power comes in two forms–money and people
February 2, 2008 8:34 AM   Subscribe

1972 Playboy interview with Saul Alinsky
posted by generalist (13 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
He will be a large topic of conversation once the Republicans get a candidate. Both Clinton and Obama have ties to him.
posted by caddis at 9:33 AM on February 2, 2008

Rules for Radicals
posted by mike_bling at 9:49 AM on February 2, 2008

I love, love, love Saul Alinsky, despite all my skepticism about contemporary progressive politics. My favorite story (I believe it's in Rules, but it might be in Reveille) is when he was organizing a poor black neighborhood in Chicago. The big political and business leaders refused to make concessions, so Alinsky let the word get out that he was planning on taking all the lower-class blacks in his organization to the opera. The kicker? Before the outing, there was going to be a gala dinner of beans! You bet the powers that be folded pretty quick.
posted by nasreddin at 9:56 AM on February 2, 2008

PLAYBOY: Did you encounter much antiSemitism as a child?

ALINSKY: Not personally, but I was aware of it. It was all around us in those days. But it was so pervasive you didn't really even think about it; you just accepted it as a fact of life. The worst hostility was the Poles, and back in 1918 and 1919, when I was growing up, it amounted to a regular war. We had territorial boundaries between our neighborhoods, and if a Jewish girl strayed across the border, she'd be raped right on the street. Every once in a while, it would explode into full-scale rioting, and I remember when hundreds of Poles would come storming into our neighborhood and we'd get up on the roofs with piles of bricks and pans of boiling water and slingshots, just like a medieval siege. I had an air rifle myself. There'd be a bloody battle for blocks around and some people on both sides had real guns, so sometimes there'd be fatalities. It wasn't called an urban crisis then; it was just two groups of people trying to kill each other. Finally the cops would come on horses and in their clanging paddy wagons and break it up. They were all Irish and they hated both sides, so they'd crack Polish and Jewish heads equally. The melting pot in action.
posted by nasreddin at 9:58 AM on February 2, 2008

nasreddin et al–you might be interested in this, about the evolving IAF.
posted by generalist at 10:26 AM on February 2, 2008

oops, this
posted by generalist at 10:26 AM on February 2, 2008

Is the term 'paddy wagon' based on a racial slur?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:46 AM on February 2, 2008

Are you taking the mick?
posted by pracowity at 11:53 AM on February 2, 2008

Great stories here, thanks. I love me some old Playboy Q&A interviews.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:10 PM on February 2, 2008

This is great stuff. Alinsky's books -- Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals -- aren't that good, but when you get the guy actually talking, it's wonderful! The National Film Board's series on Alinsky, especially the Organizing for Change series, are the best introduction to his methods.
posted by CCBC at 1:11 PM on February 2, 2008

I've always enjoyed Alinsky. I got my whole Master's class abuzz with one of his quotes - I can't remember it verbatim, but it was about the fact the role of social workers was to get the poor to not only accept their life, but to like it. We had some great discussions after that. Thanks for the link; and as caddis notes, it is interesting to see the number of websites now referencing the Hillary/Obama and Alinsky links.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:18 PM on February 2, 2008

Mrs. Clinton's "ties" to Alinsky appear consist of her having written an article about him where Rodham commented on Alinsky's "charm," but rejected grassroots community organizing as outdated.

/me spits. No, you're outdated, Mrs. Clinton.

Rules for Radicals is one of the all-time great books about political organizing, I don't care what anyone says, just for the joy and inspiration value alone.

I have to post a prolonged quote from the article here: it's just too topical for words.

PLAYBOY: The assumption behind the Administration's Silent Majority thesis is that most of the middle class is inherently conservative. How can even the most skillful organizational tactics unite them in support of your radical goals?

ALINSKY: Conservative? That's a crock of crap. Right now they're nowhere. But they can and will go either of two ways in the coming years -- to a native American fascism or toward radical social change. Right now they're frozen, festering in apathy, leading what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation:" They're oppressed by taxation and inflation, poisoned by pollution, terrorized by urban crime, frightened by the new youth culture, baffled by the computerized world around them. They've worked all their lives to get their own little house in the suburbs, their color TV, their two cars, and now the good life seems to have turned to ashes in their mouths. Their personal lives are generally unfulfilling, their jobs unsatisfying, they've succumbed to tranquilizers and pep pills, they drown their anxieties in alcohol, they feel trapped in longterm endurance marriages or escape into guilt-ridden divorces. They're losing their kids and they're losing their dreams. They're alienated, depersonalized, without any feeling of participation in the political process, and they feel rejected and hopeless. Their utopia of status and security has become a tacky-tacky suburb, their split-levels have sprouted prison bars and their disillusionment is becoming terminal.

They're the first to live in a total mass-media-oriented world, and every night when they turn on the TV and the news comes on, they see the almost unbelievable hypocrisy and deceit and even outright idiocy of our national leaders and the corruption and disintegration of all our institutions, from the police and courts to the White House itself. Their society appears to be crumbling and they see themselves as no more than small failures within the larger failure. All their old values seem to have deserted them, leaving them rudderless in a sea of social chaos. Believe me, this is good organizational material.

The despair is there; now it's up to us to go in and rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize them for radical social change. We'll give them a way to participate in the democratic process, a way to exercise their rights as citizens and strike back at the establishment that oppresses them, instead of giving in to apathy. We'll start with specific issues -- taxes, jobs, consumer problems, pollution -- and from there move on to the larger issues: pollution in the Pentagon and the Congress and the board rooms of the megacorporations. Once you organize people, they'll keep advancing from issue to issue toward the ultimate objective: people power. We'll not only give them a cause, we'll make life goddamn exciting for them again -- life instead of existence. We'll turn them on.

Very unfortunately, he died not long after he wrote this -- I often wonder if things might have been quite different if he hadn't.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:08 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

What a great post, generalist. I read all eight parts of this interview. Amazing.

We are never too old to be inspired.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:24 PM on February 2, 2008

« Older It's the economy, stupid.   |   What would Darth Joker do? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments