Saul Alinsky

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Saul Alinsky

Born January 30, 1909(1909-01-30)
Chicago, Illinois
Died June 12, 1972 (aged 63)
Carmel, California
Occupation Community organizer, Writer
Nationality American

Saul David Alinsky (January 30, 1909, Chicago, Illinois - June 12, 1972, Carmel, California) was an American community organizer and writer. He is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing in America, the political practice of organizing communities to act in common self-interest.[1] Alinsky is sometimes said to have coined the term "Think globally, act locally."[2]


[edit] Early life and family

Alinsky was born in Chicago in 1909 to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, the only surviving son of Benjamin Alinsky's second marriage to Sarah Tannenbaum Alinsky.[3]

[edit] Education

He started at the University of Chicago in 1926, and eventually received a graduate fellowship in sociology, but didn't complete it.[2]

[edit] Community organizing

Alinsky came up with the idea of power analysis, which looks at relationships built on self-interest between corporations, banks and utilities.

In the 1930s, Alinsky organized the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago (made infamous by Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle for the horrific working conditions in the Union Stock Yards). He went on to found the Industrial Areas Foundation while organizing the Woodlawn neighborhood, which trained organizers and assisted in the founding of community organizations around the country. In Rules for Radicals (his final work, published in 1971 one year before his death), he addressed the 1960s generation of radicals, outlining his views on organizing for mass power. In the first chapter, opening paragraph of the book Alinsky writes, "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away".[4]

In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky outlines his strategy in organizing, writing in the prologue,

"There's another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families - more than seventy million people - whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year [in 1971]. They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. 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."[4]

[edit] Views and approach

Alinsky was a critic of mainstream liberalism, which he considered passive and ineffective. In Rules for Radicals, he argued that the most effective means are whatever will achieve the desired ends, and that an intermediate end for radicals should be democracy because of its relative ease to work within to achieve other ends of social justice. In 1969, he was awarded the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.

[edit] Legacy

The documentary The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy,[5] claims that "Alinsky championed new ways to organize the poor and powerless that created a backyard revolution in cities across America." Many important community and labor organizers came from the "Alinsky School," including Ed Chambers and Tom Gaudette. Alinsky formed the Industrial Areas Foundation in 1940. Chambers became its Executive Director after Alinsky died. Since its formation, hundreds of professional community and labor organizers and thousands of community and labor leaders have attended its workshops. Fred Ross, who worked for Alinsky, was the principal mentor for Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.[6][7] In Hillary Clinton's senior honors thesis at Wellesley College, Clinton noted that Alinsky's personal efforts were a large part of his method.[8] She later noted that although she agreed with his notion of self-empowernment she disagreed with his assessment that the system could only change from the outside.[8] In her memoir, Living History, Hillary Clinton wrote that Alinsky offered her a job after she graduated from Wellesley College, but she chose instead to attend Yale Law School.

Alinsky's teachings influenced Barack Obama in his early career as a community organizer on the far South Side of Chicago.[7][8] Working for Gerald Kellman's Developing Communities Project, Obama learned and taught Alinsky's methods for community organizing.[7] Several prominent national leaders have been influenced by Alinsky's teachings,[7] including Ed Chambers,[5] Tom Gaudette, Michael Gecan, Wade Rathke,[9][10] Patrick Crowley,[11] and Barack Obama.[12]

Alinsky is often credited with laying the foundation for the grassroots political organizing that dominated the 1960s.[5] Later in his life he encouraged stockholders in public corporations to lend their votes to "proxies", who would vote at annual stockholders meetings in favor of social justice. While his grassroots style took hold in American activism, his call to stockholders to share their power with disenfranchised working poor only began to take hold in U.S. progressive (social liberalism) circles in the 1990s, when shareholder actions were organized against American corporations.

One interesting quote from Alinsky was as follows:

"Rules for Radicals" begins with an unusual tribute: "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."

Again, his views on power:

Alinsky advises his followers that the poor have no power and that the real target is the middle class: "Organization for action will now and in the decade ahead center upon America's white middle class. That is where the power is. ... Our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and the way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized and corrupt. They are right; but we must begin from where we are if we are to build power for change, and the power and the people are in the middle class majority."

[edit] Published works

[edit] Biographies and works on Alinsky

  • Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky: His Life and Legacy, by Sanford D. Horwitt, (1989) Alfred Knopf, ISBN 039457243-; Vintage Books paperback: ISBN 067973418X
  • The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy, 1999, Chicago Video Project, co-produced by Bruce Orenstein.
  • The Professional Radical: Conversations with Saul Alinsky by Marion K. Sanders, (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).
  • The Love Song of Saul Alinsky, by Tony-nominee Herb Schapiro, originally produced in Chicago in 1998 by Terrapin Theatre, directed by Pam Dickler and with Gary Houston as Alinsky. Script has since been published by Samuel French: ISBN 9780573651298

[edit] In pop culture

The 2006 album The Avalanche by Sufjan Stevens includes a song, titled "The Perpetual Self, Or 'What Would Saul Alinsky Do?'". The 2006 album The Sufferer & the Witness by Rise Against includes an excerpt from the book in the back of the CD case. The 2005 album It's Time to Decide by At All Cost includes a song titled "The Return" which mentions Saul Alinsky and Allen Ginsberg's contributions to radical revolution.

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Alinsky, Saul David", New Catholic Encyclopedia. Catholic University of America. 2nd ed. 15 vols. Gale, 2003.
  2. ^ a b Barash, David (2002). Peace and Conflict. Sage Publications. ISBN 9780761925071. 
  3. ^ Horwitt, Sanford D. (1989). Let them call me rebel: Saul Alinsky, his life and legacy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 3–9. ISBN 0-394-57243-2. 
  4. ^ a b Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky
  5. ^ a b c "The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy". 1939-07-14. Retrieved on 2009-02-26. 
  6. ^ A Trailblazing Organizer's Organizer by Dick Meister
  7. ^ a b c d For Clinton and Obama, a Common Ideological Touchstone by Peter Slevin, The Washington Post, 2007-03-25
  8. ^ a b c "NPR Democrats and the Legacy of Activist Saul Alinsky All Things Considered, May 21, 2007". 2007-05-21. Retrieved on 2009-02-26. 
  9. ^ "Rural Communities by Cornelia Butler Flora, Jan L. Flora, Susan Fey, page 335". Retrieved on 2009-02-26. 
  10. ^ "A Community Organizing Organization". ACORN. Retrieved on 2009-02-26. 
  11. ^ Jerzyk, Matt (2009-02-21). "Rhode Island's Future". Retrieved on 2009-02-26. 
  12. ^ "Barack Obama: How He Did It | Newsweek Politics: Campaign 2008". Retrieved on 2009-02-26. 

[edit] External links

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