“Saul David Alinsky has been described as the man you invite into your city to bust up the joint. He’s an apostle of power who hires himself out to the poor and the oppressed. Operating out of a suitcase, he’s been working his beat for thirty years.”
Saul Alinsky was a famous “Old Left” community organizer who went on to have a profound influence on the activists of the 1960s. In the United States, his name is still associated with subversive and effective radicalism.
Originally a labour organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the late 1930s, Alinsky moved to community organizing of low-income, poor ghettos. He believed that organizing collectively, people could wield collective power and win what they needed from the powerful, such as the fight by African Americans to win employment at Rochester’s Kodak Eastman plant. A year before he died, he wrote the famous 1971 book “Rules for Radicals” explaining his philosophies.
Alinsky’s ideas boiled down to organizing the have-nots against the haves. He saw this struggle as a struggle of power.
In the late 1960s, Alinsky visited Canada. Part of his visit was captured by a film crew in this exchange between Alinsky and young Indigenous activists at the Rama First Nation reserve near Orillia, Ontario.
Alinsky’s larger-than-life character and philosophy of social change collides with young Indigenous activists seeking something more than just a bigger slice of the pie. This cross-cultural exchange raises all sorts of questions about colonialism in Canada, and how we build movements for social change.
For more on Alinsky’s organizing philosophies, here is an hour-long National Film Board documentary called “Saul Alinsky Went to War”.