Alinsky's methods still working
June 17, 2020
A lot of people are comparing 2020 to 1968 these days, and for good reason. This year is at least as tumultuous as ’68, and we’re only halfway through it.
Generationally, 1968 was beset with Baby Boomers who opposed the Vietnam War and sympathized with the Black Power movement of that time. Now, in 2020 we’ve got Generation Z and Millennials expressing their outrage over America’s failing institutions, with a growing intolerance for that which keeps African-Americans and other minorities down.
It’s ironic that the boomers and the z’ers are now pitted against each other. The young people of the 1960s were once very much like those who are now taking to the streets in protest.
“Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a common refrain for youth in the 1960s, something I’ll bet a lot of today’s young people would agree with now. After all, it’s the older folks who made the mess we are now in, and they certainly can’t be trusted to fix it. We boomers had our chance and we blew it.
Still, those who are organizing today’s rebellion will be well-served to study those who were actually effective in changing things a half-century ago.
Not unlike the here and now, the 1960s were violent times. Two Kennedys were assassinated, John in 1963 and Robert in 1968, as were a couple of groundbreaking civil rights leaders — Malcolm X, killed in 1965, and Martin Luther King Jr., shot to death in 1968. They were all fairly young when they were murdered, but they each had a tremendous impact.
The Kennedys inspired a generation, and their deaths broke our hearts. Malcolm X was initially a militant but as his faith and his perspective grew, so did his belief that violence was not the answer. Of course, he was cut down by the violence anyway. And King, who foretold his own assassination, became the greatest example of effective nonviolent resistance this nation has even seen.
Then there were others, lesser known in the annals of history but still with a huge impact on how this nation was transformed.
Saul Alinsky, the father of direct-action community organizing, was one of them.
I see the imprint of his political theories at work today. The rallying cry “defund the police” strikes me as a tactic right out of his playbook, in which demands for radical change become such a threat to the status quo that those in power become willing to sit down and discuss alternative approaches that they wouldn’t have even considered previously.
Alinsky pioneered the art of community organizing. Taking what he had learned working for the trade unions, he applied “people power” to the slums and ghettos of America’s cities, and won.
Condemn his radical views if you want, but credit the man with ushering in a form of participatory democracy that works even to this day, and in these tumultuous times.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: