“Community-organizer” is not the trivial thing it’s being made. (Watch the curve.) “. . . Just a ‘community-organizer'” is like saying, “. . . just a housewife.” But “community-organization” involves both a vision and a strategy. A mode-of-operating. It is significant enough that Hillary Clinton did her Harvard degree-paper on “Community-Organization”—namely, on Saul Alinsky, the political-change, community-organizermaster!
We knew Alinsky’s name while Elma and I were in inner-city Detroit in the ’60s and ’70s, as part of our commitment to change in the interracial community of that period. Alinsky was the radical Marxist trainer of community organizers, effective and a bit scary, but we weren’t quite sure why “scary” . . .
We were living post-Riot by then. But wounds of the Detroit were far from being healed. I’d helped in pulling together an organization of 36 churches—black / white/Catholic/Protestant—on Detroit’s East Sector: CESSA (“Churches on the EastSide for Social Action”). We took steps to address the needs in a more radical fashion. As the CESSA Board—of which I was a part, and of which [the to-be-Bishop] Woodie White was “chairman”—we interviewed to hire a community organizer, and brought one in from Chicago—Frank Ditto. Ditto’s tactics proceeded to polarize our CESSA community. He recruited an honor guard of young blacks, bereted, in uniform and with mock rifles, to march into each subsequent large CESSA Community meeting and to stand guard around the edges of the room. Disconcerting maybe, but not undoing; for we knew he was attempting to build Black Pride.
But his news-sheet rhetoric and subsequent methodology involved playing one against another. His labeling of some of our adult, black CESSA leadership as ““Uncle Toms” opened the rift. Some of the white liberal suburbanites, enchanted with Ditto’smystique, joined Ditto in alienating that significant inner-city leadership; and with that happening, the project dissolved. In name, CESSA continued for maybe a year or so after that, but mostly with outside funding and the churches once again scattered.
I don’t recall if Ditto was “Alinsky-organization trained”, but I know the techniques to be classic Marxist—to play to discontent, stir it, identify “an enemy”—and thus, build a power-base for themselves. It offers itself to ambitious (and idealistic) people as a political technique, anywhere, any time, any party.