|Saul Alinsky (1909-1972)|
Monday, January 30, 2012
Is Saul Alinsky a Bogeyman?
In his jubilant victory speech after winning the primary in South Carolina on January 21, Newt Gingrich made three references to Saul Alinsky. Some who heard Gingrich’s speech no doubt knew who Alinsky was, but perhaps many people wondered, “Who is Saul Alinsky and why is Gingrich mentioning him?”
Alinsky was born 103 years ago today, on January 30, 1909. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants living in Chicago, he grew up in the midst of poverty. The suffering and injustice he witnessed prompted him into social activism, and he became one of the original pioneers of grassroots organizing.
Alinsky died forty years ago this summer, in June 1972, but his influence continues—even among people who have not known his name, at least until some heard Gingrich resurrect it. Two days after his victory speech in South Carolina, Bloomberg.com published an article titled “Saul Alinsky Rides Again as Gingrich Makes Him 2012 Bogeyman.”
Alinsky’s best known book is Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971). In the first chapter’s opening paragraph, he writes, “What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”
Alinsky goes on to amplify his “radical” vision: “to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education, full and useful employment . . .” Why in the world is Gingrich against goals such as those?
In her speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008, Michelle Obama told her impressions of Barack before they were married. She said, “Barack . . . spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about ‘The world as it is’ and ‘The world as it should be.’ And he said that all too often, we accept the distance between the two, and settle for the world as it is—even when it doesn’t reflect our values and aspirations.”
Political opponents soon pounced on those words, linked them to Alinsky, and labeled Obama as dangerous—a view that Gingrich apparently holds still. For some of us, though, they seem to be consistent with the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is quite noteworthy that Alinsky was the recipient of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award in 1969, the sixth year it was given. That prize is awarded annually in commemoration of the 1963 encyclical letter “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth) of Pope John XXIII. It is given “to honor a person for their achievements in peace and justice, not only in their country but in the world.”
The Pacem in Terris award was bestowed upon Alinsky four years after it was given to Martin Luther King Jr. and before it was given to Dorothy Day (1972), Mother Teresa (1976), and Archbishop Tutu (1987).
That’s not an award that you would expect to be given to a bogeyman.