Saul Alinsky’s vision: Grass Roots Community Organization vs. Big Government

David Bedein, who holds a master’s degree in community organization social work from Yeshiva University (1980), studied with Saul Alinsky at the Free University of the University of Wisconsin forty years ago, shortly before moving to Israel.

In Israel, David has applied the Alinsky ideas of grass roots community organization to help the Jerusalem Black Panthers in their early stages, helped form activist community theatre groups in Tel Aviv neighborhoods and, in 1977, and pioneered “the Saul Alinsky brigade to Israel as part of his effort to bring more community organizers to Israeli communities. In 1983, David translated sections of Rules for Rules for Radicals into Hebrew for community organizers throughout Israel. As the founder of an unconventional media firm in 1987, which continues to this day, Alinsky’s principles play prominently in the counsel that David has given to grass roots groups of all kinds.

Since US President Obama studied with Saul Alinsky’s foundation and with some of Alinsky’s students, people around the world want to know how Alinsky may have impacted upon Obama,

There are those who compare Alinsky tactics to the methods that Obama uses, with claims that Obama’s policies derive manipulative methods derived from Rules for Radicals, which Saul Alinsky wrote in the last year of his life.

However, to understand Saul Alinsky as primordial model of community organization, you must review Reveille For Radicals, the best seller that Alinsky wrote in 1945 and also peruse The Radical Vision of Saul Alinsky, written in 1984, 12 years after his death, to discern that Alinsky’s vision ranged far beyond tactics, in order to understand the value that Alinsky saw in bottom up organizing – and not in top down dictates from centralized governmental bodies.

At a young age, Alinsky set out to study the power of organized crime in his home town of Chicago, because he wanted to know how the mob had become so effective in their sway over people. That is where Alinsky discovered the power of a community-based grass roots organization.

Alinsky’s theme was to empower people – not governments – because public institutions, in Alinsky’s view, only want to perpetuate themselves.

Alinsky resented the Great Society’s anti-poverty program of the 1960’s, and was often called on to help to create grass roots reconciliation community based organizations in riot-torn neighborhoods awash with federal money yet severely lacking in community organizations that allowed people to cooperate with one another.

Alinsky was acutely aware of the religious influence over communities, and spent a good part of his time courting priests and ministers of local parishes, and was eventually recognized by the highest levels of the Vatican as an asset to offset competitive street organizing of local communists

Alinsky feared any organization that grew too big, consistently warned against “organizational institutionalism”

Alinsky also warned against the standard training taught to community organizers who were not committed to changing the system. For that reason, the social work establishment fought and resented Alinsky, tooth and nail.

Alinsky’s efforts focused instead on the grass roots, and consistently veered from the extreme left and feared the violent tactics of the “weatherman”, and always stated that that he wanted to be a radical – not a revolutionary.

Alinsky differentiated between the training of an organizer and the orientation of a leader.

Always claimed that the purpose of an organizer is not to bestow leaders with a permanent situation of leadership.

Alinsky trained organizers – not leaders. Alinsky would not allow himself or any other community organizer under his tutelage to run for political office. As a man of principle, Alinsky could not have been elected dog catcher.

Alinsky taught that the organizer wants to facilitate power for others, warning that the leader only wants power for himself. That is the basic difference between the leader and the organizer. The leader wants power for himself. The organizer’s goal is to create power for others to use.

Alinsky always sought feedback from people – Not from organizations. That is his motto in training community organizers – forcing organizations to act on principle, even if they never intended to do so.

Alinsky commented that existing organizations will always resent the radical organizer and always feared that agencies would create leaders – not organizers.

Alinsky also recognized the power of evil and the demons of anti-Semitism.

Alinsky placed the ovens of Dachau on his desk, next to his typewriter.

Shortly before his death at age 63 in 1972, Alinsky was witness to a model of his legacy – in Rochester, New York, where more than 100 community based organizations had sprung up, geared to empower local residents of all walks of life,… a community based model which Rochester residents attributed to his inspiration.


Given the approach of Alinsky which suspected and rejected large enterprises of any kind, it would be appropriate to use Alinsky criteria to take a dispassionate look at the career of Barak Obama.

During Obama’s experience as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama adhered to Alinsky principles. Writing After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois, in the 1990 edition of Illinois Issues, published University of Illinois at Springfield), Obama relied on his c.o. experience in the Chicago streets when he wrote at the time that

“Community organizing provides a way to merge various strategies for neighborhood empowerment. Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and money around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership – and not one or two charismatic leaders – can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions. This means bringing together churches, block clubs, parent groups and any other institutions in a given community to pay dues, hire organizers, conduct research, develop leadership, hold rallies and education cam­paigns, and begin drawing up plans on a whole range of issues – jobs, education, crime, etc. Once such a vehicle is formed, it holds the power to make politicians, agencies and corporations more responsive to commu­nity needs. Equally important, it enables people to break their crippling isolation from each other, to reshape their mutual values and expectations and rediscover the possibilities of acting collaboratively – the prerequi­sites of any successful self-help initiative.

In other words, the initial Obama approach was consonant with Alinsky’s view – bottom-up organizing takes precedence over top-down organizing from the highest levels the top.

However, more than 20 years later, President Obama betrayed Alinsky’s warnings in the formation of Obama policies:




As Jim Geraghtu wrote in “The Alinsky Administration” (NRO online, May 14, 2009), that “Obama insists that he doesn’t want the government to run car companies, but he has fired CEOs, demonized bondholders, ensured the UAW gets the sweetest deal, and guaranteed warrantees. He insists that he doesn’t want to run banks, but his Treasury Department hesitates to take back some of the TARP funds that give them influence over bank policies. He’s critical of Wall Street, but he signed off on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s remarkably generous plan to give hedge funds and private investors a low-risk, high-reward option on toxic assets”

Meanwhile, a search of the Obama -initiated US Senate health bill will bring up “secretary” 2,500 times, awarding Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary with unprecedented new powers, including the authority to decide what medical care should be covered by insurers as well as the terms and conditions of coverage and who should receive it.

“It’s a huge amount of power being shifted to HHS, and much of it is highly discretionary,” said Edmund Haislmaier, an expert in health care policy and insurance markets at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

The Washington Post ads “ health care reform legislation would rely on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for recommendations as to what kind of screening and preventive care should be covered….The group, which operates under HHS, drew sharp criticism for advising that mammograms should begin at age 50, a decade later than the current standard”.

And as David Horowitz, noted, in his essay, Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolution -the Alinsky Model, that “More than 35 “Czars” controlling billions of dollars and making management decisions about everything from our auto industry to “green” jobs to urban development. These Czars answer to no one but Barack Obama!”

What Geraghtu and Horowitz write about is the antithesis of the Alinsky model.

Saul Alinsky, if he were alive today, would be organizing grass roots community organization protests against a centralized Obama administration.

The cardinal rule of Saul Alinsky was to fight the power of bureaucratized organizations and to fight for the little guy.

Alinksy trained a generation of community organizers to fight the power of any bureaucratized network.

And for those who claim that Alinsky was some kind of communist one need only to peruse the biography of Alinsky that was published by Paulist Press,
The Radical Vision of Saul Alinsky, to learn that the Catholic Church retained Alinsky’s services for the better part of forty years to fight the influence of the communist party both in the US and abroad.

Saul Alinsky would not have tolerated the centralized manipulations of an Obama Administration, not for one moment. The concluding sentence of THE RADICAL VISION OF SAUL ALINSKY says it all: He stood up for the little guy.

How can the Obama embrace of Alinsky therefore be understood?

To adapt an adage from Shakespeare, the devil can quote Alinsky for his purposes

David Bedein (born August 31, 1950) is an MSW, a community organizer by profession, a writer, and an investigative journalist. In 1987 he established the Israel Resource News Agency, with offices at the BeitAgronInt’lPressCenter in Jerusalem. He serves as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research. Mr. Bedein has also reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor RishonPhiladelphia InquirerJerusalem Post, and the Jewish World Review. For four years, Bedein was the Middle East correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered controversial Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Mr. Bedein is the author of Where Has All the Flour Gone? The Whims and Waste of UN Palestinian Refugee Policy. The book documents Bedein's years of investigative journalism focusing on the activities of UN agencies in Israel and the Middle East. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, in commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2010, the agency decided to focus on producing short movies, instead of monographs, and to film each aspect of the UNRWA investigations in a clear and cogent fashion. In that context, Bedein produced two documentary films on UNRWA: Inside the UNRWA Classroom and CampJihad in 2013 Bedein was active in the Israeli peace movement for over for 17 years. In the 1980s, Bedein went to Ethiopia as part of a delegation to investigate the impact of the famine on the Ethiopian Jewish community. Most recently, David Bedein's organization has developed Btselem Watch, with its own website whose purpose is to introduce professional criticism and feedback to leading organizations which are described as human rights groups that operate in the political domain. David has developed a speaker's bureau which is offering speeches and presentations, live or via Skype. Mr. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, the New Israel Fund, and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Mr. Bedein has also reported on all of these events and organizations at Under the Direction of David Bedein The Center for Near East Policy Research and have produced a number of investigative video productions. In July 2013 they released the film titled "Camp Jihad" allegedly showing activities and interviews in which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in its 'summer camps'. This was not the first time he dealt with this topic. UNRWA released an official rejection of these claims, claiming the summer camp shown, and the people involved are not affiliated with UNRWA. In a November 2013 meeting between US Secretary of State, John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, parts of this film were shown. A review of Bedein's new book, Roadblock to Peace How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, can be found here. Bedein has been involved in UNRWA Reform Initiative, which involves requests of donor nations to make reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein's legal counsel articulated these requested reforms in a letter to the British government DFID Agency which helps UNRWA.  In March 2014, Bedein participated in an informal panel at the British House of Commons with experts on UNRWA education. Since the publication of Bedein's book, Bedein has discovered several new findings concerning UNRWA, Islamic groups that fund UNRWA Jews killed the Palestinian Authority Christian Education Texts Used in UNRWA Schools UNRWA Child Death Cult Education.


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