Posts Tagged ‘Saul Alinsky’

Book note: Strike the Hammer

September 15, 2021

STRIKE THE HAMMER: The Black Freedom Struggle in Rochester, New York, 1940-1970 by Laura Warren Hill (2021)

I’ve lived in Rochester, N.Y., since 1974, more than half my life, and I thought I knew its history well.  But I learned important things from Laura Warren Hill’s Strike the Hammer that I never knew.

Most people who live here know that there was a two-day uprising in black neighborhoods in the city in 1964, leading to a new awareness by the city’s white leadership of racism and the need to do something about it.

I call the violence an uprising rather than a riot because it was organized, which is not to say it was pre-planned.  Churches, community institutions, black-owned businesses and businesses owned by whites with good relationships with the community were spared; police stations and other white-owned businesses were targeted.

I knew the uprising was triggered by police arrest of a drunken young man who disrupted a neighborhood street dance, when a false rumor spread that a police dog had bitten a young girl.

But I didn’t know of the outrages that put the community on hair-trigger.  In 1962, Rochester police beat a respectable young black man, not accused of any crime, so badly that he suffered two broken vertebrae and was confined to a wheelchair.

Early in 1963, police invaded a Nation of Islam mosque with police dogs while a religious service was in progress because of an anonymous tip about someone with a gun.  A few weeks later they arrested a young man for a traffic offense and beat him so badly he was hospitalized for 21 days.

Another thing I hadn’t known is that Malcolm X, then a leader of the Nation of Islam, was a frequent visitor to Rochester and had a warm relationship with Minister Franklin Florence, Constance Mitchell, Dr. Walter Cooper and other black civil rights activists.

The national NAACP forbid its local chapters to engage in joint actions with Malcolm X or the Nation of Islam because of its bizarre anti-white theology and antisemitism.  Black NAACP members in Rochester simply disregarded these instructions.

After the uprising, the Rochester Area Council of Churches, which was mainly led by literal white people, offered famed community organizer Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation a $100,000, two-year contract to advise Rochester’s black leaders.

Alinsky agreed, but only on condition that the invitation come from the black community itself.  Hill quoted Minister Florence’s recollection of Alinsky:

One thing that stayed with me, with Saul, he said, “Never mind my being invited here by the Council of Churches.  I refuse to come to Rochester unless you invite me.”  But here’s…the genius of Saul and organizing—he said, “You would have to get three thousand names of people in your neighborhood…before I come in with you.”…

“Now—” We’d raised with him, “Well, who’s paying you?”  He said, “That wouldn’t be your business, but I’ll tell you.”  He said, “Our contract is with the Council of Churches to come in and offer you a service, provided you invite me.”

I said, “Well, what about their money?”  He said, “Well, I’m going to take their money, but I’m not taking their money to do their bidding.  I’m taking their money because they won’t give it to you.”

The clincher for Florence was that Malcolm X vouched for Alinsky.  He said Alinsky was possibly the best community organizer in the USA, and black people should always be willing to learn new skills, no matter who the teacher.


Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolence

January 19, 2015

We Americans honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of our national heroes, but the only thing we remember that he stood for is that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skins.

That’s important, of course.  But many of us tend to forget his strong advocacy of economic justice and, even more, we forget his strong commitment to nonviolence, or rather mass defiance as an alternative revolutionary violence.

I am not a pacifist, as Dr. King was.  I do not believe that war is always wrong.  But the stronger reason is that I do not have the moral strength to following his teaching.  I am unable to live up to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels to love my enemies, resist not evil and do good to them that hate me.

The amazing thing about Dr. King was that he was able, for a short time, to persuade large numbers of Americans to fight without violence and to win.

Considered purely pragmatically, the nonviolent techniques of struggle advocated by Gene Sharp and practiced by Saul Alinsky have been at least as successful as revolutionary violence.

Alinsky’s career in particular is evidence that successful use of nonviolent techniques did not require Christian love or the turning of the other cheek.

My impression is that many black Americans today regard Malcolm X as a more manly role model than Dr. King.  Yet Dr. King made governors and presidents bow to his will, while Malcolm X’s struggles were mostly with other African-Americans.

This statement is not completely fair to Malcolm X, because he was murdered when his work had only just begun while Dr. King was struck down after he had accomplished most of what was in him to do.

But the fact remains that the Black Panthers and other advocates of armed struggle were much more easily crushed than the followers of Dr. King.

The power of oppressive elites is the power to compel obedience.  Their power ceases when the oppressed cease to obey.  I admit that’s easy for me to say when I’ve never put myself at physical risk in any struggle, nonviolent or otherwise.  But I believe it’s true.


Remember Saul Alinsky’s Rule No. 7

November 16, 2011

In the years preceding the Civil War, the great Unitarian preacher, William Ellery Channing, criticized the abolitionists of his day for their harsh rhetoric and, as he saw it, counter-productive tactics.  They heard him out and replied that no doubt they were not campaigning as effectively against slavery as Channing could have, but, until he joined their cause, they would have to do as well as they could without him.

I am not part of the Occupy movement, although I agree with its goals, and possibly members of the movement feel the same way about unasked advice as the abolitionists did in Channing’s day.  Even so, I recommend that they consider Rule No. 7 of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.  That rule is as follows.

A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag.

Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupy groups have spent the past two and a half months drawing attention to income inequality in the United States by the simple method of camping out in public parks.

They have been surprisingly successful in raising the awareness of the American public.  The slogan, “We Are the 99 Percent,” was brilliant.  It focuses attention on a tiny elite control our economy and polity and operate it for their benefit, not ours.

The chart shows the number of hits in Nexis searches on the words “income inequality” in news stories.  The number rose from 91,000 just before Occupy Wall Street began to more than 500,000 now.  That is a good achievement for a movement that arose spontaneously without any central organization.

But at some point, especially with winter coming on, I think the Occupy movement is going to need an Act Two.  The longer the camp-outs last, the more vulnerable Occupy will be to infiltration by people who do not share its goals or respect its methods.  The longer they last, the more attention will be paid to questions of park permits and police behavior, and the less to the financial oligarchy that enriches itself by getting control of other people’s money.  The longer they last, the greater the cost to local communities who are, after all, members of the 99 percent.

And, at the end of the day, turf wars over use of public spaces do not threaten the financial and political elite.  They can wait in their warm rooms for the Occupy movement to grow weary.

Click on Rules for Radicals for Saul Alinsky’s complete list of rules.

Click on What Should Occupy Wall Street Do Next? for Elias Isquith’s suggestion on the League of Ordinary Gentlemen web site that the Occupy movement devote itself to registering voters and fighting voter disenfranchisement.

Click on Occupy the foreclosure crisis for Fred Clark’s suggestion on his slacktivist web log that the Occupy movement fight improper foreclosures and evictions.