Saul David Alinsky, pictured below, was for many years one of this country’s premiere hell-raisers.  He was a social activist, who organized Chicago’s Back of the Yards area, which you may remember was the subject of Upton Sinclair’s muckraking novel, The Jungle. He organized the African-American community in Rochester, New York, and in doing so all but declared war on Eastman Kodak.  He likewise organized the barrios of California. In addition to his activism, he established and ran a school, the Industrial Areas Foundation, to train community organizers. Barack Obama, after graduating from Harvard as a fledgling attorney, enrolled in the school to learn the art of community organizing.  Hillary Clinton was equally influenced by Alinsky, writing her senior honor’s thesis at Wellesley College on aspects of his thought.  The man died in 1972, but not before sharing many pearls of wisdom.   

You’re probably shocked that I of all people am fascinated with Alinsky, since he’s associated with Far Left politics.  It's true that I’ve nothing but contempt for that end of the political spectrum and for those reflecting it.  

Alinsky was without doubt a leftist who’s remembered, in part, for the causes that he supported during his lifetime.  But, in a larger sense, those causes in those times do not define his thought.  His Rules for Radicals transcends his particular circumstances, much like Sun-Tzu’s The Art of Warfare and Karl von Clausewitz’s On War transcend theirs. Alinsky has valuable insights to share with anyone who’s concerned about community, power, and tactics by which to make things happen. 

Those of us who love traditional American culture and who see it crumbling before our eyes could do well to listen to the man and, not only that, to pay close attention to him.  We are part of a dwindling majority. “Why is that?” you ask.  The shameful answer is that we have been unforgivably passive. Edmund Burke responded to this best when he emphasized: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

Alinsky himself classified the world into three groups of individuals: the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Do-Nothings.  It's the last group that should especially concern you and me. These people are the ones who may agree that the nation is free-falling into an abyss. They may go to church every Sunday. They may have followed the rules, worked hard, and now enjoy a certain level of comfort. They may have donated money to the their local Tea Party.  They may emphasize in private conversation that it's time to act. But – now heed these words -- when any particular suggestion is made calling for action, they remain inert. Alinsky encountered these folks all the time, and here’s what he says about them: “They abstain from and discourage all effective action for change . . . . They function as blankets whenever possible smothering sparks of dissension that promise to flare up into the fire of action.  These Do-Nothings appear publicly as good men, humanitarian, concerned with justice and dignity.  In practice they are invidious.”  

I've tried to understand this phenomenon. The problem, I think, is that many of us feel disempowered.  We think that our elected officials in Washington, D.C. (and elsewhere!) don’t pay attention to us. The truth is that they don’t! John McCain thinks that he knows better than his constituents.  Lindsey Graham is cut from the same bolt of cloth and thinks the same. (That’s why both men now favor a war few Americans desire to fight and an immigration bill that the Heritage Foundation and others believe will, if enacted, have disastrous effects.)  "Conservative" senators like these are a big part of the problem.  One friend recently confided to me, “Sure, I hate what’s going on, but I’m powerless to do anything about it.” So, naturally, he has tuned out politics and, instead, spends his time playing golf every day. Who can blame him? I don’t fault him or anyone else for saying "to hell with" a process in which he has no voice.  This is, sadly, all too characteristic of our current political situation. As Alinsky explained, it's a human defense mechanism for us to become insensitive to problems when we believe there’s nothing we can do to solve them. 

But distachment and paralysis are the Right’s greatest adversaries. If we keep telling ourselves that there's nothing we can do to rehabilitate America and its culture, I guarantee that there'll be no other recourse. We'll give up, and all will in fact be lost.

The truth must be told: you and I can still make a difference.  We can turn things around.  The numbers remain, at least for the time being, on our side.  But we must organize our efforts, and we must be willing to roll up our sleeves and to fight like hell!  “Oh, but I have a business to run!”  “If people see me involved politically like this, I will lose friends and clients.” “I’m waiting on the Rapture.” “This is just not my style.” Every excuse in the world is offered by Do-Nothings. They always find a way to try to defeat the effort and to defeat themselves. Jesus cautioned us about these people: "Leave the dead to bury the dead."  

The burning conviction is growing in me that, if we don’t like the self-centeredness and deaf ears of elected officials, then we should organize and throw the bums out?  Why not put a Ted Cruz or a Mike Lee in McCain’s and Graham’s places? If we don't like the Hollywood culture, why not organize, exert enormous pressure against it, and change it?  If we despise what's happening to our public schools, colleges, and universities, why be victims and simply accept it? Passive resignation is  a combination of cowardice, selfishness, and laziness. Some so-called Christians are perhaps the biggest offenders there are.  They are Do-Nothings. Their being content to remain on the sidelines is about weakness, not strength. If their pastors had any courage, they would remind these members of their respective flocks that the Christian life is about involvement in the mud and the blood of life, not merely about attending fellowship dinners, participating in stewardship campaigns, and listening to "safe" sermons possessing not an ounce of immediacy.   

One of the characteristics of Progressivism during the first thirty years of the twentieth century was to save humanity from evil in the market place.  Laissez faire capitalism was considered the arch enemy.  This Progressive goal paved the way for government encroachment into people’s lives, evidenced by countless regulations that came to govern them.  "Big Brother" is what it's called. A well-travelled road between government and corporate industry was thereby formed, such that now a “revolving door” exists between the two. It’s called the “corporate state,” and it is a form of soft tyranny. Corporations, with their tentacles into government, have enriched their coffers considerably, especially in times of war. Theirs have been the primary, maybe the only, voices heard in contemporary politics for the last forty years.

Toward the end of Alinsky’s life he increasingly thought of organizing the middle class against bloodless, avaricious corporations.  He believed, and I think correctly so, that corporate America is about one thing and one thing alone: huge profits. The pursuit of corporate self-interest is ruthless and just as short-sighted. It makes no difference to a corporate chieftain whether he pollutes the environment, manufactures weapons of mass destruction, hires thousands of illegal aliens, refuses to honor the Pledge of Allegiance at shareholder meetings, exports jobs overseas throwing thousands of Americans out of work, dismantles public transportation systems to sell automobiles, and decimates communities in a myriad other ways. His paramount goal – no, his only goal -- is money.  “I have on occasion remarked,” Alinsky mused, “that I feel confident that I could persuade a millionaire on a Friday to subsidize a revolution for Saturday out of which he would make a huge profit on Sunday even though he was certain to be executed on Monday.” 

Alinsky invites us to consider what would happen if thousands of corporate proxies, by their assignment, wound up in a single organization. I’m intrigued by this prospect, and you should be too.  Organizing the middle class is the way this and many other great initiatives might begin.  We deceive ourselves to think that we aren’t involved in a war.  We also deceive ourselves when we believe that we can do nothing to win it. 

The Right Wing needs to pay attention to Saul Alinsky.  In fact, it needs its own Alinsky!

September 8, 2013