Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Where Have You Gone, Saul Alinsky?

Saul Alinsky has become something of a bête noire to conservatives as of late for his supposed inspiration of President Obama's early career as a community organizer. That's why we were taken aback to find out that The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), a group Alinsky inspired, may now be collaborating with Walmart's efforts to proliferate in Chicago.

According to the Chicago Reader, TWO has been active in organizing on the Walmonster's behalf, bringing tee shirted "supporters" down to hearing at the Chicago city council-a move that most certainly must have the old organizer spinning in his grave: "But it's possible not everyone felt as strongly about the project as their T-shirts did. Around 7:30 that morning, about a hundred Walmart supporters had filed onto two yellow school buses in front of the 63rd and Harper headquarters of the Woodlawn Organization (TWO). A south-side fixture, this social services organization is run, at least nominally, by president Georgette Greenlee-Finney, but it's heavily influenced by her husband, Leon Finney Jr., the City Hall insider who became TWO's executive director in 1969."

And, as they definitely say in Brooklyn-and we guess in Chicago too, "not for nothing." "Many of the TWO partisans might sincerely have desired more jobs and retail options in Pullman. But they were also motivated by the promise of $100. Aaron Garel, a 30-year-old Woodlawn native, was one of these protesters. Garel, known on the street as "Little" and "Little Man," says he used to be a drug dealer and a member of the Black Stones, a gang with ties to the old Blackstone Rangers. Three prior convictions on drugs and weapons charges make it hard for him to find work. When a friend, a TWO organizer, called him two weeks before the June 24 committee meeting and asked if he wanted to go downtown and make some money, he jumped at the chance. Besides, he believed in the cause: the south side did need more jobs, and if Walmart wanted to open a store, why not?"

This is part and parcel of the, "booty capitalist," phenomenon we have talked about-but it is certainly a, "what a country!" moment to see that the Reverend Finney is now a city hall insider-transcending his organizing beginnings when he and Alinsky first got together to fight discrimination. It demonstrates how the old counter culture can be transformed-in true booty capitalist fashion-into the over the counter culture.

As Chicago Reader points out: "The recruits signed up, were issued T-shirts and placards that said IT'S ABOUT JOBS, and filed onto four school buses that took them downtown. The TWO white shirts joined other demonstrators who were marching around City Hall chanting, "We need jobs," and after about an hour Garel and 100 others were led inside to show solidarity as Beale and a Walmart official held a news conference."

An exquisite example of how the Walmonster uses its vast resources to co-opt and exploit the truly needed folks of Chicago: "I called Walmart officials to ask if they knew about or had paid for the TWO demonstrations, but they didn't return my calls. Neither did TWO officials. But Leon Finney had acknowledged to me, months earlier, that last year TWO paid people to circulate petitions championing a pro-Walmart "Jobs or Else" campaign. (Garel says he got $25 a day for that effort.)"

Integrity gives way to the cash nexus: "TWO's budget is almost entirely funded by tax dollars, and when public money's involved, nonpartisanship is generally expected. More than $4.4 million of TWO's $4.9 million budget for fiscal 2007-'08 (the last year for which tax returns and related documents are available) came from government agencies, including the Illinois Department of Human Services, Chicago Public Schools, and the city of Chicago. That was the year TWO managed to find busloads of people eager to show the Plan Commission, which Finney sits on, how ardently the public supported moving the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park. It was also the year Charles Holley, a Walmart executive vice president, wrote TWO a company check for $25,000."

From fighting endemic racism to playing the fool for the Walmonster. It's good that Alinsky isn't around to see how his protege has been transformed-and how Karl Marx's observations about the, "Power of Money in Bourgeois Society," have been tragically confirmed.