I am teaching about Saul Alinsky (with due consideration to both his strengths and his weaknesses). I enjoyed showing my class actual footage of the man at work–from a 1968 Canadian documentary.
In this excerpt:
[o:00 to 0:55] A Chicago woman complains about rats the size of cats in her apartment. This is not a “one-on-one” interview in which she tells her own story and displays her agency as a human being. It is a documentary filmmaker’s invasion of her apartment to demonstrate her poverty. However, it does reveal some of the problems that would emerge in a one-on-one.
[0:55-1:42]: Two Alinksy-trained organizers plan “direct actions,” including pickets and a rent strike. In the ideal model, they would choose the topic and target only after much consultation with residents in one-on-ones and house meetings. But sooner or later, they would have to deal, as they do here, with practical issues like babysitting the moms who picket. By the way, a rent strike is a classic collective action problem: an individual renter who fails to pay will be evicted, but a whole building can obtain relief from the landlord if they act together. Even a picket line works a lot better if everyone joins it. That’s why I enjoy this exchange between the organizers at 0:58:
How many tenants in the building?
Ah, the building has, I think something like 27-30 tenants.
Tell you what–why don”t we turn out all 30 of them?
[1:43-3:40] A dignified picket line and some interaction with police.
[3:40-5:15] A debate with a neighbor (a young White man) who doesn’t like to see picketing on his street. The resident seen earlier talking about rats in her bedroom expresses herself pretty effectively.
[5:15-6:41] Alinsky himself, trying to establish his credibility as an anti-racist organizer with a group, probably from Dayton, OH, that is considering hiring him.
[6:41-8:09 ] The committee deliberates on whether to employ him.
In the next segment, he argues with a Canadian hippie about building utopian alternatives. (Alinksy is against.)