through agitation–“from Kansas City and Detroit to the farm-worker barrios of Southern California.” Although Alinsky always had rationalizations, his biographer Sanford Horwitt records that “on rare occasions” Alinsky would concede that not all of his mentored projects were “unequivocal successes”.
There was uncertainty about “what was supposed to happen after the first two or three years, when the original organizer and/or fund-raiser left the community council on its own.” Recognizing that the IAF could not be “a holding for People’s Organizations”, Alinsky thought that one solution would be for community-councils, under their native leadership, to constitute their own inter-city fund-raising and mutual-assistance network. In the early 1950s, Alinsky was talking about “a million-dollar budget to carry us over a three-year plan of organization through the country.” The usual corporate and foundation funders proved decidedly cold to the idea.
Successes could also be problematic. In Chicago, the Back of the Yards Council set itself against housing integration, and offered no objection to a pattern of “urban renewal” with which Alinsky professed himself “fed-up”: “the moving of low-income and, almost without exception, Negro groups and dumping them into other slums,” in order to build houses for middle-income whites. There being “no substitute for organized power,” in 1959, Alinsky concluded that what the city needed was a powerful black community organization that could “bargain collectively” with other organized groups and agencies, private and public.
Mentoring in The Woodlawn Organization
With the groundwork prepared by his deputy Edward T. Chambers, Alinsky began mentoring The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), south-west Chicago. Like other IAF organizations, TWO was a coalition of existing community entities, local block clubs, churches and businesses. These groups paid dues, and the organization was run by an elected board. The TWO moved quickly to establish itself as the “voice” of the black neighborhood, mobilizing, developing and bringing up new leadership. An example was Arthur M. Brazier, the first spokesperson and eventual president of the organization. Starting out as a mail carrier, Brazier became a preacher in a store front church, and then, through TWO emerged as a national spokesman for the Black Power movement.
In 1961, to show City Hall that TWO was a force to be reckoned with Alinsky combined “two elements—votes, which were the coin of the realm in Chicago politics, and fear of the black mass”—by bussing 2,500 black resident citizens, down to City Hall to register to vote. No administrator in Chicago is said ever to have forgotten that image.
Through TWO, Woodlawn residents challenged the redevelopment plans of the University of Chicago. Alinsky claimed the organization was the first community group not only to plan its own urban renewal but, even more important, to control the letting of contracts to building contractors. Alinsky found it “touching to see how competing contractors suddenly discovered the principles of brotherhood and racial equality.” Similar “conversions” were secured from employers elsewhere in the city with mass shop-ins at department stores, tying up bank lines with people exchanging pennies for bills and vice versa, and the threat of a “piss-in” at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
For Alinsky the “essence of successful tactics” was “originality.” When Mayor Daly dragged his heels on building violations and health procedures, TWO threatened to unload a thousand live rats on the steps of city hall: “sort of share-the-rats program, a form of integration.”
Any tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag itself. No matter how burning the injustice and how militant your supporters, people get turned off by repetitious and conventional tactics. Your opposition also learns what to expect and how to neutralise you unless you’re constantly devising new strategies.
Alinsky said that he “knew the day of sit-ins had ended” when the executive of a military contractor showed him blueprints for the new corporate headquarters. “‘And here’, the executive said, ‘is our sit-in-hall. [You will have] plenty of comfortable chairs, two coffee machines and lots of magazines . . . ‘”. “You are not going to get anywhere”, Alinsky concluded, unless you are “constantly inventing new and better tactics” that move beyond your opponent’s expectations.
FIGHT, Rochester NY
In the 1960s, Alinsky focused through the IAF on the training of community organizers. The IAF assisted black community organizing groups in Kansas City and Buffalo, and the Community Service Organization of Mexican Americans in California, training, among others, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
Alinsky’s “major battle” followed the 1964 Rochester Race Riot. Alinsky viewed Rochester, New York as a “classic company town”—owned “lock stock and barrel” by Eastman Kodak. Casually exploited by Kodak (whose only contribution to race relations, Alinsky quipped, was “the invention of color film”) and by other local businesses, most African Americans held low-pay and low-skill jobs and lived in substandard housing. In the wake of the riots the Rochester Area Churches, together with black civil rights leaders invited Alinsky and the IAF to help the community organize. With the Reverend Franklin Florence, who had been close to Malcolm X, they established FIGHT (Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today) to bring community pressure on Kodak to open up employment and city governance.
Concluding that picketing and boycotts would not work, FIGHT began to think of some “far-out tactics along the lines of our O’Hare shit in.” This included a “fart-in” at the Rochester Philharmonic, Kodak’s “cultural jewel.” It was a proposal Alinsky considered “absurd rather than juvenile. But isn’t much of life kind of a theater of the absurd?” No tactic that might work was “frivolous.” In the end, and following a disruption of its annual stockholders’ convention, assisted by Unitarians and others assigning FIGHT their proxies (Alinsky had called on them to “put your stock where your sermons are”), Kodak recognized FIGHT as a broad-based community organization and committed, through a recruitment and training program, to black employment.
Rochester was to be the last African-American community that Alinsky would help organize through his own intervention.
Community action in the federal War of Poverty
While in Rochester, Alinsky had been employed four-days a month at the federally-funded Community Action Training Center at Syracuse University. The 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, passed as a part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, committed the federal government to promoting the “maximum feasible participation” of targeted communities in the design and delivery of anti-poverty programs.
This appeared to acknowledge what Alinsky insisted was the key to social and economic deprivation, “political poverty”.
Poverty means not only lacking money, but also lacking power. … When … poverty and the lack of power bar you from equal protection, equal equity in the courts, and equal participation in the economic and social life of your society, then you are poor. … An anti-poverty program must recognize that its program has to do something about not only economic poverty but also political poverty
Alinsky was sceptical of Community Action Program (CAP) funding under the Act doing more than provide relief for the “welfare industry”: “the use of poverty funds to absorb staff salaries and operating costs by changing the title of programs and putting a new poverty label here and there is an old device”. If it was to achieve more than this, there had to be meaningful representation of the poor “through their own organized power”.
In practice this would mean that the federal sponsor for community action, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), should bypass city halls and either fund existing militant organisations such as FIGHT in Rochester (although these could never allow the federal government to be their core funder) or, in communities not already organized, seek out local leadership to initiate the process of building a resident organization. Amendments to OEO funding in the summer of 1965 ruled out any such “creative federalism”. These gave city halls the right to select the official Community Action Agency (CAA) for their community, and reserved two-thirds of the CAA boards for business representative and elected officials. There was no prospect of a federal mandate favoring Alinsky’s organizing model.
The one year OEO grant for the program at Syracuse that had hired Alinsky was not renewed.
Alinsky never became a direct target of McCarthyism. He was never called before a congressional investigating committee nor had to endure a determined press campaign to identify and exclude him as a communist “fellow traveler”. Alinsky liked to think this because of his toughness and the ridicule he would have heaped upon his persecutors. Herb March, the most prominent Communist Party member with the Packinghouse Workers in Chicago, said he would “place a little more emphasis … on the Church influence”, but also allowed that, as the government “undoubtedly must have had him under close surveillance”, they cannot have had “anything” on him.
Yet Alinsky was not “untouched by the climate of fear, suspicion and innuendo”. Rumors of and Red-baiting would follow him into the 1960s, and, once his name was associated with leading Democratic-Party presidential contenders, would follow his legacy into the new century. For some of his “anti-communist” critics, Alinsky’s definition in Reveille for Radicals of what it is to be a “radical” may have been a sufficient indictment:
The Radical believes that all peoples should have a high standard of food, housing, and health … The Radical places human rights far above property rights. He is for universal, free public education and recognizes this as fundamental to the democratic way of life … The Radical believes completely in real equality of opportunity for all peoples regardless of race, color, or creed. He insists on full employment for economic security but is just as insistent that man’s work should not only provide economic security but also be such as to satisfy the creative desires within all men.
Alinsky would not apologize for working with Communists at a time when, in his opinion, they were doing “a hell of a lot of good work in the vanguard of the labor movement and … in aiding blacks and Okies and Southern sharecroppers.” “Anyone”, he remarked, “who was involved in the causes of the thirties and says he didn’t know any communists is either a liar or an idiot”. They were “all over the place, fighting for the New Deal the CIO and so forth”.
He also owned to being “sympathetic to Russia at that time because it was the one country that seemed to be taking a strong position against Hitler… If you were anti-fascist on the international front in those days you had to stand with Communists”. But Alinsky insists he “never joined the party” for reasons “partly philosophic”:
One of my articles of faith is what Justice Learned Hand called “that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you are right.” I’ve never been sure I’m right but also I’m also sure nobody else has this thing called truth. I hate dogma. People who believed they owned the truth have been responsible for the most terrible things that have happened in our world, whether they were Communist purges or the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem witch hunts.
There seemed to be no sympathy for the centralizing Soviet model. In Reveille Alinsky is “as contemptuous of ‘top down’ approaches to social planning as he is of laissez-faire economic policies”. The Radical, he says, “will bitterly oppose complete Federal control of education. He will fight for individual rights and against centralized power …The Radical is deeply interested in social planning but just as deeply suspicious of and antagonistic to any idea of plans which work from the top down. Democracy to him is working from the bottom up”. With Thomas Jefferson, the Radical believes that the people are “the most honest and safe”, if not always the wisest, “depository of the public interest.”
On the issue of whether communists should be banned from unions and other social organizations, Alinsky argued that:
[The question is] whether there can be developed an American Progressive Movement in which the Communists are forced to follow along or get out on the basis of the issues–a movement so healthy, so filled with the vitality of real American Radicalism, that the Communists will wear their teeth down to their jaws trying to bore from within. I know that the latter can be done
But in the meantime, Alinsky believed that “certain fascist mentalities” posed a far greater threat to the country than “the damn nuisance of Communism”.
The Black Power movement
In June 1966, as they protested the shooting of James Meredith, the solo Freedom Marcher, in Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael asked the crowd “What do you want? They roared back “Black Power! Black Power!” While other white volunteers were bewildered, Peggy Terry recalls “there was never any rift in my mind or my heart. I just felt Black people were doing what they should be doing. We reached a period in the civil rights movement when Black people felt they weren’t being given the respect they should have, and I agreed. White liberals ran everything.” The message for white activists, whom Carmichael now asked to leave the Student Non-Coordinating Committee, was “organize your own.” It was a message that, as a community organizer, Terry took north with her to uptown “Hillybilly Harlem”, Chicago.
Alinsky appeared not to be fazed. “I agree with the concept,” he said in the fall of 1966. “We’ve always called it community power, and if the community is black, it’s black power.” But a year later he was relating, with evident satisfaction, that when he had asked Carmichael at a Detroit meeting to cite one concrete example of what he meant by Black Power, Carmichael had named the FIGHT project in Rochester. Carmichael, Alinsky suggested, should stop “going round yelling ‘Black Power!'” and “really go down and organize.”
Alinsky had a sharper response to the more strident black nationalism of Maulana Karenga, mistakenly identified in news reports as a board member of the newly formed Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. In an angry letter to the Foundation’s executive director, Lucius Walker, Alinsky took exception to one of Karenga’s “insights,” that “blacks are a country and if you support America you are against my community.” This Alinsky found “repugnant and nauseous.” He and his associates would not only “plead guilty to supporting America” but would “gladly admit that we love our country.” Horwitt notes that in 1968 “virtually no leftist dissenter – black or white – was using this kind of patriotic rhetoric.”
By 1970, Alinsky had conceded publicly that “all whites should get out of the black ghettos. It’s a stage we have to go through.”
The Student New Left
At the beginning of the 1960s, in the first postwar generation of college youth Alinsky appeared to win new allies. Disclaiming any “formulas” or “closed theories.” Students for a Democratic Society called for a “new left … committed to deliberativeness, honesty [and] reflection.” More than this, the New Left seemed to place community organizing at the heart of their vision.
The SDS insisted that students “look outwards” beyond the campus “to the less exotic but more lasting struggles for justice.” “The bridge to political power” would be “built through genuine cooperation, locally, nationally, and internationally, between a new left of young people and an awakening community of allies.” To stimulate “this kind of social movement, this kind of vision and program in campus and community across the country”, in 1963, the SDS launched (with $5000 from United Automobile Workers) the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP). SDS community organizers would help draw white neighborhoods into an “interracial movement of the poor”. By the end of 1964, ERAP had ten inner-city projects engaging 125 student volunteers.
When SDS volunteers set up shop, JOIN (Jobs or Income Now), in “Hillbilly Harlem” uptown Chicago, they duly crossed town to meet with Alinsky in Woodlawn. But there was not to be a meeting of minds.
The JOINers charged Alinsky with being “stuck in the past”, and, perhaps most cutting, to be unwilling to confront white racism. JOIN later claimed that they pushed whites on the race question “at every opportunity” and “even mobilized members to support Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s campaign to desegregate housing in Chicago in the summer of 1966″. To meet the challenge of growing black dissent following the August 1965 Watts riots, King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had sought a victory in the North with the Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM).
It is not clear that participation by Alinsky in the Chicago Freedom Movement was either offered or invited. Yet “Freedom Summer” seemed to follow the Alinsky playbook: “The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy’. The hysterical instant reaction of the establishment [will] not only validate [the organizer’s] credentials of competency but also ensure automatic popular invitation”.
The difficulty was that Daly’s experience was such that that city hall could not be drawn into a sufficiently damaging confrontation. The mayor responded to the brutal reception for Freedom marchers in the white neighborhoods of Gage Park and Marquette Park with a judicious expression of sympathy and support. King balked at a further escalation, a march through the red-lined suburb of Cicero, “the Selma of the North” and he allowed Daly to draw him into the negotiation of an open-housing deal that was to prove toothless. (Alinsky later argued that after King’s assassination in 1968 Woodlawn was the one black area of Chicago that did not “explode into racial violence” because, while their lives were not “idyllic”, with TWO people “finally” had a sense of “power and achievement”).
In the summer of 1964, Ralph Helstein of the Packinghouse Workers, one of the few labor leaders interested in the emergence of the New Left, arranged for Alinsky to meet SDS founders Tom Hayden and Todd Gitlin. Again the inter-generational confab did not go well. To Helstein’s dismay Alinsky dismissed Hayden and Gitlin’s ideas and work as naive and doomed to failure. The would-be organizers were absurdly romantic in their view of the poor and of what could be achieved by consensus. Horwitt notes that “‘Participatory democracy,’ the central concept the SDS’s Port Huron Statement, meant something fundamentally different . . . to what ‘citizen participation’ meant to Alinsky.” Within community organizations Alinsky “put a premium on strong leadership, structure and centralized decision-making.”
“The myth of Saul Alinsky” criticism
In the summer of 1967, in an article in Dissent, Frank Reissman summarized a broader left-wing case against Alinsky. Seeking to explode “The Myth of Saul Alinsky”, Reissman argued that rather than politicize an area, Alinsky’s organizational efforts simply directed people “into a kind of dead-end local activism.” Alinsky’s opposition to large programs, broad goals, and ideology confused even those who participated in the local organizations because they find no context for their action. As a result, confined to what might be secured by purely local initiative, they achieved, at best, “a better ghetto.”
Reissman insisted that it was for the “organizer-strategist-intellectual” to “provide the connections, the larger view that will lead to the development of a movement,” but adding—”this is not to suggest that the larger view should be imposed upon the local group.” The New Left themselves seemed unable to strike the necessary balance. As they appeared to drift in events of the 1960s, failing above all to stop the war in Vietnam, Gitlin, suggests that the SDS constructed their larger view “on the cheap”. Far from reconciling neighborhood agendas (welfare, rent, police harassment, garbage pick-up . . .) with radical ambition, their reheated revolutionary dogma prepared a “left exit” from community organizing, something that most New Left groups had effected by 1970.
Alinsky’s dismissal of Reissman as “a little whining Pekingese,” as someone he “refused to debate with,” might suggest that Alinsky was sensitive to the charge that the communities he helped organize were led into a political cul-de-sac. In 1964, he and Hoffman had agreed that The Woodlawn Organization was “stymied.” It staggered in the face of deteriorating housing, chronic unemployment, and bad schools in a political environment that was unfriendly-to-hostile. Unless they did something, TWO “would go down.” Alinsky was not a community-organizing purist. He saw the possibility of an electoral breakout: of Woodlawn helping mount a challenge to the incumbent in the 1966 Democratic-Party primary for the 2nd Congressional District. But Brazier, his preferred candidate, would not run and the community organization was fearful for its non-political tax-exempt status. In the end Daly’s political machine had little difficulty in rolling over the additional support galvanized for the reform-minded state legislator, Abner Mikva.
It was a measure of his national celebrity that in March 1972, having “elevated the art of the magazine interview” with leaders such as Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Playboy magazine published a 24,000-word interview with Alinsky.
Alinsky was introduced as “a bespectacled, conservatively dressed community organizer who looks like an accountant and talks like a stevedore,” a figure “hated and feared”, according to The New York Times, “in high places from coast to coast”, and acknowledged by William F. Buckley Jr., “a bitter ideological foe”, as “very close to an organizational genius”. Levelling against him the charges of the New Left, the interview effectively invited Alinsky to summarize the lessons he had drawn for the new generation of activists in (a revision of an earlier work) Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.
The life cycle of organizations
Alinsky was confronted with “the tendency” of communities he had helped organize to eventually “join the establishment in return for their piece of the economic action”, Back of the Yards, “now one of the most vociferously segregationist areas of Chicago,” being cited as a “case in point”. For Alinsky, this was only a “challenge.” It is “a recurring pattern”: “Prosperity makes cowards of us all, and the Back of the Yards is no exception. They’ve entered the nightfall of their success, and their dreams of a better world have been replaced by nightmares of fear—fear of change, fear of losing their material goods, fear of blacks.”
Alinsky explained that the life span of one of his organizations might be five years. After that it was either absorbed into administering programs (rather than building people power) or died. That was something that just had to be accepted, with the understanding that “discrimination and deprivation does not automatically endow [the have-nots] with any special qualities.” Perhaps he would move back into the area to organize “a new movement to overthrow the one I built 25 years ago.” Did he not find this process of co-optation discouraging? “No. It’s the eternal problem.” All life is a “relay race of revolutions”, each bringing society “a little closer to the ultimate goal of real personal and social freedom.”
But what were his “so-called” radical critics “in fact saying”? That when a community comes to him (“we’re being shafted in every way”) and ask for help, he should say, “sorry . . .if you get power and win, then you’ll become, just like Back of the Yards, materialistic and all that, so just go on suffering, it is better for your souls”? “It’s kind of like a starving man coming up to you and begging you for a loaf of bread, and your telling him, ‘Don’t you realize that man doesn’t live by bread alone.’ What a cop out.”
Revolutionary youth may have “few illusions about the system,” but in Rules for Radicals Alinsky suggested “they have plenty of illusions about the way to change our world.” The “liberal cliché about reconciliation of opposing forces,” so often invoked in opposition to radical confrontation, may be “a load of crap.” “Reconciliation means just one thing: when one side gets enough power, then the other side gets reconciled to it.” But opposition to consensus politics does not mean opposition to compromise — “just the opposite.” “In the world as it is, no victory is ever absolute”. “There is never nirvana.” A “society without compromise is totalitarian.” And “in the world as it is, the right things also invariably get done for the wrong reasons.”
Organizing the middle class
For Alinsky, the real limitation of his organizing experience was that it had not extended into the middle-class majority:
Christ, even if we could manage to organize all the exploited low-income groups – all the blacks, chicanos, Puerto Ricans, poor whites – and then, through some kind of organizational miracle, weld them all together into a viable coalition, what would you have? At the most optimistic estimate, 55,000,000 people by the end of this decade – but by then the total population will be over 225,000,000, of whom the overwhelming majority will be middle class. . . . Pragmatically, the only hope for genuine minority progress is to seek out allies within the majority and to organize that majority itself as part of a national movement for change.
The middle classes may be “conditioned to look for the safe and easy way, afraid to rock the boat,” but Alinsky believed “they’re beginning to realize the boat is sinking.” On a wide range of issues they feel “more defeated and lost today than the poor do.” They were, Alinsky insisted, “good organizational material:” “more amorphous than some barrio in Southern California”, so that “you’re going to be organizing all across the country,” but “the rules are the same.”
Alinsky never predicted exactly what form or direction middle-class organization would take. In Horwitt’s sympathetic view he was “too empirical for that.” He did suggest that “the chance for organization for action on pollution, inflation, Vietnam, violence, race, taxes is all about us,” making it clear that he envisaged organization based on a community of the interest rather than on the dubious neighborliness of the suburb.
In 1969 in Chicago, Alinsky and his IAF trainees helped initiate a city-wide Campaign Against Pollution (later to become the Citizens Action Program to Stop the Crosstown—a billion-dollar expressway). Alinsky was not beyond believing that such initiatives, scaled-up nationally, could “move on to the larger issues: pollution in the Pentagon and Congress and the board rooms of the mega corporations.” Challenging, but the alternative, Alinsky warned, was for the “impotence” of the middle classes to turn into “political paranoia.” This would make them “ripe for the plucking by some guy on horseback promising a return to the vanished verities of yesterday.”
In June 12, 1972, three months after the publication of the Playboy interview, Alinsky died, aged 63, from a heart attack near his home in Carmel, California.
Appropriation by the Tea Party movement
n the 2000s, Rules for Radicals did develop as a primer for middle-class moblization, but it was of a kind and in a direction—the return to “vanished verities”—that Alinsky had feared. As did William F. Buckley in the 1960s, a new generation of libertarian, right-wing populist, and conservative activists seemed willing to admire Alinsky’s disruptive organizing talents while rejecting his social-justice politics. Rules for Radicals, and adaptations of the book, began circulating among Republican Tea Party activists. According to spokesman Adam Brandon, the conservative non-profit organization FreedomWorks, distributed a short adaptation of Alinsky’s work, Rules for Patriots, through its entire network. Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey is also reported to have given copies of Alinsky’s book to leaders of the Tea Party movement. In Rules for Conservative Radicals (2009) Michael Patrick Leahy, an early Tea Party leader, offered “sixteen rules for conservative radicals based on lessons from Saul Alinsky, the Tea Party Movement, and the Apostle Paul”.
In his 1996 biography of her, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, David Brock dubbed Hillary Clinton “Alinsky’s daughter.” Barbara Olson began each chapter of her 1999 book on Clinton, Hell to Pay, with a quote from Alinsky, and argued that his strategic theories directly influenced her behavior during her husband’s presidency. Belief in an untoward connection to Alinsky was supercharged when Clinton asked Wellesley College to seal her thesis for the duration of her husband’s presidency.
As his candidacy gained strength, and once he had defeated Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination, attention shifted to Obama’s ties to Alinsky. Monica Crowley, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh repeatedly drew a connection, with the latter asking, “Has [Obama] ever had an original idea — by that, I mean something not found in The Communist Manifesto? Has he? Has he simply had an idea not found in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals?” Glenn Beck produced a four-part radio series to expose Alinsky’s “vision for a Godless, centrally controlled utopia.” In Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolution: The Alinsky Model David Horowitz argued “the roots” of his administration’s “effort to subject America to a wholesale transformation” were to be found in the teachings of “the guru of Sixties radicals”—an Alinsky admonition to be “flexible and opportunistic and say anything to get power.”
When Hillary Clinton ran again for the presidency in 2016, the specter of Alinsky was resurrected. In his speech before the GOP Convention, Ben Carson extemporaneously added a riff on Saul Alinsky drawn from his keynote speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Gala. He fixed on Alinsky’s “over-the-shoulder acknowledgment”, at the outset of Rules for Radicals, of Lucifer as “the first radical known to man”—someone who “rebelled against the establishment … so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom”.
Industrial Areas Foundation
It has been suggested that “Alinsky is to community organizing as Freud is to analysis.” Having written about it, “philosophized about it, and provided the first set of rules”, he was the first to call attention to community organizing “as a distinct program, with a life and literature of its own, separate from any particular cause such as the union movement or Populism.” His biographer Sanford Horwitt credits Alinsky “more than anybody … for demonstrating that community organizing could be a lifelong career.”
The Industrial Areas Foundation still claims to be “the nation’s largest and longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations.” They report “victories” on, among other issues, housing and neighborhood revitalization, public transport and infrastructure, living-wage jobs and workforce development, support for local labor unions, criminal justice reform, and tackling the opioid crisis.
When Alinsky died, Edward T. Chambers became the IAF’s executive director. Hundreds of professional community and labor organizers and thousands of community and labor leaders have been trained at its workshops. Fred Ross, who worked for Alinsky, was the principal mentor for Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Other organizations following in the tradition of the Congregation-based Community Organizing pioneered by IAF include PICO National Network, Gamaliel Foundation, Brooklyn Ecumenical Cooperatives, founded by former IAF trainer, Richard Harmon and Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART). Such had been their role in the IAF and its projects that on his Firing Line television program William F. Buckley introduced Alinsky as “the pet revolutionary of the church people of America”.
Chicago-based National People’s Action (NPA), a federation of 29 community organizing groups in 18 U.S. states, consciously committed to Alinsky’s bottom-up, door-to-door methodologies. It was co-founded in 1972 by Shel Trapp (1935–2010), who trained under Alinsky trained organizer, Tom Gaudet, at the IAF. NPA’s successful national campaign to pass the Community Reinvestment Act CRA (1977) challenged the assertion that Alinsky-style organizing is only local and confined to winnable single issue campaigns. In 2016, it coalesced with two other community-organizing networks to create People’s Action and the People’s Action [training] Institute, dedicated to building “the power of poor and working people, in rural, suburban and urban areas, to win change” not only “through issue campaigns” but also, in clearer distinction to the IAF, through elections.
Citizens UK and L’Institut Alinsky, France
In 1989, following trainee experience with the IAF in Chicago, in England Neil Jameson established the Citizens Organizing Foundation. Now Citizens UK it supports communities in several cities, and since 2001 has been associated with the high-profile campaign for a living wage.
Drawing inspiration from both Citizens UK and the IAF, in 2012 Alinsky’s community-organizing methods were trialled in France leading to the creation in Grenoble of the Alliance Citoyenne (Citizens Alliance). Similar initiatives followed in Rennes in 2014, in Aubervilliers, in Seine St Denis in 2016 and in the Lyon metropolitan area in 2019.
In October 2017, the leaders of the Alliance Citoyenne and the researchers Julien Talpin and Hélène Balazard founded the Alinsky Institute, a think tank and training organization to develop and promote methods of citizen empowerment in blue-collar and immigrant suburbs which, with the decline in the traditional parties of the left, have had little political voice.
In Germany in 1993, two of Alinsky students and co-workers, Don Elmer (Center for Community Change, San Francisco) and Ed Shurna (Interfaith Organizing Project and Gamaliel Foundation, Chicago) initiated the first training courses in “Community Organizing” (CO), supported by several local projects. Assisted by the Catholic University of Applied Social Sciences, the first community organization based on Alinsky’s principles was established in a Berlin neighborhood in 2002.
Among political activists on the left Alinsky’s legacy continues to be disputed. Cautions against looking to Alinsky for “a road map” to “rebuild power in the age of Trump” repeat the charge of the New Left: “‘Alinskyism’ — apolitical ‘single-issue’ campaigns that focus on ‘winnable demands’ run by a well-oiled, staff-heavy organization—shut the door to more democratic and transformational forms of working-class mobilization.” At the same time, Alinsky has been rediscovered and defended as an inspiration for the Occupy movement and the mobilization for climate action. Activists for Extinction Rebellion founded in Britain, cite Rules for Radicals as a source of inspiration as to “how we mobilize to cope with emergency”, and “strike a balance between disruption and creativity”. XR co-founder, Roger Hallam, has been clear that the strategy of public disruption is “heavily influenced” by Alinsky: “The essential element here is disruption. Without disruption, no one is going to give you their eyeballs”.
In 2020, the Reuters Agency “fact check team” noted that viral images on social media were circulating quotes attributed to Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals, which suggest that Alinsky set out eight fundamental rules for creating a “social state”. The text in the images seems to equate this in turn with Soviet communism. The quotes attributed to Alinsky, however, were not found in his writings.
Saul Alinsky’s 12 Rules for Radicals…
What is really interesting about the use of Alinsky’s simplistic tactics is that they were designed to be used by people with low intelligence – those whose lips move when they read. If they EVER read. Tools and fools. CNN’s audience.
Watch any video where the regular liberal “marchers” get interviewed and you will find that they can go no further, in a thought process, then the words they heard on CNN. They don’t have a message. They have a memorized chant which they cannot explain, or enlarge on. These people have no idea of what a concept is. They are very likely, these days, to be vaccine damaged.
When you understand this actuality, these Alinsky people become fun to watch.
Be aware that most proponents, and users, of these liberal tactics hide behind fake identities for GOOD reason.
Here is the complete list from Alinsky.
RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood. (These are two things of which there is a plentiful supply. Government and corporations always have a difficult time appealing to people, and usually do so almost exclusively with economic arguments.)
RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone. (Organizations under attack wonder why radicals don’t address the “real” issues. This is why. They avoid things with which they have no knowledge.)
RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)
RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity’s very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)
RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)
RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. (Radical activists, in this sense, are no different that any other human being. We all avoid “un-fun” activities, and but we revel at and enjoy the ones that work and bring results.)
RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
Don’t become old news. (Even radical activists get bored. So to keep them excited and involved, organizers are constantly coming up with new tactics.)
RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.)
RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality. Large organizations always prepare a worst-case scenario, something that may be furthest from the activists’ minds. The upshot is that the organization will expend enormous time and energy, creating in its own collective mind the direst of conclusions. The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)
RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. (Unions used this tactic. Peaceful [albeit loud] demonstrations during the heyday of unions in the early to mid-20th Century incurred management’s wrath, often in the form of violence that eventually brought public sympathy to their side.)
RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. (Old saw: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Activist organizations have an agenda, and their strategy is to hold a place at the table, to be given a forum to wield their power. So, they have to have a compromise solution.)
RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)
Here is another way to look at his rules as per Ruth Kotinsky:
Alinsky on means and ends
Saul Alinsky had a particular take on the subject of means and ends, or in the terminology of informal education, on process and product. He was specifically impatient with people who would not take action for reasons of principle. As he says in his chapter ‘Of Means and Ends’ in Rules for Radicals.
He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of ‘personal salvation’; he doesn’t care enough for people to ‘be corrupted’ for them. (Alinsky 1972: 25)
He thought that the morality of action needed not to be judged in or of itself but weighed against the morality of inaction. As Saul Alinsky states at the outset of the chapter:
The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. (Alinsky 1972: 24)
Alinsky then proceed to develop a set of rules regarding the ethics of means and ends. Given his take on morality the idea of a set of rules about them seems ironic and this was part of his idiosyncratic style. Saul Alinsky can seem very amoral in his statements. I think that it is helpful to treat them as questions upon which to reflect when considering the morality of means and ends. For him the point was not to dwell on the morals people should hold, but to understand the morals which guide people in practice.
Here I want to highlight the key elements of his approach – as outlined in Rules.
1) One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue, and one’s distance from the scene of conflict (Alinsky 1972: 26). Saul Alinsky was critical of those who criticized the morality of actions they were not involved in, were dispassionate about or were not touched by. For him, the further people are away from the conflict, the more they fuss over the moral delicacies. Furthermore, such moralising and distancing denies one’s own culpability. He agreed with Peck that the demonizing of and moralising about the soldiers in the Mai Lai Massacre in the Vietnam War (where soldiers massacred 400 civilians) was hypocritical. For Alinsky the questions were how do people got to the point of committing atrocities, how people were socialised into the army, its cultures of responsibility, who becomes a soldier and ultimately why the war was being fought. Sadly such concerns are still relevant today.
2) The judgement of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgement (Alinsky 1972: 26-9).
Our cause had to be all shining justice, allied with the angels; theirs had to be all evil, tied to the Devil; in no war has the enemy or the cause ever been gray. (Alinsky 1972: 3)
Yet nowadays, with the need for propaganda over, the declaration is still taken to be self evidently true. For Saul Alinsky, both parties in a dispute will claim, and need to claim, that the opposition’s means are immoral and their own means are ethical and rooted in the highest of human values. This seems to be true of the wars in the Falklands, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. We portray ourselves as fighting for reasons such as freedom, democracy, protecting the innocent and portray the ‘insurgents’ as displaying the opposite moral characteristics.
3) In war, the end justifies almost any means (Alinsky 1972: 29-30). For Saul Alinsky people are expedient in the moment, and then find ways to justify this as consistent and moral after the fact. For example, Churchill was asked how he could reconcile himself to siding with the communists, given his stated opinions. He responded, ‘I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby.’ Yet prior to the war he said ‘One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievements. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as admirable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations’ – (Great Contemporaries: 1937). During the war the allies, and Britain in particular supported the communist led resistance in Greece. Yet after the war Churchill turned British guns on communist partisans who had fought with the allies in the second world war in the Greek Civil war and supported the return of a monarchy for Greece.
Saul Alinsky uses the example of the American Declaration of Independence to elaborate on this statement: To the Colonists who drafted it, the Declaration was self evidently true; to the British, it deliberately ignored the benefits of the British presence. The colonists recognized at the time that the document was not balanced and was to some extent propaganda.
4) The judgement of the ethics of means must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point (Alinsky 1972: 30-2). Saul Alinsky uses the example of the Boston Massacre to illustrate his point. Patrick Carr, one of the townspeople shot dead by the British, stated on his deathbed that the townspeople had been the aggressors and that the British fired in self-defence. This admission threatened to destroy the martyrdom that the Revolutionary Leader, Sam Adams, had invested in the townspeople. Adams thereby discredited Patrick Carr as ‘an Irish papist who had died in the confession of the Roman Catholic Church.’ For Alinsky it would be easy to condemn Adams, but as he says, we are not today involved in a revolution against the British Empire. Alinsky says we have to judge the act through the lens of the times.
5) Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available (Alinsky 1972: 232-34). Saul Alinsky said that moral questions may enter the equation when one has alternate means. If one lacks this choice, one will take what options one has. He was talking at a time when there was condemnation of the tactic of the Viet Cong of sending children to plant bombs in bars frequented by American soldiers. He would have probably have understood the actions of suicide bombers, or at least would have said the question is not ‘how could anyone do this’? but what drove them to see these actions as their only effective tactics.
6) The less important the end, the more one engage in ethical evaluations about means (Alinsky 1972: 34). This is similar to Saul Alinsky’s first point, the question being how people’s moralizing changes according to how important the end is to them. As a parallel, many informal educators I have worked with moralise very differently about, for example, the young people they work with compared to their own children. With the young people they work with, they recognise that they will experiment with drugs, alcohol and sex as a part of their ‘means’ of growing up; and have ways of reacting to the young people when they do these things. However they react to their own children using drugs and alcohol and having sex quite differently! Such ‘means’ are not an options for them.
7) Success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics (Alinsky 1972: 34).
Yesterday’s immoral terrorist is today’s moral and dignified statesman of high standing — because he was successful. Yesterday’s moral statesman is sitting in front of a ‘war crimes tribunal’ today — because he lost. (Connachie 2001)
Saul Alinsky saw this as an extension of the old adage that history favours the winners. I am sure Churchill would be remembered very differently had we lost the war. He also identified ‘winners’ as those in power, not necessarily in a complimentary way, but simply in recognition that at present, those with power are winning. From this perspective, whether groups are defined as terrorists or freedom fighters, is normally determined by those in power.
8) The morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory (Alinsky 1972: 34-5). This relates to point five and says that we should judge different acts differently at different points. If a person cheats because they are desperate, we should judge it differently than if they cheat when they are winning. Similarly if a person steals to feed their children, it is different from theft by someone who already has a lot of money. Interestingly, at present, for a first offence or a small amount, both are likely to receive a fine in the UK. This seems the opposite of Alinsky’s principle in that the poor person would be less able to pay the fine, and have a greater (admittedly only financial) impact on them than on the richer person.
9) Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical (Alinsky 1972: 35-6). Alinsky sees one of the tactics of those in a battle is to judge the other side as being immoral. We will find ways to judge their methods as unethical even if they are also used by our side. We will, of course, be using them is a slightly different, more moral, way. As a youth worker I remember having a battle with a certain management committee about the use of the building, in particular about whether we needed the full-size snooker table that dominated one room – and which no young people used. At first they questioned whether I was being truly representative of the young people in their views about the table, despite this being my role in the meeting. When I brought the young people to express their own views to the management committee they said I had put them on the spot in a meeting, which was not appropriate, despite them having invited them. When the young people wrote in to express their views, the management committee said that while they were the young people in the club, they questioned whether they were representative of the young people ‘in the community’. The snooker table stayed.
10) You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments (Alinsky 1972: 36-45). Interestingly while this may seem the most morally redundant, Saul Alinsky uses the example of Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of ‘passive resistance’ as an illustration. He points out that, perhaps ‘passive resistance’ was simply:
… the only intelligent, realistic, expedient program which Gandhi had at his disposal; and that the ‘morality’ which surrounded this policy of passive resistance was to a large degree a rationale to cloak a pragmatic program with a desired and essential moral cover…. Confronted with the issue of what means he could employ against the British, we come to the other criteria previously mentioned; that the kind of means selected and how they can be used is significantly dependent upon the face of the enemy, or the character of his opposition. Gandhi’s opposition not only made the effective use of passive resistance possible but practically invited it. His enemy was a British administration characterized by an old, aristocratic, liberal tradition, one which granted a good deal of freedom to its colonials and which always had operated on a pattern of using, absorbing, seducing, or destroying, through flattery or corruption, the revolutionary leaders who arose from the colonial ranks. This was the kind of opposition that would have tolerated and ultimately capitulated before the tactic of passive resistance. (Alinsky 1972: 38, 41)
It is an interesting question whether Gandhi’s passive resistance would have stood a chance against a totalitarian state. What we do know, as Saul Alinsky points out, is that eight months after securing independence, the Indian National Congress outlawed passive resistance, making it a crime. In conclusion on the subject of the morality of means and ends, as Alinsky writes: ‘Means and ends are so qualitatively interrelated that the true question has never been the proverbial one, ‘Does the End justify the Means?’ but always has been ‘Does this particular end justify this particular means?’ (Alinsky 1972: 47).
As we can see from the opening quote, Saul Alinsky was contemptuous of the kind of liberal thinking that led to inaction. Indeed, he devoted a significant part of Reveille for Radicals comparing the radical and liberal orientations. He was also equally contemptuous of what he termed ‘suicidal’ or ‘rhetorical’ radicals. He starts the prologue to Rules for Radicals by addressing what he sees as the new generation of radicals, and the folly of some of their approaches.
The Revolutionary force today.. are reminiscent of the idealistic early Christians, yet they also urge violence and cry, ‘Burn the system down!’ They have no illusions about the system, but plenty of illusions about the way to change our world. It is to this point that I have written this book. (Alinsky 1972: xiii).
He then goes on to analyse how the radicals of his generation, to a large extent, either did not survive, or did not move beyond the dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxism, a set of beliefs that he also thought had had their day. He also had sympathy for the new radicals, and the rejection of the lifestyles they had settled for that lead their parents to tranquillizers, alcohol, long-term-endurance marriages, or divorces, high blood pressure, ulcers, frustration and the disillusionment of the ‘good life,’. He then gives some quite poignant analysis of the ‘generation gap’ between radicals, and how they fail to communicate with each other. He has some sympathy with why the new radicals have rejected the standpoint of their older comrades. However, he is also scathing of some of the tactics employed by some of the new radicals as alternatives.
…. Some panic and run, rationalizing that the system is going to collapse anyway of its own rot and corruption and so they’re copping out, going hippie or yippie, taking drugs, trying communes, anything to escape. Others went for pointless sure-loser confrontations so that they could fortify their rationalization and say, ‘Well, we tried and did our part’ and then they copped out too. Others sick with guilt and not knowing where to turn or what to do went berserk. These were the Weathermen and their like: they took the grand cop-out, suicide. To these I have nothing to say or give but pity – and in some cases contempt, for such as those who leave their dead comrades and take off for Algeria or other points. (Alinsky 1972: xvii).
He particularly lamented their lack of communication, and alienation of the bulk of the masses who might otherwise have supported them. At the time there was trend for burning the American flag, something he saw as going outside of, and alienating the bulk of the masses. ‘The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the symbol of America’s hopes and aspirations,. He takes the analogy further saying that the radical needs to work within the experience of his or her community. He built this, and other ideas into his ‘rules for radicals’ saying that while ‘there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness …. there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time’ (Alinsky 1972: xviii). Before I expand on these rules, it is worth noting that, for Saul Alinsky it is important that the radical, at least in the first instance, works within the system. This is important as it was a challenge to many radical groups who were quite separatist at the time, advocating communities, or even just the active militants in a community, withdraw and organize internally. He again liked the approach to the distinction between being a realistic and a rhetorical radical.
As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be – it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system. (Alinsky 1972: xix).
He postulated that for radical change to happen the great mass of people need to be in favor, even passively of change. However he also thought people are naturally fearful of change and that unless they feel ‘so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future’, revolution will not happen. He called for alliances between radicals and ‘blue collar’, or ‘hard hat’ workers, who may still have an investment in the system, even if this meant a compromise on ones goals. Otherwise,
They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don’t encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let’s not let it happen by default. (Alinsky 1972: xx).
Furthermore, he felt that people should not underestimate the room to manoeuvre in democratic systems. Saul Alinsky did not deny government harassment, but still felt that the system had potential to be reformed. More to the point unless the masses thought that these avenues had been exhausted, they would not embrace change. He felt that many of the new radical movements, erroneously, wanted to skip the organising phase and go straight for revolution, turning potential allies, and even those communities they were meant to be representing, against them. For Alinsky, to take such a suicidal approach means ‘there is no play, nothing but confrontation for confrontation’s sake – a flare-up and back to darkness’ (op. cit.). He saws the involvement and active participation of citizens in issues where they had real concerns, as the key, both to radicalism and democracy. He was cynical about easy sloganeering, especially when some of the heroes of the day were cited.
Spouting quotes from Mao, Castro, and Che Guevara, which are as germane to our highly technological, computerized, cybernetic, nuclear-powered, mass media society as a stagecoach on a jet runway at Kennedy airport. (Alinsky 1972: xxv).
The bulk of the rest of Rules for Radicals is concerned with tactics, which he sometimes also refers to as the rules of power politics. I will expand on each in turn. I will also give examples from Mark Thomas, a UK-based socialist comedian who I think uses these techniques in his show.
1) Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have (Alinsky 1972: 127). In the book he says that if one has mass support, one should flaunt it, if one does not one should make a lot of noise, if one cannot make a big noise, make a big stink. Mark Thomas uses this technique frequently. When complaining about the tube privatization he formed a band of famous names and asked them to perform on the tube singing protest songs about it.
2) Never go outside the experience of your people (Alinsky 1972: 127). Mark Thomas makes extensive use of such techniques as getting the public to ring up their elected representatives or have mass letter writing campaigns. He will also put familiar mechanisms to other uses. When complaining about the use of organophosphates he put up yellow appeals for witness signs to draw attention to the public. When investigating Crown immunity to murder, when a person was run over by an army Landrover he put up tiredness kills signs all over the front of the army base.
3) Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy (Alinsky 1972: 127). Mark Thomas would continually try and dumbfound people. When complaining about the building of a dam that was to displace 15,000 people in Turkey he built an ice sculpture of a dam in front on the headquarters of the company building it.
4) Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules (Alinsky 1972: 128). This is one of Mark Thomas’s favorite tactics. He found out that people who inherited expensive paintings could avoid inheritance tax by allowing the public to have access to the painting. He got the public to ring up numerous people who had done this and request to see the paintings. When they refused, or refused everyone he managed to get the law changed.
5) Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon (Alinsky 1972: 128). Mark Thomas was complaining about the exporting of guns to Iran, where the government had claimed that they did not know the pipes were going to be used for that purpose because they had been put down as something else for export terms, despite the fact that they could not have been used for that purpose. He protested by painting a tank pink, put a plastic ice-cream cone on the top of it and tried to export it as an ice cream van.
6) A good tactic is one that your people enjoy (Alinsky 1972: 128). When some pensioners had arranged to have, what could easily have been a boring meeting with a health minister, he got them to ask questions in the form of a dance routine. He also get a group of people to protest against GM crops by wearing radioactive protection gear and running around with Geiger counters.
7) A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag (Alinsky 1972: 128). Mark Thomas confesses to using a series of ‘stunts’, to make his points. He tends to use a lot of small actions, as illustrated about, rather than a prolonged action. This approach leads into the eighth rule.
8) Keep the pressure on (Alinsky 1972: 128). Saul Alinsky says not to rest on ones laurels if one has a partial victory. He says we should keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to a reform delegation, ‘Okay, you’ve convinced me. Now go on out and bring pressure on me!’ For Alinsky, action comes from keeping the heat on. When protesting about the use of human protein in baby milk by Nestle Mark Thomas asks questions in a public meeting with the CEO presentation about corporate responsibility, he has a protest at an international conference, he writes letters to the board, he interviews specialists and the scientists from the company, he has protests with animal impersonators, visits the farm where the herd of cows being used are kept and drives round to the ministry of agriculture in a milk tanker and starts cleaning the windows with the milk.
9) The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself (Alinsky 1972: 129). When Saul 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. Again, when challenging the avoidance of inheritance tax, Mark threatened to have more and more people requesting to see the paintings if a change did not happen.
10) The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition (Alinsky 1972: 129). Such pressure is necessary, Saul Alinsky argued, in order to get reaction from the opposition. He argued that ‘the action is in the reaction’ (op. cit.).
11) If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside (Alinsky 1972: 129). Essentially, this is to not give up and be afraid to concentrate on the negative aspects. In many cases Mark’s pushing of the negative aspects led to changes, such as a change in the law for the paintings, Nestle reconsidering their production of milk and Channel Four producing a website for posting up MEP’s interests (which is compulsory in other countries). He also succeeded in getting some serious questions asked about corporate killing in Parliament.
12) The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative (Alinsky 1972: 130). This is the other side of the previous rule. If one does push the other party through to changing one has to offer some kind of solution. This would be one of my criticisms of Mark Thomas; he rarely offers solutions to the issues that he raises. It probably highlights the difference between an entertainer and a community organizer. It would also be one of Saul Alinsky’s main criticisms and goes back to the distinction he made between a real and a rhetorical radical. He had little time for some on the ultra left who knew what they were protesting against, but had little idea what they were fighting for. It is noticeable that Mark Thomas does achieve concrete things, when he has concrete demands.
13) Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it (Alinsky 1972: 130). This is perhaps Saul Alinsky’s most controversial rule and is the counter to the common idea that we should not make things personal. When pursuing the changes in the inheritance law for paintings he targets one individual. He will often find out who the CEO is in a company and hound that person. In the organophosphates debate it is one scientist that he targets and the validity of his findings.
What is REALLY interesting is that Saul Alinsky died in 1972, almost 50 years ago…
So, these political tactics are, at a minimum, fifty years old. They were designed to deal with a political situation in existence during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s – a world totally different from today. Yet, many activist groups laud these tactics without realizing their in-appropriateness in the 2020 world.
What Alinsky, and his followers, failed to comprehend is that they created a whole generation of people who cannot see beyond screaming criticism and offer any modern day solutions to social problems beyond a social shift to the hungry and dreary world of socialism/communism – something they definitely do not actually want to happen.
The counter reaction to this situation has been the rise of the humongous populist movement that elected Donald Trump. This group doesn’t put up with Alinsky-like nonsense. They outnumber the Alinski-ites 100,000 to 1.
How did Alinsky become a preferred villain of the right?
(The David Horowitz Freedom Center)
Alinsky never identified as a socialist or Communist, but he was a self-professed radical, and a man of the left. The difference between leftism and liberalism is often elided in American political discussion, but it matters. The fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both seriously engaged with his ideas — and that Clinton knew him personally — makes it possible to connect them with an American political tradition well to the left of the mainline, Democratic-party liberalism.
The first wave of conservative criticism of Alinsky, and anxiety over the influence he may have had over Democratic politicians, occurred during the Clinton administration, when Hillary Clinton first rose to prominence. Clinton wrote her senior thesis about Alinsky, interviewing him in the process. He offered her an organizing job, which she declined in favor of going to Yale Law School, but they stayed in touch afterwards, as the recently revealed letters confirmed.
David Brock — then a prominent conservative journalist, now a key Clinton ally — examined Clinton’s ties to Alinsky in some depth in his 1996 biography of her, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. He memorably dubbed her “Alinsky’s daughter.” The late conservative writer Barbara Olson began each chapter of her 1999 book on Clinton, Hell to Pay, with a quote from Alinsky, and argued that his strategic theories directly influenced her behavior during her husband’s presidency.
The conspiracy theories were supercharged when Clinton asked Wellesley to seal her thesis for the duration of her husband’s presidency, which it did. In 2001, access was restored; you can read the thesis through interlibrary loan with Wellesley, at the Wellesley library directly, or on any number of websites to which it’s been passed around.
As Barack Obama’s candidacy gained strength, and (eventually) defeated Clinton’s, attention shifted to his ties to Alinsky — or, more precisely, to Alinsky-trained organizers. In September 2008, Rudy Giuliani attacked him for being “educated in the Saul Alinsky methods.” Once Obama took office, then-Fox host Glenn Beck started incorporating Alinsky into his grand theories about the leftist origins of President Obama’s policies.
He was hardly the only conservative host to invoke Alinsky to explain Obama; Monica Crowley, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh also began bringing up Alinsky, with the latter asking, “Has [Obama] ever had an original idea — by that, I mean something not found in The Communist Manifesto? Has he? Has he simply had an idea not found in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals?”
The late Andrew Breitbart also promoted the idea that Alinsky laid the blueprint for Obama’s presidency, notably attacking the president for appearing on a panel after a play about Alinsky in 1998 in the last piece he wrote before passing away. Before long the criticism spread to presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich, who declared that “Saul Alinsky radicalism is the heart of Obama.” Rudy Giuliani actually attacked Gingrich during the election on Alinsky-related grounds, saying of Gingrich’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record, “I expect this from Saul Alinsky.”
One particularly pervasive theme in conservative criticism of Alinsky is a faulty claim that he dedicated Rules for Radicals to “Lucifer.” He actually dedicated it to his wife Irene, but began the book with a series of quotes, including one attributed to himself: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”
This tongue-in-cheek riff on Christian mythology is repeated in an interview he granted to Playboy shortly before his death:
Let’s say that if there is an afterlife, and I have anything to say about it, I will unreservedly choose to go to hell.
ALINSKY: Hell would be heaven for me. All my life I’ve been with the have-nots. Over here, if you’re a have-not, you’re short of dough. If you’re a have-not in hell, you’re short of virtue. Once I get into hell, I’ll start organizing the have-nots over there.
PLAYBOY: Why them?
ALINSKY: They’re my kind of people.
What did Alinsky actually believe?
Rules for Radicals was Alinsky’s last book, completed the year before his death, and it laid out his organizing philosophy in detail. Its centerpiece is a list of rules of “power tactics,” meant as basic guidelines for organizers and community activists:
- Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
- Never go outside the experience of your people.
- Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy.
- Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
- Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.
- A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
- A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
- Keep the pressure on.
- The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
- The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
- If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside.
- The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
- Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
Most of these are elaborated upon in more detail in the book. For example, on #5, Alinsky notes, “It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.”
Alinsky additionally lists 11 rules of “means and ends”:
- One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue.
- The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.
- In war, the end justifies almost any means.
- Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.
- Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
- The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
- The ethics of means and ends is that generally success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.
- The morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
- Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.
- You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.
- Goals must be phrased in general terms like “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” “Of the Common Welfare,” “Pursuit of Happiness” or “Bread and Peace.”
The general idea here is that purity about tactics is a luxury that only the already powerful can afford; that doesn’t mean anything goes, but it does mean that the undesirability of a particular means has to be weighed against the gravity of the injustice being fought.
A bogus list of “rules to create a social state” allegedly written by Alinsky has made the rounds since Barack Obama became president, including things like “Poverty — Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control.” Needless to say, these are forged.
Was Alinsky a communist?
Conservatives aren’t wrong that Alinsky was solidly on the left of the American political spectrum. The section of Reveille for Radicals defining what the term “radical” meant to Alinsky lays out some more specific beliefs:
The Radical believes that all peoples should have a high standard of food, housing, and health … The Radical places human rights far above property rights. He is for universal, free public education and recognizes this as fundamental to the democratic way of life … The Radical believes completely in real equality of opportunity for all peoples regardless of race, color, or creed. He insists on full employment for economic security but is just as insistent that man’s work should not only provide economic security but also be such as to satisfy the creative desires within all men.
In the next chapter he adds, “Radicals … hope for a future where the means of economic production will be owned by all of the people instead of just a comparative handful.” But it’s important not to mistake statements like these for endorsements of Soviet-style central planning, as some conservative commentators have done.
In Reveille he is as contemptuous of “top down” approaches to social planning as he is of laissez-faire economic policies. The Radical, he says, “will bitterly oppose complete Federal control of education. He will fight for individual rights and against centralized power …The Radical is deeply interested in social planning but just as deeply suspicious of and antagonistic to any idea of plans which work from the top down. Democracy to him is working from the bottom up.”
The portions of Reveille dealing with Alinsky’s views on American history are revealing in this regard. He expresses sympathy for Thomas Jefferson in his dispute with Alexander Hamilton, and cites Jefferson’s dichotomy between “those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes” and “those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests.” The latter, Alinsky argues, is the radical position, standing in opposition not only to conservatives, but to liberals who “lay claim to the precious quality of impartiality, of cold objectivity” rather than serving, as radicals do, as “partisans of the people.”
The Weather Underground during their Days of Rage demonstrations in Chicago, October 1969. Alinsky had no patience for the Weather Underground and other violent New Left groups. (David Fenton/Getty Images)
Alinsky also had harsh words for New Left activists in the 1960s. “He viewed activists in Students for a Democratic Society as naive and impractical, and denounced the tactics of the New Left’s militant fringe, as represented by groups like the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground, as doomed to failure for their violent tactics and unwillingness to compromise,” historian Thomas Sugrue writes. Sugrue notes that this is in keeping with Alinsky’s stance in the 1930s, when he “had little patience for the bona fide socialists and card-carrying Communists” and “repudiated Marxism.”
So, yes, Alinsky was a man of the left. But he wasn’t a Communist, he wasn’t a Marxist, and he was certainly not a part of the New Left. The latter is a particularly common misconception. In 2010, David Brooks used his New York Times column to assail the Tea Party movement for copying Alinsky’s tactics (more on that later), calling him “the leading tactician of the New Left.” That is almost 180 degrees from the truth. Alinsky’s whole problem with the New Left is that they eschewed his tactical advice.
So is Hillary Clinton actually connected to Alinsky?
Hillary Clinton’s senior thesis at Wellesley — “‘There Is Only the Fight…’: An Analysis of the Alinsky Model” — was about Alinsky and his model of organizing. She spoke to Alinsky in the course of writing the thesis, and thanked him in the acknowledgements for “providing a topic, sharing his time and offering me a job.” The thesis is broadly sympathetic to Alinsky, concluding that “he has been feared — just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths — democracy.”
But Clinton takes pains to hear out criticisms of Alinsky’s model. She notes that it is at least somewhat dependent on Alinsky’s unique talents. “One of the primary problems with the Alinsky model is that the removal of Alinsky drastically alters its composition,” she writes. “Alinsky is a born organizer who is not easily duplicated.” The results of the Back of the Yards organizing campaign, she continues, were not uniformly positive, arguably ossifying the community and preventing mobility among its inhabitants.
Most crucially, she sympathetically cites criticisms of Alinsky on the grounds that community organizing is insufficient in a world in which “the territorially-defined community is no longer a workable social unit.” The rise of the suburbs and federal consolidation of power mean that change needs to be achieved at levels that the Alinsky model wasn’t supposed to target, according to this critique.
Clinton also, as shown by the newly uncovered letter she sent to Alinsky, was in contact with him while in law school at Yale. She thanks him for “encouraging words of last spring in the midst of the Yale-Cambodia madness” (a reference, presumably, to the Yale protests over a trial of Black Panther leaders and of the Nixon administration’s bombing of Cambodia) and alludes to the duo’s “biennial conversations.”
His secretary’s response seems to confirm that the two had a friendly relationship. “Since I know his feelings about you I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn’t want something urgent to wait for two weeks. And I’m glad I did,” Georgia Harper, Alinsky’s assistant, writes. Mentioning that he will be in San Francisco while Clinton was in Berkeley, Harper continues, “I know he would like to have you call him so that if there is a chance in his schedule maybe you can get together.”
Clinton used a 1993 Washington Post interview (via MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman) to claim that her support for Alinsky was based on sympathy with his critique of large, top-down government programs: “I basically argued that he was right. Even at that early stage I was against all these people who come up with these big government programs that were more supportive of bureaucracies than actually helpful to people.”
In her 2003 memoir, Living History, Clinton recalls her thesis and relationship with Alinsky, but notes that she came to disagree with him over his contention that real change can’t occur from the inside — which makes sense, given that she was a sitting US Senator by then:
For my thesis, I analyzed the work of a Chicago native and community organizer named Saul Alinsky, whom I had met the previous summer. Alinsky was a colorful and controversial figure who managed to offend almost everyone during his long career. His prescription for social change required grassroots organizing that taught people to help themselves by confronting government and corporations to obtain the resources and power to improve their lives. I agreed with some of Alinsky’s ideas, particularly the value of empowering people to help themselves. But we had a fundamental disagreement. He believed you could change the system only from the outside. I didn’t. Later, he offered me the chance to work with him when I graduated from college, and he was disappointed that I decided instead to go to law school. Alinsky said I would be wasting my time, but my decision was an expression of my belief that the system could be changed from within.
What’s President Obama’s connection to Alinsky?
Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, the period when he excoriated Alinsky on a panel and contributed to the volume After Alinsky. (Apic/Getty Images)
President Obama, unlike Clinton, had no personal ties to Alinsky. Alinsky, after all, died when Obama was 10 years old. But Obama was certainly influenced by Alinsky’s followers and overall model of organizing.
Obama, famously, worked as a community organizer in Chicago between 1985 to 1988. The group he worked for — Developing Communities Project (DCP), part of the Calumet Community Religious Conference — was not a part of the IAF but, like most organizing groups in Chicago, was deeply influenced by Alinsky. Jerry Kellman, who hired Obama, was trained by Alinsky’s organizing school, as were Mike Kruglik and Gregory Galluzzo, his other main organizing mentors. But none of them were personally tied to Alinsky, with Galluzzo telling the New Republic‘s Ryan Lizza, “I regard myself as St. Paul who never met Jesus. I’m his best disciple.”
Obama himself attended an IAF training, and contributed a chapter to the book After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois. Neither the chapter nor Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father (which deals extensively with his time organizing) mentions Alinsky by name.
One of the few places where Obama has directly commented on Alinsky was in a profile by Lizza in 2007. Lizza writes that Obama internalized the first main lesson of Alinsky — that organizing is about leveraging the community’s self-interest for its own empowerment. “The key to creating successful organizations was making sure people’s self-interest was met,” Obama told Lizza, “and not just basing it on pie-in-the-sky idealism. So there were some basic principles that remained powerful then, and in fact I still believe in.” Eventually, Obama got the strategies well enough to teach trainings himself.
But Obama came to reject certain elements of Alinsky’s approach, including Alinsky’s downplaying of the importance of rhetoric and ideas. Here’s Lizza:
“It’s true that the notion of self-interest was critical,” Obama told me. “But Alinsky understated the degree to which people’s hopes and dreams and their ideals and their values were just as important in organizing as people’s self-interest.” He continued, “Sometimes the tendency in community organizing of the sort done by Alinsky was to downplay the power of words and of ideas when in fact ideas and words are pretty powerful. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal.’ Those are just words. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. But they help move things. And I think it was partly that understanding that probably led me to try to do something similar in different arenas.”
In another piece in the New Republic, John Judis quotes Obama at a 1989 symposium laying out his criticisms of Alinsky’s methods. He noted that Alinsky’s focus on organization as an end in itself meant his model could be used to deleterious ends, as it was by Save our Neighborhoods/Save our City, an organization which claimed it wanted to protect the interests of “white ethnics” under the mayoralty of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor. “Before he was done,” Judis continued, “Obama had rejected the guiding principles of community organizing: the elevation of self-interest over moral vision; the disdain for charismatic leaders and their movements; and the suspicion of politics itself.”
Saul Alinsky’s ideas could be seen as controversial, but he was effective and practical as a community activist, and his work and writing deserves to be more widely known among those involved in informal education, community development work and social pedagogy. Not that his principles and rules are unquestionable or right for every situation, but they are a practical toolkit to effect change though leverage in those with power, potentially of great worth to those engaged in community work and education. In addition, next time one hears someone make a moral judgment about another, or make a claim to be a radical, I would encourage the reader to think about Saul Alinsky’s ideas.
Saul Alinksky had to know “how things worked in America” in 1971 before he could draw a list of the things that needed to be destroyed in America. His 12 Rules for Radicals here. And they’ve largely worked.
For instance, because Alinsky worked around urban universities in the 60s, he knew that even students who were brought up in Christian homes would more often than not choose their vanities and appetites over their moral teachings when push came to shove…if they were also from affluent backgrounds. My mother told me when I got married that she knew I’d try just about everything I’d been taught to say “No” to, but if I survived and walked back “out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death” (her words) I would reclaim those moral teachings. She was right.
But Saul Alinsky had a sixth sense about those who wouldn’t. He understood the enduring power of vanity and the sense of entitlement. In short, he knew the young Hillary Rodham, only not as a person but as a type. That type would become his acolytes. His instruments. The ones who would adhere to his “12 Rules” as if they were Scripture.
He didn’t have to teach them to hate. What he wanted to do was to tell them how to use that hate.
And then be able to move into management. Hillary was a quick learner.
The modern political class, and most academic pinheads don’t know this, including those Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials who are today working according to Alinsky’s game plan. In Pascal’s terms, they not only don’t know they’re lost, they are unable to even find it out…without a great awakening.
So, has anyone ever considered that maybe social media, Twitter, Facebook, etc, are part of that plan? Or that the timing of Twitter’s appearance on the market with the ascent of Barack Obama may not have been coincidental?
I recall in 2009 that many prominent Gen-X conservatives rushed to Twitter, while Facebook added all sorts of social media options to keep up. I was at Red State at the time and the change in style and culture there was much like when the Rock n’ Roll of Elvis and Jerry Lee gave way to Bubblegum a decade later. In 2016, I even mentioned FB and Google’s roll in Hillary and Barack’s Arab Spring as providing the Kumbaya for that fiasco that gave the world ISIS and a war that still goes on in Syria.
I joined Twitter in 2010, but went there mostly to observe and sometimes to commiserate. But I quickly found out thousands of vocal patriots and Trump-lovers, seemed to be “nourished by outrage” as the screeching Karen’s of the Left, and that 140-(later 280) character limit was enough to assuage their outrage on a daily basis. It seemed to be the perfect catharsis for patriots who want to be able to fall asleep each night telling themselves they’d fought the good fight without ever having had to get off the couch.
And sure enough, what has ensued over the past five years, since Trump first took office, has been a kind of “Sitzkreig” (the “sitting war” in the 8 months after the Germans rolled over Poland before they “blitzkreiged” into Paris in 1940) for it’s allowed over a million patriots to be able to tell themselves that they really kicked some lefty-ass last night.
If you’ve followed me since 2008, both at Red State and here, 13 years now, you know I’ve been a broken record suggesting patriots stop looking to Washington to come to the rescue. And to also stop thinking about the “rule book” that limits our political power to the voting booth or attending school board meetings. Alinsky was way ahead of you, being able to kill the power of the vote, then stifle any other expression of power by fearing their power of the “dox” and the “cancel”. No matter which way you turn, Alinskyites believe they have all your roads blocked.
Even if you understand what drives those drugged-out spoiled brats to take over city streets, and burn and loot, have you considered that social media has been directed to keeping us glued to our seats, instead of learning “how their plan works” and then actually doing something about it?
If you bothered, especially as it applies to corrupt government…schools and universities included…you’d learn how their plans are designed to work, and you’d learn that 90% of the cost and tactical planning, much like the modern corporation, is carried out by people just like us, also staring into a computer screen. Part of their plan relies of us doing exactly what we’ve been doing since 2009, nothing except complaining all day then going to sleep at night contented that we’d done a full day of patriot’s work.
Or did anyone also notice that Twitter rose in popularity at the same time Barack Obama did?
I know enough about how the Left works to know that they are not very good at Plan B’s, C’s and D’s, if their Plan A is suddenly been derailed. That’s always been their weakness.
Which brings us to today and the question: How can a free people fix it? From the top, or from the bottom?
This long-winded series has been dedicated to first let you know what they are doing, which superficially you already know, only you’re expecting someone else, somewhere else, to fix it. I’m trying to reduce 30-40 minute classroom talks into a step-by-step text, for general use, and not just the few dozens who will read it here, using the “unified theory” scheme of thinking: “the solution to every conundrum begins with a unified theory”. If you’ve ever gotten a bloody nose for lying, or maybe just a spanking for disobeying, you’d know how the unified theory works, (If I do it, I’ll get a spanking) and you’d also know we’re confronting two and a half generations of younger adults who’d never been introduced into those mysteries of the universe, cited all the way back to the Book of Proverbs (13:24).
By re-acquainting yourselves with those simple rules, how they work, and how effective they can be, the film will suddenly fall from your eyes, and you will see the solution. And you will see that those solutions will begin at the bottom, not at the top, as we wrongly believed Donald Trump would do for us. (By the way, Mr Trump also knew this.)
Part of this new track of resistance against the Left involves a justification and understanding of the use of vigilantism, by understanding the difference between it when it is good and when it is bad.
With that in mind:
Go to the internet and enlist a cadre of people to show up to protest at just about any place; a statue of Columbus, a county government building or a Food Mart, or of late, at any site where a criminal fugitive was shot while trying to escape arrest (especially if “of color”). It only requires two or three people of influence, such as college professors with a posse of student-followers, to draw a crowd of around 100, then, either from among that group, or plants sent to insert themselves, to turn that protest into a riot.
Few riots are spontaneous simply because few protests are truly spontaneous anymore. The vast majority are staged. And funded. Even when the villagers stormed Baron Frankenstein’s castle, armed with torches, it required some time to go around knocking on doors to gather those men and their torches. And of course, the principal trigger was a little girl being found dead down by the creek, which stirred the wrath of that mob…all because of those strange goings-on inside that castle. Vigilantes. Even Mary Shelley knew how this had to work in order to be believable.
en.wikipedia.org, “Saul Alinsky,” By Wikipedia editors; bolenreport.com, “Saul Alinsky’s 12 Rules for Radicals…;” infed.org, “Saul Alinsky, community organizing and rules for radicals,” By Ruth Kotinsky; vox.com, “Who is Saul Alinsky, and why does the right hate him so much?” By Dylan Matthews; unifiedpatriots.com, “Why Saul Alinsky Knew How Things Work, and Why We Don’t Don’t Seem to Anymore,” By Vassar Bushmills; clashdaily.com, “ALINSKY’S HIT MAN: Obama’s Plan to Destroy America,” by Julie Prince; heavy.com, “Saul Alinsky: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know;” glennbeck.com, “Saul Alinsky: The Four-Part Series;” “Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World,” By Andrew Breitbart;
ALINSKY’S HIT MAN: Obama’s Plan to Destroy America
If you ever stop and think about the Obama administration and how much control they have tried to thrust upon the American people, it should make you and the other citizens of this great nation raw with anger. Scandals and lies have been a staple among Mr. Soto and his crowd of communist half breeds; one part communist and the other part a Muslim sympathizer.
Years in the making, Obama was a hand-picked “community organizer” with strong ties to ACORN (also utilizing Alisnky’s teachings) that would have made Saul Alinsky proud. Alinsky used community organizing as a weapon to divide what he called the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Class warfare at it’s finest and being utilized to the fullest by Obama.
Perhaps a quote made by Michelle Obama will explain this tactic. In a speech Michelle Obama said: “The truth is, in order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system, then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.” Obama and the progressive left’s way of thinking and governing has come directly from Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals. Control a people by “agitation” and division.
The tactics in the book are meant to divide America, to separate the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Alinsky writes:
You must help the people in the community…feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. An organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives—agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, non-challenging climate. You must fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame of fight.
The tactics that Obama took from the very play-book Alinsky wrote have raised the level of frustration and disenchantment over healthcare, over the minimum wage, and over social program expansion and illegal immigration. As of late, Americans have become complacent with their current lives, creating the “non-challenging” climate that Alinsky wrote about. First, gain the trust of the people; then once in office, do what you want.
Alinsky said; “true revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism. They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within”. This is a ploy that Obama has executed very well. He even managed to convince the American people he doesn’t need to produce a birth certificate to be President. The American people may feel angry about all of the scandals and force-fed failed policies, but there has been no uprising as of yet.
Hope and change was the motto for sale by Barry and his gang that the American people were happy to buy into. Lofty promises of affordable healthcare were made, but in reality it was an attempt to not only tax the American people, but also an attempt to force socialized medicine. Illegal immigration may come as the form of an executive order, allowing millions of criminals to squat in America. Expanding welfare programs so that the “have-nots” have no choice but to rely on the government and take from the “haves”. Spying on innocent Americans by forcibly gathering their private information from their emails and cell phone conversations.
Obama and his administration’s core element has been about control and the fundamental “change” to the United States. George Orwell, author of 1984, warned of such an administration and a government entity having too much power. Orwell writes: “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful, and murder respectable”.
Alinsky taught that “in war, the end justifies almost any means”. Does this philosophy explain why our captured Marine wasn’t let go immediately from a horrid Mexican prison? There was an election to be had, so he needed to be used as a pawn for the mid-term elections. Does it explain why our ambassador and three of our servicemen were left to die at the hands of terrorists in Benghazi? Does it explain allowing criminals to break our laws for the sake of more votes? Does this explain the plethora of scandals and absence of what is supposed to be our President of the United States to golf trips and fundraising parties?
Choose whatever scandal or breach of the Constitution that one wishes, the fact still remains that Obama is trying to destroy America from the inside out using the very tactics that his mentor, Saul Alinsky, taught him. If Americans aren’t careful, another Alinsky disciple may finish the job — set out by Obama, none other than Hillary Clinton. If Clinton wins the Presidency, Alinsky’s master plan would be complete.
It is imperative that the Republicans do not squander their opportunity to take the White House in 2016, or America will become the wasteland that Alinsky had intended. Get up and fight, after all this beautiful country doesn’t belong to a communist or socialist, it belongs to the free will of Americans, it belongs to you.
Saul Alinsky: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
1. Saul Alinsky Is Known for Espousing Community Organizing that Fans ‘Latent Hostilities’
Saul Alinsky, who died in 1972, is sometimes known as the “father” of community organizing because he discovered that if you can knit a diverse group of people together who were connected by the same grievances, they could become unstoppable. He did this himself, creating a Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council to bring together unions, religious leaders, and other leaders in Chicago in the 1930s. He scaled this up to form an Industrial Areas Foundation that still exists today.
Alinsky’s ideas for community organizing were controversial because he talked about fanning latent hostilities of low-income, inner city residents. He said that searching out hostilities and controversies could organize communities. Instead of setting your own agenda for a group. let them set their own agenda and unleash their own power. He wrote a book about this called “Rules for Radicals” in 1971, that was a bestseller. He wrote:
No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.”
Although some have called Alinsky a socialist, Salon reported that in the 1930s, he had little patience for true socialists and Communists. By the 1960s, he was very harsh on the “New Left” and viewed some activists as naive. He called himself a radical and his favorite founding father was Tom Paine.
2. Alinksy Attributed Lucifer as Being the First True Radical in His Book ‘Rules for Radicals’
One reason conservatives don’t like Alinsky is because they say that he dedicated his book, “Rules for Radicals,” to Lucifer. The above speech was given by Ben Carson at CPAC, where he spoke on similar topics to what he spoke about at the RNC.
Although Alinsky’s book was specifically dedicated to his wife, Irene, he did give an acknowledgement to Lucifer as being the first true radical. In the beginning of the book he wrote:
Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”
Conservatives have often referred to Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” as being a “playbook” for the left. In fact, Carson encouraged people to read the book to better understand liberals. He told The Blaze:
The Alinsky-ites say, ‘never have a conversation with your adversary because that humanizes them, and your job is to demonize them.’ In order to solve that problem, we must not allow ourselves to be manipulated. We must go out. We must talk, even to people with whom we disagree…”
3. In 2008, Some Speculated that Michelle Obama Plagiarized Her Speech from Alinsky, But It Was Really Just One Line
After news about Melania Trump possibly plagiarizing Michelle Obama broke yesterday, others thought back to 2008 when people said that Michelle Obama’s DNC speech plagiarized Saul Alinsky. According to Snopes, it was only one line of her speech that resembled a line from his book, “Rules for Radicals.”
Breitbart had reported that part of Michelle Obama’s speech was taken from “Rules for Radicals.” Alinsky’s book read:
“The standards of judgment must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished-for fantasy of the world as it should be.”
Michelle’s speech read: ““And Barack stood up that day, and he spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about ‘the world as it is‘ and ‘the world as it should be.’”
Snopes concluded the plagiarism claim was weak, as it focused on eight common words from an often-quoted Alinsky phrase.
Barack Obama himself was only loosely tied to Alinsky. In the mid-1980s, he worked for the Developing Communities Project, a group from Chicago’s South Side whose techniques were inspired by Alinsky, Salon reported. Obama also contributed an essay to a collection that were published in Alinsky’s memory in 1988. Obama said he had a tough time being a community organizer, and his path led him to law school and being a law professor and, eventually, to a political career instead.
4. Hillary Clinton Wrote a Letter to Alinsky in 1971
In 1971, Clinton wrote a letter to Alinsky when she was 23 and living in Berkeley. She wrote: “The more I’ve seen of places like Yale Law School and the people who haunt them, the more convinced I am that we have the serious business and joy of much work ahead, — if the commitment to a free and open society is ever going to mean more than eloquence and frustration.”
In her letter she also wrote: “When is that new book [Rules for Radicals] coming out — or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation? I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille and need some new material to throw at people.”
She also thanked him for his advice when she was writing her thesis.
5. Hillary Clinton Wrote a Thesis About Community Organizing in 1969 that Talked About Alinsky
In 1969, Clinton met Alinsky for the first time. She was writing a thesis at Wellesley about controversial community organizing ideas, and took much of her information from his “Reveille for Radicals” handbook. The video embedded above is a 1999 documentary that talks about some of Alinsky’s theories on community organizing.
Clinton wrote in her 2004 memoir that Alinsky offered her a job after she graduated, but she turned down the offer because she wanted to go to law school. She wrote: “(He) said I would be wasting my time, but my decision was an expression of my belief that the system could be changed from within.”
Saul Alinsky: The Four-Part Series
Saul Alinsky might possibly be the most important man in America today. Even though he’s dead, his vicious tactics are very much alive. To progressive ideologists, he is their Jesus and they are his disciples, carrying out his vision for a Godless, centrally controlled utopia.
Saul Alinsky Part I
Saul David Alinsky — revered by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and other progressive radicals — was a man who would grow up fantasizing about organizing hell itself. Born during a cold Chicago winter in 1909, Alinsky’s parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who were strict Orthodox Jews. They divorced when he was 13, and Alinsky moved with his father to Los Angeles, returning later to attend college at the University of Chicago.
By the time Alinsky came back to Chicago, he was no longer practicing Judaism. Instead, he was agnostic, even though he continued to identify with his Jewish heritage throughout his life. He had also changed emotionally and politically. Alinsky had become radicalized and discontented with the United States of America. And he wanted to change the nation he believed was unfair by doing what he enjoyed best: community organizing to overthrow the system.
Saul Alinsky Part II
After spending time with members of the Communist Party in the 1930s, Saul Alinsky developed a strange new way for radicals to fundamentally transform the United States. For a fee, he would infiltrate certain communities to stir up and agitate the poor and minorities. Yet, arguably, the only one he lifted out of poverty using these methods was himself. Community organizing gained Alinsky the financial security to live in a beautiful home in affluent Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, far from the ghettos and slums where he caused so much strife and commotion.
Alinsky’s tactics and results caught the attention of generations of radicals. His last book, Rules for Radicals, became the bible for those in America seeking radical transformation. And his strange, creepy acknowledgment to Lucifer at the beginning of the book provided insight into his goals and desires.
Saul Alinsky Part III
Saul Alinsky started his journey in activism with communists, learning some of their best techniques to organize and agitate. He then expanded and spread that knowledge to a new generation of American radicals with his book Rules for Radicals, which would influence people with great power in the United States.
Alinsky’s most famous and successful rule was to pick a target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it, creating a public enemy with a face and name. Alinsky was unapologetic about his controversial tactics, believing the ends justified the means.
In 1967, on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, he was confronted about his tactics.
BUCKLEY: Can I quote you exactly? Quote: There is no evolution without revolution, and there are no revolutions without conflict. And this is the line which separates liberals from radicals.
ALINSKY: Where’d you get that?
ALINSKY: All right. No, I’ll buy it.
Similar to Alinsky, today’s radicals like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are unapologetic about their polarizing and violent tactics. Instead, they accuse those on the right of being dangerous and potentially violent.
Saul Alinsky Part IV
Saul Alinsky may be dead, but his radical leftist guidelines are alive and well. Extreme leftists admire and emulate him. There are examples every single day of left-wing politicians putting Alinsky’s rules into practice. Barack Obama himself masterfully employs rule number five on a regular basis: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
Now that we know Alinsky’s rules and how they are implemented, what is the solution to stop this progressive, Marxist and radical agenda? If we don’t teach each others and our children, we will cede this nation to the followers of Saul Alinsky.
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