Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saul Alinsky Didn't Believe in Breaking Windows

As many of my posts do, this started with a simple story. In this case, it was about political vandalism. But I began considering the background and one thing led to another and then another. So this essay kind of grew, like Topsy. A post that ought to have taken a quick few minutes wound up being a much longer journey with lots of side-trips. Humor me, and just pretend you’re taking a puppy for a walk.

To complicate things, the carpenter came by halfway through my essay to show me the results of a brown recluse spider bite he got out near our shed the other day. Mark is on some heavy-duty antibiotics and will be recuperating for awhile. Even though he assures me he’ll recover, there’s nothing like looking at one of those things to cramp your writing style, not to mention ki-boshing your motivation.

By sheer determination, I finished this thing. If it doesn’t make sense entirely, I won’t be surprised. However, I request that you refrain from pointing this out.

Thank you.

Alinsky was a relatively tame radical: from what I remember of his book (long lost by now), and his speech in Wellesley (where Hillary was a student and I a lowly townie). Alinsky said he believed in making the comfortable uneasy enough to be able to see the wisdom in changing their ways.

I never read or heard him advocate violent means to an end, though some may argue the point about his “Assault by Bean Digestion” against Kodak in Rochester, New York. Since he eschewed violent or illegal means, he had to be creative. And one of his absolutes was that he did not go into a community until he was invited by those who were dissatisfied with their own attempts to appeal to the pols who ran things. In Rochester, “the pols who ran things” were all puppets of Eastman Kodak, for that was the Big Cheese in town.

One of the principal reasons our Fearless-if-Feckless Leader is not a real Alinsky disciple is that he and his followers trample on Alinsky’s core beliefs all the time.

Rochester wasn’t one of Alinsky’s more successful efforts, but it sure was funny. I remember laughing out loud when I read his description of one venue: the attack on East Kodak in one of its prime lairs, the Rochester Symphony Orchestra.

What, you think the oppressed showed up with baseball bats and smashed all the musical instruments? Feh. Alinsky was far more subtle than that. What he did was instruct his organizers and the unhappy residents to buy tickets for the Symphony. Before attending each performance, the infiltrators were to eat large amounts of reconstituted dried beans. Lots and lots of beans, a larger amount that their digestive tracts would be able to digest without copious amounts of gases erupting into the cavernous enclosure of the Symphony Hall.

In other words, make the enemy uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. But do so silently and without raising a finger, Instead, have the city fathers looking at one another accusingly.

Did it work? No, not immediately. But Alinsky was a gradualist.

Did Alinsky build bridges between the factions of the poor fighting for a seat at the table? I’m not sure. He often focused on the group which invited him. In Rochester’s blacks vs. Eastman Kodak, he worked mostly with F.I.G.H.T. (Freedom-Integration-God-Honor-Today - how’s that for an anachronistic name?).

You can read part of the story here [pdf]. This is a good account for several reasons: it shows the blindness of the white community, which was justly proud of its civic commitments to the city and its almost total ignorance of the large post-Second World War influx of uneducated Southern blacks which the city failed to educate or to integrate. Housing was strictly segregated and whatever was set aside for blacks was of inferior quality and more expensive. The city as a whole had a single-digit unemployment rate while the black population struggled with a 14% level of joblessness.

But most of white Rochester didn’t notice. Blacks were a numerical minority. They were stuck safely away in their ghettoes with substandard housing and education.

It took a long time for Eastman Kodak to get the message, but they did. Finally. And Alinsky had a hand in that.

Today, though, like many New York cities, Rochester is caught in the economic slide. Jobs have decreased by more than twenty-five percent since 2007; given the flight from New York by businesses due to the state’s confiscatory tax rate, things will only get worse. Eastman Kodak has grown with the times, however. Ebony magazine listed E.K. as one of the top forty “diversity” employers, and E.K. has moved into the global arena, with plants in places as far-flung as Israel.

You will hear a lot of talk about Obama’s link to Alinsky. That’s all it is: talk.
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The Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago is Mr. Alinsky’s heir. And while it is true that our Obama studied with them briefly before leaving for law school, there isn’t much mutual respect between the two.

There was a fork in the road and Obama took the wrong turn. Instead of aligning himself with the non-socialist Industrial Areas Foundation, Obama decided that the Woods Fund, where his pal, unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers was already on the Board of Directors, would serve as a better platform from which to launch his political ambitions than the more conservative IAF, which Alinsky founded and which his philosophical heirs still run.

Here’s some background on Alinsky’s political philosophy, just in case you hear his name invoked by the skulduggerous ACORNS:

The IAF’s Edward Chambers [said] that scarcely any act in ACORN’s three-ring circus of urban radicalism would have met with the approval of Alinsky… “They take other people’s money instead of raising it from the people they’re organizing,” said Chambers. “They take federal money, money from foundations, and it corrupts them.” The IAF insists that any organization that wants to affiliate with IAF--and benefit from IAF’s training--come up with its own money, money voluntarily donated by people who believe in the group’s causes so fervently that they are willing to dip into their own pockets to pay for it. “We work a lot with churches, with unions,” said Chambers. “They hire their own organizers, and they hold them accountable. And we never endorse political candidates.”

Indeed Alinsky himself was a far more complex and idiosyncratic figure than either his disciples or his ideological opponents (who assume that his last book, Rules for Radicals, published in 1971, was all about turning yourself into another Abbie Hoffman) typically admit. Alinsky, a self-styled radical who studied at the University of Chicago and began his professional career as a union organizer, was widely accused of being a Communist, but was in fact vehemently anti-Communist. Later on, during the 1960s, he was as much a foe of Lyndon Johnson’s big-spending War on Poverty as he was of conservatives. He also detested the 1960s New Left for its antinomian cultural hedonism and its insistence on smashing the “system,” as they termed it. Alinsky believed genuine radicals ought to work within for change. “Alinsky believed that the liberal welfare state led to dependency, and that people should stand up for themselves and have the confidence to assert their own interests,” said Peter Skerry, a political scientist at Boston College.


Because the IAF insists that its affiliates rely on grassroots contributions, not outside grants, its projects tend to be strictly local and relatively small-bore, centered around liberal Protestant and Catholic churches and their members. One of the most successful has been the Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), a consortium of churches, founded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1974. COPS, the brainchild of the IAF-trained Ernesto Cortes Jr., is credited with giving political clout to San Antonio’s Mexican-Americans, who had lived in the city for decades but who had enjoyed little power under the city’s Anglo majority. Another successful IAF project is the Nehemiah Houses, which over the past 20 years has built nearly 4,000 moderate-income homes on once-desolate parcels of city-owned land in New York City. Nehemiah requires its buyers to demonstrate their commitment to home-ownership via modest but not negligible down payments, and so its projects have generally escaped the foreclosure blight that easier borrowing has brought to other low-income neighborhoods in recent years.

Some IAF undertakings, such as a successful 1994 effort to have the city of Baltimore hire only contractors who paid their employees a higher-than-minimum “living wage”--a cause later picked up by ACORN in other cities--aren’t likely to appeal to free-market conservatives who believe that the net effect of such measures is to increase unemployment by eliminating low-wage entry level jobs. Still, the IAF’s organizational emphasis on personal responsibility and commitment cannot help but resonate. “Alinsky never tried to organize the really poor; he never tried to organize welfare mothers, who are pretty hard to organize, as you might imagine; he always focused on people who had a little but wanted more,” said Skerry, whose 1993 Mexican Americans, the Ambivalent Minority told the story of Cortes and COPS.

Hardly Obama’s style. No wonder he was pulled into the orbit of the Woods Fund.

It is the Woods Fund that gave ACORN its big push. As everyone knows by now, ACORN is being investigated in any number of states for its financial “improprieties” and charges of massive voter fraud. These investigations have been public knowledge for a long time. The Weekly Standard outlined some of the details in a follow-up to a New York Times story last year (from the same essay that had background on Alinsky):

ACORN has a contract with Project Vote to conduct voter-registration drives using ACORN employees, who initially claimed to have signed up 1.3 million new voters at a cost of $16 million, then lowered that figure to around 450,000 (according to an October 23 New York Times story) after eliminating fraudulent registrations, duplicates, and incomplete forms. The internal report, by Washington lawyer Elizabeth Kingsley, pointed out that until very recently, Project Vote’s executive director, Zach Pollett, was also ACORN’s political director. (Pollett resigned from Project Vote in July but continues to work for the charity as a consultant via another ACORN affiliate.) Furthermore, the report noted, Project Vote has had only one independent director (who served only briefly) throughout its entire tax-exempt history. The rest of the board has consisted entirely of ACORN staffers plus two dues-paying ACORN members. Some of them told Strom they had no idea they were on the Project Vote board, which, like the boards of many ACORN affiliates, met seldom, if ever, and failed to keep minutes.

The potential for abuse in an interlocking arrangement governed top-down from New Orleans is as obvious as a thicket of “Change” signs at an Obama rally. ACORN’s using Project Vote to trawl for voters for ACORN-backed candidates--such as, um, Barack Obama--would be a clear violation of the IRS’s ban on partisan activity by a charity, as Kingsley noted in her report. Strom pointed out that ACORN is already facing demands for back taxes from the IRS and “various state tax authorities.”

Which brings us to today’s report on the vandalization of Democrat Headquarters in Colorado. The culprits smashed in eleven windows, desecrating posters of The One.

You can imagine the outcry:

Early Tuesday, Democratic Party chairwoman Pat Waak said the damage to her building in Denver’s art district was a consequence of “an effort on the other side to stir up hate.”

Of course it was. Those Tea Party members and those infamously rowdy Republicans just wanted to make trouble…

[Ms. Waak] tempered her statement after Schwenkler’s political history was revealed.

Can you say “backtrack so fast you couldn’t see her contrails?” Here’s what Ms. Waak-o really meant:

“What I’ve been saying is there is a lot of rhetoric out there from both sides of the spectrum,” Waak said. “That’s what’s been disturbing to me. People are saying a lot of things not appropriate for civil discourse.”

So what was the perp’s “political history”? He’s a Democrat who likes to break windows and the law in the greater cause of justice for all, while being paid by the Dems:

One of two people suspected of shattering 11 windows Tuesday morning at the state Democratic Party headquarters has an arrest record and a history of helping a Democratic political candidate, public records show.

Police said that about 2:20 a.m., 24-year-old Maurice Schwenkler, now in custody, and an at-large accomplice took a hammer to the picture windows displaying posters touting President Barack Obama and his health care reform efforts.

But this is not his first offense. He was in trouble in Minnesota during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Back then he was charged with unlawful assembly and went to jail. In fact, this guy gets paid for being a Democrat activist:

Schwenkler received $500 in November 2008 to walk door-to-door in support of Democrat Mollie Cullom, who lost her race to Republican state Rep. David Balmer of Centennial.


Schwenkler was one of dozens of paid canvassers bankrolled by the Colorado Citizens’ Coalition, a political 527 committee.

Schwenkler has worked for Democratic causes. (per Denver Police Department) funded by labor groups and well-known, wealthy liberal donors.

In those disclosures, Schwenkler’s address is listed as Derailer Bicycle Cooperative, a free community bicycle collective that operates just around the corner from the Democratic headquarters. Multiple volunteers at the collective declined to discuss Schwenkler, though they said he was affiliated with the group.

Balmer said he suspects the vandalism might have been aimed at making the GOP look bad.

“This sounds like the type of Democratic tactic from the left fringe trying to make Republicans look mean-spirited,” Balmer said. “In this case, it blew up in their face. He was caught red-handed.”

Schwenkler allegedly tried to conceal his identity while committing the crime by wearing a shirt over his face, a hooded sweat shirt and latex gloves, according to police descriptions.

Here’s the best part of the story of this loser:

When a Denver police officer on patrol spotted two people smashing windows, the suspects fled on bicycles.

As long as those ACORN operatives are busy busting things, we’re safe. When the house of cards that Obi Wan built out of czars and tax-cheats comes a-tumbling down, they may need those oaken bicycles to get out of town. By then, the energy companies will have switched to “green” alternatives and there won’t be enough environmentally correct cars to carry all the miscreants to safety.

Unless, of course, they have their own gasoline supply somewhere? Nah…this group has too much integrity for such plutocracy. After all, what would Al Gore say? [Not what would he do, we already know that. But what would he say??]


AllenG said...

About the "Obama not an Alinskyite." Would you say that, for instance, John Kerry is not a Catholic?

Just because his views are different in (many) specifics does not mean he didn't learn from the Master Radical. Alinsky may not have advocated lawlessness and thugery, but Rules for Radicals certainly has influenced Duh One. Just as all Catholics can't be judged by John Kerry, neither can all Alinskyites be judged by Barak Obama. That doesn't mean he isn't one.

Zenster said...

A post that ought to have taken a quick few minutes wound up being a much longer journey with lots of side-trips.

This reminds me very little of how Blaise Pascal said:

"I would not have made this so long except that I do not have the leisure to make it shorter."

Alinsky said he believed in making the comfortable uneasy enough to be able to see the wisdom in changing their ways.

Golly gee whillikers, what about the "comfortable" who have EARNED that comfort by the sweat of their brow? How are they supposed to be "changing their ways"?

But do so silently and without raising a finger ...

Er, don't you mean pulling a finger?

Blacks were a numerical minority. They were stuck safely away in their ghettoes with substandard housing and education.

Which would, all too frequently, involve those same Blacks winding up in Federally subsidized sub-standard housing with sub-standard edumahcation being provided by America's worst enemies.

American liberals aren't the only ones who somehow manage to impale themselves upon the Law of Unintended Consequences™. Still, the Democratic party seems to make a regualar habit out of this otherwise avoidable self-injury.

Anonymous said...

The bean thing didn't actually happen. Alinsky figured that the dispossessed of Rochester would be too uncomfortable attending the symphony and being surrounded by annoyed rich people, and so would bail before things started to heat up. Always stay within the comfort zone of the people you're organizing, that's one of the Rules.

Dymphna said...


Well, I heard him say it. If he backed off of that later, the word never got down this far.

And I disagree that the leaders of F.I.G.H.T. in Rochester would have been out of their comfort zone. They had been promised a lot by Eastman Kodak and all the promises had been broken.

Zenster, you're on the wrong track. This was pre-LBJ's big give-away that created an aggrieved, entitled underclass. They really were fighting for a foot in the door.

This was back when the Republicans were looked to for help because the Dems didn't care. After the former finally triumphed with the Equal Rights' Act, the Dems started up with their "War" on Poverty; they bought the black vote.

Except for a valiant, intelligent few that has remained the case.

Dymphna said...

@Allen G

About the "Obama not an Alinskyite." Would you say that, for instance, John Kerry is not a Catholic?

John Kerry is a cafeteria Catholic of the worst type. He sold his Catholic credentials for the vote. How like a Democrat!

So Obama read Alinsky? That doesn't mean he hasn't and won't continue to violate his tenets. Alinsky believed in Thomas Paine, and he loathed the welfare state. He believed that people ought to help themselves and that government ought to keep out of the way.

Whatever point you were making is way off the mark.

spackle said...

As to the uneducated blacks coming up from the south post ww2. I thought the great migration happened during LBJ's time? What I always found interesting about that time period before forced integration and during the great black southern migration was that most northern blacks were educated, had their own thriving businesses, schools, churches and communities. Even a lot of the beat cops were black. And the northern blacks hated the southern blacks for reasons today are considered stereotypical. Was it perfect then? No. But it was a Hell of a lot better then it is today in my view.

ZZMike said...

".. our Fearless-if-Feckless Leader ..."

Good one. I'll be referring to the President as "Boris" (for the newly-arrived on the planet, see "the Bullwinkle Show".)

"... the infiltrators were to eat large amounts of reconstituted dried beans ..."

Definitely not a Pythagorean.

Overall, thanks for giving a more details account of Alinsky than most of us have.