ALINSKY vs. OBAMA
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.
OBAMA DOES ALINSKY
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:
1) THE “PUBLIC OPTION” IN THE CURRENT HEALTHCARE LEGISLATION–A GOVERNMENT AGENCY WHOSE PURPOSE IS TO DRIVE THE CURRENT HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY OUT OF BUSINESS. SOMEHOW ISRAEL MANAGES TO HAVE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE WITH NO “PUBLIC OPTION” AND HAVING FOUR PRIVATE INSURERS.
2) CAP & TRADE–THE ATTEMPT TO BUREAUCRATIZE OF THE ENERGY INDUSTRY AND IMPOSE A HUGE “CARBON TAX” DURING THE WORST ECONOMIC DOWNTURN IN 70 YEARS.
3) SEIZING CONTROL OF MONETARY POLICY FROM THE FEDERAL RESERVE AND PUTTING IT IN THE HANDS OF THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH–A SURE PRESCRIPTION FOR FUTURE HYPERINFLATION AND INABILITY TO REFLATE THE ECONOMY DURING RECESSIONS GOING FORWARD.
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