Total Pageviews

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saul Alinsky: Teacher of Community Organizers

Barack Obama’s Teacher, Saul David Alinsky
by Nadene Goldfoot

In either 1889 or 1895, Benjamin Alinsky immigrated from Vilna, Lithuania, now Russia, for the United States . He was a tailor. He was Jewish, 29 years old and headed for the Jewish community in Chicago, Illinois. He had met and married Hannah in 1896, a Jewish girl who was born in New York.

On June 8, 1900, I find Benjamin and Hannah Alinsky in Chicago in the 7th Ward. He was 30 years old and Hannah was 28. They had had two boys; Harry age 2, born July 1897 and Max 8 months was born in Sept 1899 or 15 Oct 1898. Benjamin was naturalized in 1910 and was then a citizen. Reading the records makes me realize how difficult it was for the immigrants to understand questions in English, as I keep getting some off-beat answers.

Later, I see that on Jan 7, 1920, Ben is still in Chicago, now 49 years old, and has his own tailor shop. However, Hannah must have died as he is now married to Sarah Rice who is twenty years younger than he is. She was also born in Russia. They have one son living with them; Saul D. Alinsky, born January 30, 1909. They were living on 12th Street or Roosevelt Road in the 13th ward. It makes me wonder if Hannah and her two boys hadn’t died in some accident or disease. This means that something had happened to them before 1908. Saul has spoken about how he was influenced by his mother, Sarah Rice, a great deal, so I imagine she was his birth mother. "She taught him that...individuals [must] be responsible for other individuals and that you can't just walk away when you see something that's not right."
"Then I found Max at age 19 registering for the WWI Draft on September 19, 1918. He was tall and slender, working as a timekeeper for the railroad.
Later, I find that Benjamin died on April 26, 1952 in Los Angeles, CA.

Education is vitally important to Jewish families, so Sol went to the University of Chicago in the field of criminology. He studied and was around the Capone gang. He developed his ideology and concepts of mass organization and work in organizing the poor which are internationally recognized, and felt that crime was born from being so poor. If anyone has read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, you know about the horrific working conditions in the Union Stock Yards of Chicago of that era. When I read the book, I was horrified by the condition of our meat supply from the Chicago Stockyards, as my father was also born in 1908 and was a meat packer.
In the 1930's, Alinsky organized the Back of the Yards neighborhood and went on to found the Industrial Area Foundation while organizing the Woodlawn neighborhood, which trained organizers and helped in the founding of community organization around the country.

In 1971 he published his final work, Rules for Radicals. Then he died the next year. In that book he addressed the 60's generation of radicals, relating his views on organizing for mass power. He wrote," What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be." It is said that Alinsky championed new ways to organize the poor and powerless that created a backyard revolution in cities across America.

Cesar Chavez and Barack Obama were students of his labor organizing. Alinsky was the subject of Hillary Rodham’s senior honors thesis at Wellesley College. She commented on Alinsky’s charm, but said that one of the problems of his model is that the removal of Alinsky dramatically alters its composition. She agreed with some of his ideas, mainly the value of empowering people to help themselves. She disagreed with his saying that you could change the system only from the outside. Diane Alden in 2003 called Alinsky a Marxist grassroots organizer. Others said, "He was a compassionate social reformer of magnitude and wisdom and brought together community groups to work with the socially aware churches."

He published "Reveille for Radicals 1946, 1969 and Rules for Radicals, a Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.1971. He was explaining how to be an agitator.

"The agitator's job, according to Alinsky, is first to bring folks to the "realization" that they are indeed miserable, that their misery is the fault of unresponsive governments or greedy corporations, then help them to bond together to demand what they deserve, and to make such an almighty stink that the dastardly governments and corporations will see imminent "self-interest" in granting whatever it is that will cause the harassment to cease."

"It is a fact that activist-cum senator Barack Hussein Obama started off his career as an activist with a position as a community organizer for the Developing Communities Project (DCP) of the Calumet Community Religious conference (CCRC) in Chicago. Both the CCRC and the DCP were built on the Alinsky model of community agitation, wherein paid organizers learned, in Alinsky’s own words, how to "rub raw the sores of discontent" stated David Alinsky, his son.

Therefore, Barack Obama has learned some of his very persuasive skills as a community organizer from the son of a Jewish tailor. He was only 25 years old when he started this position. Though Alinsky called his book or materials "radical," Obama simply read them. That doesn't make him radical or untrustworthy.
When he has talked about being a "Community Organizer," I had a completely different idea about what he was doing. I thought he was more like a counselor, helping people to get jobs or skills. I had no idea that it involved such ideas. Obama might become president of the USA, and Cesar Chavez supporters have been pushing for a major street in Portland to be named for him.
Wikipedia, 1900, 1920 census.
edited 9/21/08 8:42pm. read on 7/28/09 from Steve

1 comment:

Nadene Goldfoot said...

Hello Nadine,

My sister recently recommended that I read-up on Saul Alinsky and in doing so, I came upon your post. I though you might care to read an interview with him in Playboy?

Best wishes,
Sent to me via my email. Glad to see someone read my article and added to my knowledge, too. Nadene