WWAD "What Would Alinsky Do?"
by Jim Britell
Grassroots campaigns often fall short when they abandon successful strategies from older campaigns, repeat approaches that failed in the past or employ methods which are stale, boring, and repetitive. This Alinsky interview done a few months before he died is about the importance of innovation in campaigns. It also discusses why the well meaning ideas of many academics and professionals about how to conduct campaigns are in his words "drivel". Any person who wants to work on a grassroots campaign should read this before they do anything.
Saul Alinsky believed the main obstacles to any grassroots campaign are the naive and incorrect assumptions about life, politics, education, and conflict held by average people. Not only is there no formal course in any school that prepares anyone to fight against power (or for wilderness, or against roads and motor), but public education and modern culture conspire to make proven unproductive approaches seem attractive and highly likely to succeed while making successful ones appear unproductive and often counter–intuitive.
In this interview he also discusses at length his very close, mascot-like relationship with Al Capone's and other Chicago gangs of the 1930's and his work in prisons and jails where he acquired the life skills that made him the world's most successful grassroots organizer.
Every major issue facing the environmental community today is foreshadowed in this interview. The trends he observed have continued and worsened and his insights and strategies are still valid.
Saul Alinsky is, along with Thomas Paine, Henry George, and Dorothy Day, one of the great American leaders of the nonsocialist left. This extensive interview with him, conducted by Playboy magazine in 1972, three months before he died appeared in weekly installments at The Progress Report.
Saul Alinsky died a few months later, on June 12, 1972.
Empowering People, Not Elites
The full text of this interview 25,000 words may also be found at various left and right wing sites on the web.