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Who is Saul Alinsky?
6 years ago

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When Newt Gingrich speaks these days, it's almost certain you'll hear him mention three names: Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and Saul Alinsky.


If you're wondering who Saul Alinsky is, you're not alone. He's not running for office. In fact, he's dead, and has been for almost 40 years.

Alinsky was was born in 1909 and died when Barack Obama was just 10 years old. Yet, Gingrich seizes every opportunity to link Alinsky to the President, including twice during Gingrich's visit to St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

"He represents a big government," Gingrich said of Obama. "A Saul Alinsky radical vision of an American future."


Then later, he asked listeners, "And you think Saul Alinsky knew America better than the founding fathers?"

Yet, if you ask people who Saul Alinsky was, he's hardly a household name. So, who was he?


Like Barack Obama, Alinsky was a community organizer in Chicago. His book "Rules for Radicals" is embraced by grassroots organizations for its methods, but not always its politics.

Alinsky was known for mobilizing poor people and minorities, getting them to the polls.


"I'm not sure why anyone would think that's bad, unless you're one of the people with power and don't want to give it up," said USF political professor Michael Gibbons.

6 years ago

But Alinksy's ideals resonate with people from across the political spectrum. The Occupy movement and even staunch conservatives within the Tea Party have embraced his organizing tactics.


In fact, anyone who feels their voice has no chance of being heard amid the power and influence of big money might relate to Alinsky.


Ironically, it's a populist concept Newt Gingrich himself embraced Tuesday even as he seemingly demonized Alinsky's name. "Governor Romney will have vastly more money than I will, but we'll have more people than he will. This is exactly what happened in South Carolina, and people power beats money power every time," he told an applauding crowd of supporters.


"That's almost a quote from Saul Alinsky," said Gibbons. "In fact, if he were to write that down and not put it in quotation marks and footnote it, he probably would be subject to issues of plagiarism."


Professor Gibbons says Gingrich may be taking a bit of a risk invoking Alinsky's name; there are plenty of people out there these days, he says, who just may agree with his political philosophy.

6 years ago
Saul Alinsky Wasn’t Who Newt Gingrich Thinks He Was


On the night of his triumph in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich boldly announced: “The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” Barack Obama did once work in a Chicago project inspired by Alinsky, the legendary community organizer who died in 1972. But, in its essence, this was classic demagoguery: connect a name that, at least to a crowd of Southern Republicans, sounds rather alien—and certainly not Christian—with a president whom many conservatives already suspect of being an un-American, anti-religious socialist.


Because Newt is reputed to know a great deal about the past, even those who don’t admire him may give credence to the former Speaker’s claim that Alinsky was a dangerous leftist whose doctrine lies at the root of all that is wrong in the country—and in the White House. In fact, it shows, yet again, that the skillful demagogue is a lousy historian.


Saul Alinsky often called himself a radical, but his career as a community organizer had thoroughly traditional foundations in grassroots democracy and institutional religion. Indeed, it was built with the active support and resources of key figures in the Roman Catholic Church. (The same faith, incidentally, to which Newt converted in 2009, joining his wife Callista, who grew up Catholic in Wisconsin.)


In the late 1930s, Alinsky launched his first project in the Back of the Yards, a multi-ethnic, working-class, mostly Catholic neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Bernard J. Sheil, the city’s auxiliary bishop, championed the new Back of the Yards Council and encouraged local priests and leading parishioners to take part. Sheil, founder of the Catholic Youth Organization, helped set up Alinsky’s network of local organizers—the non-profit Industrial Areas Foundation—and convinced financier Marshall Field III to bankroll it.


During the 1940s and early 1950s, Alinsky worked closely with another influential priest, Monsignor John O’Grady, director of the National Conference of Catholic Charities. O’Grady liked Alinsky’s focus on mobilizing local people to help themselves and introduced the “radical” to a parish priest who was working with young Puerto Ricans in a poor neighborhood near the University of Chicago.

The Monsignor and the Jewish troublemaker got along so well that Alinsky began to work with O’Grady on the older man’s biography.


 The book was not completed, but the outline made clear that the two shared a strong critique of modern liberalism that would be congenial to many conservatives today: “…the New Deal was important, it was good…yet it carried an opposite side to the shield, in terms of a gravitation of power and the establishment of enormous bureaucracies which were evil.” Americans should turn, instead, wrote Alinsky, “to grass roots organization and decentralization.”


As Alinsky knew well, O’Grady’s thinking drew from the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity,” which the Church began to develop in the late 19th century as an alternative to social change directed by powerful nation-states. Subsidiarity holds that social problems should first be handled by the smallest, most local authority in existence. As Pope Pius XI wrote in a 1931 encyclical: “It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry.”


Of course, Alinsky’s intellectual influences were not limited to Catholic social thought. Contrary to Gingrich’s ignorant slur, he frequently quoted Jefferson and Madison and had contempt for young leftists in the 1960s who disdained the American flag. “The responsible organizer would have known,” he wrote in 1971, “that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America’s hopes and aspirations.”

 But Alinsky frequently spoke at Catholic venues and regularly advised young seminarians who were eager to improve the well-being of the men and women they would soon be serving, many of whom were poor and needed help organizing themselves to demand jobs and better services from the local authorities.


In 1969, Saul Alinsky received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, given annually by a coalition of Catholic groups in the Midwest to commemorate

This post was modified from its original form on 26 Jan, 5:15

6 years ago

In 1969, Saul Alinsky received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, given annually by a coalition of Catholic groups in the Midwest to commemorate an encyclical about human rights and alternatives to war written by Pope John XXIII. Most honorees have been ardent reformers of one faith or another: Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, Cesar Chavez, Daniel Berrigan, and Jim Wallis are on the list—as is Lech Walesa.


Newt Gingrich would, no doubt, point to some of those names as proof of how the Left can seduce innocent devotees of his new-found faith. But he might find it difficult to criticize the woman who received the award seven years after Saul Alinsky: a community organizer from Calcutta named Mother Teresa.


Michael Kazin’s most recent book is American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.

6 years ago


a complete biography of Saul Alinsky born in Chicago IL in 1909 of Russian Jewish immigrants and he is the leader of the nonsocialist movement ....

very interesting read.


I should be far more well versed in figures whom I have mentioned here in past posts and should never have relied on Fox or conservative right pundints for the information.  I am guilty of misinformation.  I do know one thing definately, in debate: Alinsky theorists bring down the opposition with their own words! 

This post was modified from its original form on 26 Jan, 5:21
6 years ago

Saul David Alinsky (January 30, 1909 – June 12, 1972) was an American community organizer and writer. He is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing, and has been compared to Thomas Paine as being "one of the great American leaders of the nonsocialist left."[4] He is often noted for his book Rules for Radicals.


In the course of nearly four decades of political organizing, Alinsky received much criticism, but also gained praise from many public figures. His organizing skills were focused on improving the living conditions of poor communities across North America. In the 1950s, he began turning his attention to improving conditions of the African American ghettos, beginning with Chicago's and later traveling to other ghettos in California, Michigan, New York City, and a dozen other "trouble spots".


His ideas were later adapted by some U.S. college students and other young organizers in the late 1960s and formed part of their strategies for organizing on campus and beyond.[5]Time magazine once wrote that "American democracy is being altered by Alinsky's ideas," and conservative author William F. Buckley said he was "very close to being an organizational genius."[4]

This post was modified from its original form on 26 Jan, 5:26
6 years ago

Thanks for posting this.  I haven't read it yet but I will.

6 years ago


Thanks, Sheila.


Saul was quite a guy.

6 years ago

Alinsky operated under the absurd beliefs that the Have-nots could use democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to get fair treatment from the Haves.


He successfully organized blacks and the working poor to make political gains.


Holding such beliefs and successfully doing something about them, of course, made him evil personified to the super-rich and their political cronies.

6 years ago

I think it is best to read directly from him Kevin than make broad assertions.

One of his most radical moves was a major FART in at the Philarmonic.  Protestors released their own natural gas.


"Not at any time. I've never joined any organization—not even the ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide."[4]

Nor did he have much respect for mainstream political leaders who tried to interfere with growing black–white unity during the difficult years of the Great Depression. In Alinsky's opinion, new voices and new values were being heard in the U.S., and "people began citing John Donne's 'No man is an island,'" he said. He observed that the hardship affecting all classes of the population was causing them to start "banding together to improve their lives," and discovering how much in common they really had with their fellow man.[4] He stated during an interview a few of the causes for his active organizing in black communities:

"Negroes were being lynched regularly in the South as the first stirrings of black opposition began to be felt, and many of the white civil rights organizers and labor agitators who had started to work with them were tarred and feathered, castrated—or killed. Most Southern Democrat politicians were members of the Ku Klux Klan and had no compunction about boasting of it."[4]

Alinsky's tactics were often unorthodox. After organizing FIGHT (an acronym for Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today) in Rochester, New York, Alinsky once threatened to stage a "fart in" to disrupt the sensibilities of the city's establishment at a Rochester Philharmonic concert. FIGHT members were to consume large quantities of baked beans after which, according to author Nicholas von Hoffman, "FIGHT's increasingly gaseous music-loving members would hie themselves to the concert hall where they would sit expelling gaseous vapors with such noisy velocity as to compete with the woodwinds."[8] Satisfied with the reaction to his threat, Alinsky would later threaten a "piss in" at Chicago O'Hare Airport. Alinsky planned to arrange for large numbers of well dressed African Americans to occupy the urinals and toilets at O'Hare for as long as it took to bring the city to the bargaining table. According to Alinsky, the threat alone was sufficient to produce results.

6 years ago

I agree that people should read it for themselves.


The opera bean incident is classic.

6 years ago

And again, at closing statements Mr. Gingrich called Pres. Obama a "Saul Alinsky" radical.  He used that statement and the name Saul  Alinsky almost as much as he uses Ronnie Reagan to describe himself.


I thought the wind was taken out of Newt last nite and I hope it continues.

Rick S. will rise because the die hard conservatives want this country to be totally right wing conservative republicans which is NOT what this country is.


There are more independents in USA and they will not put up with far right extreme groups leading the country.  This causes divides.


I believe the tea party is loosing momentum and I would be very surprised if they ever get re-elected into Congress.  The tea party gov. of FL is the most unpopular gov. in the country and FL residents detest him.  The tea party put most of these newbies in and their records are not popular right now. 

6 years ago

I enjoyed reading this (finally).


I do note this:


“…the New Deal was important, it was good…yet it carried an opposite side to the shield, in terms of a gravitation of power and the establishment of enormous bureaucracies which were evil.” Americans should turn, instead, wrote Alinsky, “to grass roots organization and decentralization.”


We are too overly bureacraticized (if that is a word).  That much I do agree with. 


Thanks again Sl L.


But more important is Newt's misuse of the name.  And yes, many on the right will seize that funny sounding name and demonize it.

6 years ago

What if anything is so bad about Saul Alinsky? I am not following Newt's cmmensts about him except to somehow link him to european socialism?

Any one jump in on this with some documentation......Thanks,,


This post was modified from its original form on 30 Jan, 16:29

This post was modified from its original form on 30 Jan, 16:30
6 years ago

Another boogey-man created by right-wingers to score cheap points by using fear. Just like you'd think Bill Ayers was still a radical activist and was Obama's top advisor.


6 years ago

"I am not following Newt's cmmensts about him except to somehow link him to european socialism?"


I read my post now and the end seems funny to me.


I don't know if you were addressing me or just general comment Z. 


Yes, that is my understanding.  Somehow linking this funny sounding name to Socialism and to Obama.

6 years ago

Bryan, I had never  heard  of  him  till hearing the Newtster mention him....still  trying  to find a  copy  of  his  book,


6 years ago

Oh sure Michael, and next you'll tell us you don't read your Cloward-Piven manuel for overthrowing the economy.

6 years ago

S'posed  to  keep  that  quiet................

6 years ago

Bryan, I wish I could watch that video right now, but the computer I'm on won't allow it.


I will soon.


I disagree with Maher on stuff, but he is intellectually honest about most things (not women) and willing to state uncomfortable truths, so whenever I find myself disagreeing with him, I reconsider the issue.

6 years ago

Kevin, I think he he makes the point with a  good mix of humor, which is usually the case with Maher.


I don't think i've heard him talk about women, and i don't agree with everything he he says about religion for example, but yeah he is pretty straightforward and intellectually honest.

6 years ago

I'm not saying he's a bad guy in all respects, but Alinsky's views, of his own admission, were pretty much incompatible with the American system. He didn't believe in private property. His strategy and tactics may be useful if one wants to bring down an existing system. Unfortunately what people find is that the next system put in place is vulnerable to those same tactics for which the precedent has then been set, and the society degenerates into mediocrity at best. At the worst it sucks. I don't like mediocrity and I don't like things that suck so I'll go with Newt on this one.

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