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  • Alinsky and the Gospel of Change

    I began reading Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals because President-elect Obama said that being a Community Organizer was one of his credentials for being President. I read things like what Richard Poe wrote in the Tehran Times,

    Barack Obama is also an Alinskyite. Trained by Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation, Obama spent years teaching workshops on the Alinsky method. In 1985 he began a four-year stint as a community organizer in Chicago, working for an Alinskyite group called the Developing Communities Project. Later, he worked with ACORN and its offshoot Project Vote, both creations of the Alinsky network.

    and I realized that understanding Alinsky would be important to understanding how Obama would operate. Alinsky defined the job of the organizer

    A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives–agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive affirmative, non-challenging climate.
    Page xxii

    I personally found this disturbing–particularly the part about the idea of creating disenchantment.

    Alinsky on Change after the fold:

    As I got further into the book, it became obvious that the message of “Change” is part of that process of creating disenchantment. Alinsky writes in the preface,

    Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people.
    Page xix

    And he continues explaining the necessity of change to the Community Organizer’s job of agitating:

    so long as there is no opportunity or method to make changes, it is senseless to get people agitated or angry, leaving them no course of action except to blow their tops.
    Page 118

    This can be both an attitude toward a specific change, but it can also be a general attitude. When Obama says, “Change we can believe in” he is using it in this general sense. He occasionally moves into some specifics, but even when you look at those specifics (e.g. Health Care) you realize that the “Change” to believe in is, at best, in outline form. It is chilling to think that this election was about establishing this attitude toward change so that America is ready for revolution and so that Obama can be the “Community Organizer in Chief”:

    His acceptance as an organizer depends on his success in convincing key people–and many others–first, that he is on their side, and second, that he has ideas, and knows how to fight to change things.
    Page 99

    This seems to have been one of the primary objectives of the Obama campaign. If this is true, what should we expect to see with a Community Organizer in the White House?

    The biggest short-term concern is the instruction from Alinsky over what the Organizer is supposed to do first:

    The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be disorganized if they are to be displaced by new patterns that provide the opportunities and means for citizen participation. All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new.
    Page 116

    This doesn’t seem pleasant. But it shouldn’t seem pleasant:

    Change means movement. Movement means friction…friction of conflict
    Page 21

    Said another way, you must tear down before you build up. We must keep our eyes open to what it is that President Obama intends to tear down.

    This post was tagged under: barack obama

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