There's a great deal of irony in the connection between Saul Alinsky and the Tea Parties. If you were to take a random poll of tea party gatherers, most would have heard of Alinsky. Most of those folks would view Alinsky unfavorably. Yet, knowingly or not, the tea parties owe much of their success to the exact same principles that Alinsky verbalized when he was organizing on the streets of Chicago.
In fact, Alinsky, and his role in society, have been totally misconstrued by our media and those with an agenda. Alinsky was likely a liberal and you might even call him far left. Yet, he was first and foremost an organizer and his political ideology took a serious back seat to his skills as an organizer. The reason that Alinsky is famous is because he was effective. Not only was he effective but he verbalized his methods in a language that those without sophistication could understand.
He's become a pejorative because he's been tied to the most famous, or shall we say, infamous community organization, ACORN. That's also ironic. That's because the things that ACORN used from Alinsky aren't the things that made them infamous. Alinsky never taught criminality, not paying taxes, embezzlement, raiding the pension of your employees, voter registration fraud, or mistreating your employees. Alinsky was an effective organizer, effective at grassroots politicking, and effective and putting power in the poor. Those that believed, and still believe, in the mission of ACORN were drawn to their effectiveness in those areas. ACORN has gotten in trouble not by following the principles of Alinsky but by being corrupt. Yet, our media culture isn't nearly sophisticated enough to separate one from the other.
Alinsky was borne out of the union organizing culture of Chicago. He decided to take those principles and organize the poor of Chicago. He organized them around five principles: judicial reform, access to health care, equal access to education, access to housing, and access to healthy food. The two key principles of a successful organizing campaign in the view of Alinsky were 1) a vague theme and 2) the ability to fire up the masses. The first is important because the more vague the principle the wider your net of people. The second is important because you need people fired up
Now, take a look at the tea parties. They were organized around several vague themes: smaller government, free markets, etc. The tea parties were successful because the masses were fired up. After all, their inspiration came in large part by this rant.
The right has chosen to demonize Alinsky and that's not only ironic but shortsighted. Alinsky isn't famous for his ideology. His methods have just as much chance to work when used by the right to organize as by the left. It's ironic because often the same people that demonize him will use his methods to effectively organize. The tea parties are just one example.
Community organization itself has become a pejorative on the right because it's the one thing we all remember about President Obama. Now, being a community organizer is certainly not necessarily a pre requisite to be president, but it's not necessarily something to be used as a pejorative either. It's that much more ironic when the tea parties themselves are also a form of community organization.
ACORN has become a partisan issue. Democrats have rushed to defend them because of their perceived ties to the party. Republicans have rushed to tie them to every Democrat. Yet, ACORN isn't a partisan issue. It's a corruption issue. They aren't an issue because of their political ideology but their corruption. Because Saul Alinsky is tied to ACORN, he's become a partisan issue. Of course, he's not revolutionary because of his political ideology but his effectiveness. His methods aren't partisan. Community organization is something both sides can use effectively. Alinsky's methods can be used by conservatives like liberals to effectiveness. In fact, the tea parties already have even if they don't know it or would ever admit it.
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