Occasionally, President Barack Obama reminds us that he was once a community organizer.
In his interview last Monday night with BET News, Obama said that he had invited some people who have been organizing protests against police misconduct to meet with him at the White House last week.
“Because the old adage, power concedes nothing without a fight — I think that’s true,” Obama said.
Obama was closely paraphrasing a statement by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is well-known among community organizers and activists: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
This is not a phrase that most politicians would be familiar with. Obama probably first heard Douglass’ words during his three years as a community organizer in Chicago during the 1980s. Douglass’ famous one-liner was actually part of a speech he gave on August 3, 1857 in Canandaigua,
In the 1960s and ’70s, Saul Alinsky, often considered the founder of community organizing, was a popular figure among liberal activists, based primarily on his how-to manuals, Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, and his reputation as a tough-talking, street-smart agitator who helped poor and working-class Americans gain a voice in battles with politicians and corporations. Now the Republican Party and its right-wing echo chamber are trying to make Alinsky, who died at 63 in 1972, famous all over again, by linking him to Barack Obama and demonizing the president as a dangerous radical.
During his primary campaign, Newt Gingrich constantly invoked Alinsky’s ghost. “The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky,” he said in stump speeches and television appearances. Or variously: “If you believe as we do in the Declaration of Independence and you think that’s a better source than Saul Alinsky,