Obama and the “Alinsky Model”

The career accomplishment by Barack Obama of which he is most proud seems to be his three-year stint as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. It is mentioned in his speeches and interviews more than his lectureship at the University of Chicago or his service in the Illinois Senate. For most Americans that part of his career is of little significance. To the audience he is attempting to reach it is highly important, however.

Most of us have little knowledge of community organizing other than watching clips of their protests in TV news reports. Political protests have been going on for as long as there have been governments to protest. However, structured community organizing did not start in America until the end of the nineteenth century. The emphasis in early community organizing was to provide community support for new immigrants arriving from Europe.

Its function was primarily social work carried on around community centers such as the Jane Addams center or Hull House. In the early twentieth century, community organizing began to lose its “social work” emphasis and took on a more activist revolutionary aspect heavily influenced by European immigrants from countries caught up in that continent’s various Marxist movements.

During the first half of the twentieth century organizing mostly centered around union activity and improving the lives of workers as a counter measure to the excesses of the rapidly expanding manufacturing and mining industries. Community organizing took on its modern form under the leadership of Saul Alinsky (1909 – 1972) in Chicago. He is by far, the best-known and most influential community organizer in American history.

Alinsky began his work in the Chicago neighborhood surrounding the stockyards, known as the “back of the yards”. From the early thirties until his death in 1972 Chicago was his home and base of operations. In 1971, the more famous of his two books was published. Titled “Rules for Radicals”, the book outlined his views on organizing and became the handbook for a generation of 1960s radicals.

During his career, he also took on the task of training other organizers. His Industrial Areas Foundation Training Institute has turned out hundreds of professional organizers over the years, and thousands of leaders from labor unions and communities across America have attended workshops at the Institute. The “Alinsky Method” has become the model for most community organizing groups in the United States and in other countries as well.

Two of these groups were the Developing Communities Project where Barack Obama served as director during his organizing career, and the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute, where he served as an instructor and consultant.

Alinsky’s influence extends, not only to community organizing, but to the Democratic Party as well. Hillary Clinton’s College thesis was written on the organizing work of Saul Alinsky and the political tactics of the Democratic Party over the past decade could have been taken directly from his book “Rules for Radicals”. You can also see the influence of the Alinsky method in the campaign rhetoric of Barack Obama. In “Rules for Radicals” Alinsky gives this advice for working inside the political system.

“There’s another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution.”

It is this “attitude toward change” that Obama and the Democratic Party is attempting to bring about through their constant trashing of George W. Bush, the Republican Party, our economy, foreign policy, conduct of the War on Terror, Homeland Security, and every other action of the Bush administration.

The community organizing movement is not a monolithic group. It is made up of a number of independent groups tied loosely together by common ideals and goals. Among the best known are Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART).

What almost all community organizations have in common is their adherence to socialist principles and their promotion of victimhood. In laying the groundwork for a new community organization, organizers are trained to canvass the community to identify its most prevalent problems. After identifying the problems, they then hold community meetings where they convince attendees the root cause of their problems are in some way connected to the inherent unfairness of capitalism.

Whatever the problem, it is always caused by someone or some group other than the group experiencing the difficulty. Slums, drugs, poverty, crime and so forth are all caused by unscrupulous financial institutions, uncaring property owners, local politicians, or greedy corporate profiteers. The final steps in the process is to convince participants it is the responsibility of someone else to fix the problem—usually government—and then organize demonstrations, strikes, protests, boycotts, etc. to coerce businesses, governments and/or individuals to comply with their demands.

Community organizing is often credited with teaching communities how to do for themselves. Sometimes they do, but more often than not, they actually teach them how to coerce society to do it for them. When Obama speaks of his community organizing experiences, he is appealing to the tendencies of his audience to cheer when “Robin Hood” takes from the rich and gives to the poor. Somehow, I cannot see how this experience particularly qualifies him to be President. Perhaps, there is something I am missing?


One response to “Obama and the “Alinsky Model”

  1. The concept of change is neither good nor bad. Technically, change is a vector with elements of metrics, direction, path, process and results. In these general terms, change has been proven to stimulate, and many times, to improve our lot in life even when results fail the original objective. Some change can be bad. In the final analysis, what specifically does or does not change is the critical factor in determining success or failure. The science of project management is dedicated to “best practice” processes and measurements of success which are likely to produce good results. Unfortunately, Congress and community groups often skip the science part, which increases the odds of producing undesirable consequences and a lot of blame management.

    “Robin Hood”, liberals and socialists have a common thread. Each rely on a self-appointed power to redistribute wealth for reasons believed to be well founded, fair and equitable. “Robin Hood” alone has the excuse that he was not governed by a Constitution.