A young Barack Obama contributed his article “Why organize?” to a book titled “Post Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois.” In the article, he emphasizes the importance of organizing communities through traditional black churches. He writes that through community organizing he discovered the most satisfying contribution bringing communities together can make is helping working-class people. In 1969, Hillary Rodham (later Hilary Rodham Clinton) wrote her senior thesis “An analysis of the Alinsky model.” She finishes her thesis by writing “he has been feared - just as Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths – democracy.” I would wager that there are few people on Earth who have not heard of President Obama and Secretary Clinton. However, far fewer people have heard of a man named Alinsky, whose prolific work inspired and heavily influenced the famous president and senator. So, who is he?
Saul David Alinsky was born in 1909 in Chicago, the son of Jewish Russian immigrants. While his academic career began with the study of archaeology, he changed his major when he was awarded a graduate fellowship in criminology. He would go on to say in a later interview with Harper’s magazine in 1965, “In the Capone gang I learned, among other things, the terrific importance of personal relationships.” After his fellowship ended, Alinsky found himself frustrated with his job in the government. In an interview with Playboy Magazine, he claimed he was labeled as a “communist” after trying to correct the root causes of criminality, which he had identified as poor housing, racial discrimination, economic insecurity and unemployment. In 1938, he left the job and began devoting himself to organizing communities of people living in poverty so that they would be able to help themselves.