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Saul Alinsky, American community organizer, political activist, and writer discusses his book "Rules for Radicals" with Studs Terkel

BROADCAST: 1971 | DURATION: 00:57:02


Community organizer and social activist, Saul Alinsky speaks about his newest book, "Rules for Radicals," and reminisces about his work in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, his advocacy for African-American labor rights, and his connection with the Mexican-American civil rights movement in California. Although Studs' introduction states that this is a rebroadcast of a 1962 interview, that is incorrect. The interview was recorded in 1971.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel This morning is the rebroadcast of a 1962 conversation with the late Saul Alinsky, community organizer. The program in a moment after this message. [Pause in recording]

Saul Alinsky Lest we forget, at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment and the very first radical. After all, from all of our legends, mythology and history, and who's to know where mythology leaves off and history begins, or which is which, the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively, that he at least won his own kingdom. [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel That's Saul Alinsky, reading his own comment there, it's an epigraph to his new book, "Rules for Radicals", published by Random House. Saul Alinsky, whom I have known for some 30 years, is probably the best organizer around and about these quarters and all quarters, north, east, south and west, and even that particular quote that you read, that is true. We're talking basically about people today, aren't we? You're rather important to millions, Saul, because you're letting people know, the anonymous people, that they have a sense of power. And what we hear very often is this, "What can I do?" The individual, "I am helpless," and you're saying, this need not be so.

Saul Alinsky Well, as individuals, Studs, as you know, you said we've known each other for 30 years, going all the way back to the days when we were involved in organizing for sharecroppers, for the International Brigade in Spain, for the CIO, and for those real radical communist things like public housing. You remember that?

Studs Terkel Yeah,

Saul Alinsky Gee, that was going to be socialism, if that ever hit this country.

Studs Terkel As a matter of fact, there's someone you mention in the book, Elizabeth Wood, the remarkable woman who was a Chicago--

Saul Alinsky Oh yeah, some of those names are going back there.

Studs Terkel You were saying.

Saul Alinsky Well, the one thing we certainly knew all the time was, "What, what can I do?" You can do nothing by yourself as an individual. From the time of the first urban relocation project out of the Garden of Eden, or the salamanders crawling out of the water, whichever way anybody wants to buy it, man has always organized in order to be able to do anything. In order to do anything, you've got to have power. In order to have power, you've got to organize, and from the beginning of time, when there were three people on this Earth, and two of them got together and organized and turned to the third one and said, "This is the way it's gonna be, baby. We're two against one." That's the way it's always been. If you wanted to do something in a labor field, like the days of the CIO, you had to organize, and then take General Motors, Chrysler and all the rest of those tycoons,

Studs Terkel I know one of your teachers of course was perhaps the greatest of all labor organizers and most eloquent, John L. Lewis, you wrote his, his biography, a very excellent one. That was his theory

Saul Alinsky He was a genius of an organizer. My teachers were very funny, Studs. There was John L.; these guys sort of, I don't know why, they took a liking to me, and John L. used to take the position with me that I would be a great organizer someday. This is just when I was a kid, and so he sort of politically adopted me. Oh, he ran onto some funny scenes, I can remember once when my saying [to him?], this is sort of getting off the ball, I asked him one day--his personal life was all screwed up, you know, and I said, "How does a great organizer like you wind up with your personal life so screwed up?" and he said, "Well, you'll learn when, one of these days when you get to be up there." And boy, was he right. At any rate, there was Lewis, and then there was Clarence Darrow. I was lucky enough to be included in a small group of kids at college. He had an apartment close by. And on Sunday afternoons when he was in town we'd walk, we'd be invited over for tea and we'd sit there at the feet of our idol, you know, just looking up to him. And then I can't discount Ed Kelly. I disagreed with a lot of, you know, you remember the days of the Kelly machine, Jesus, it made Daley's operation look like a Junior League. Let's not forget those days. They didn't even bother to count ballots then, you can remember, they used to weigh them, and when election day came around, it was the greatest day of resurrection of, had ever been seen, it made the Christ resurrection story look like a two-bit operation. Everybody who was dead around Chicago was voted that day, you remember? [chuckling] The days of Bathhouse John and those beautiful rationalizations

Studs Terkel So in the sense that these were all teachers in one way or another of you,

Saul Alinsky I didn't have to agree with what they were going for, but I knew that they knew how to organize.

Studs Terkel That's what

Saul Alinsky you-- That's what I was interested in finding out. Pendergast out of Kansas City was another guy, you know. These were great organizers,

Studs Terkel So basically even taking a contemporary case, a mayor [Alinsky coughs] neither of us admires, say the Mayor of this city, organization. There was an organization that resulted in a victory by more than 400,000 and it's organization, isn't it?

Saul Alinsky That's right. That's right. I think the one big difference and I watched Daley organize from the time when he was a state representative out of Bridgeport. Those were the days when we pulled one thing which Daley has never forgiven me for. We got into a battle, a Back of the Yards council, those were the days when it was a militant, tough--it was, it was the ideal people's organization through the country. Everybody said so. John L. Lewis said it was the greatest people's organization. Ed Murrow, who used to be with, remember, with CBS, did a one-hour documentary on it as the ideal one against prejudice. Communist Party of America pronounced it the greatest united front. Those were the days when this program was along that line. But, so we took on the Park District, the "Chicago Tribune", and the Democratic Party. And remember we were, we represented 5 of the submachine wards, and we just beat the hell out of them. And Daley at that time, we compelled him to publicly break with the Democratic Party. You know how he prizes party loyalty, organization loyalty, and come out on a side of Back of the Yards against Kelly, it's one thing he's never forgiven me for.

Studs Terkel Can we, Saul, because this will come up often, and I know you have a reply to it, and they'll say the Back of the Yards, but that thrilling, the exhilarating moment that it had, what happened to it, you know, and how come you didn't go further so it would not be able to fulfill its dream? I know you have a reply to that.

Saul Alinsky [No? Yeah?], you can't, it's a, it's the one problem, Studs, the one question that we don't have any answers for, and that is what happens when the have-nots get together and then they they make it through power. They're successfully organized. They win their battles, and they get to be, they get to be the haves. Well, they change. Morality to a large extent is nothing more than a rationalization of a particular time and place that you're occupying in a power pattern. If you're a have-not, you're out to get, if you're a have, you're out to keep. Now, the, what I call the nightfall of success, once you enter that, there's, that's the way it goes. You shift over. We've seen it with the CIO. You remember what a militant organization that used to be? We've seen it in the last 25

Studs Terkel years. Unless there is that one ingredient not yet found, you know, and that's the aspect

Saul Alinsky of-- Well--

Studs Terkel The nature of man himself possibly altering some values. This is the thing we talk

Saul Alinsky Well, it's always getting a little bit better. Anybody who thinks it isn't all they've got to do is look back through time and what things were--well, for example during feudalism, when you were born into a certain class, you stayed there, no matter what you could do, you, you were going to be a craftsman and that's where you stayed. Even, even on the war scene, as much as both of us are, always battled against Vietnam and our goofed-up foreign policy in supporting all these reactionary fascistic governments around. But yet it's, it has been getting better out there, it has to. The--I don't know, you do, you do get, you may get certain qualitative changes. Well, they--look at Christ. Christ was only 33 when he got knocked off. I don't know what would have happened to him if he'd scored. He didn't score, you know. And Paul hadn't come around. I mean, what the hell kind of an organizer was Jesus? He had 12 guys, one finked out on him, the other 11 ran for the woodwork the minute the heat got turned on. I think this is a lot of crap about that they'd denounce him before the cock crowed thrice. I think the minute the cock opened its mouth they were gone, you know.

Studs Terkel So bas--go ahead, I'm sorry.

Saul Alinsky And there wasn't any Ford Foundation around to give him a grant or anything else like that, you know. All through history that has been the pattern it has followed.

Studs Terkel Also I know that you evoke and call upon lessons through history, but throughout, in your book, in this new book of yours, "Rules for Radicals", you're showing how the anonymous people can find a sense of power through organization, and this speci--but you're always talking about specifics, aren't ya? Not abstracts, something very

Saul Alinsky That's right. That's right. I'd like to see--in the first place, although my whole life has been given over to the organization for power, I have a serious distrust of power. And what I'd like to see is power, all kinds of groups having power, and in the constant scrapping between all of them, this is where you get the good life. This is where you keep getting all the compromises, and the give and takes and so on. It's when the power starts really getting in just a few, and then fewer and fewer and fewer and then a "Heil, Hitler," you know, that kind of business. Then you're in trouble.

Studs Terkel Well of course, I think you're talking about power within persons, of power within groups--in contrast, you know, there's a usual cliche, and you blast that, you know, the Lord Acton phrase is called upon, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." You're saying that powerlessness, powerlessness, really [unintelligible]--

Saul Alinsky Powerlessness really corrupts.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Saul Alinsky Also, I don't know what everybody is so upset about on this business of corruption. It's sort of like, if you don't want to die you've got no business getting born. If you don't want to be somewhat corrupted that way, you got no business living. We all get, life itself is a corrupting process. It depends upon who's calling the shots on it, you know. From the time you start playing your father off against your mother when you're five years old, you're already making deals, you're already getting corrupt.

Studs Terkel But there's another way you put it in the book, and that is conflict. Somewhere along here the very nest--the essential aspect of conflict in life, you know, and you blast the whole idea of a person being controversial. We're all controversial from the moment we're born. And you speak of conflict as one of the essences of progress. You know, the battling continuously.

Saul Alinsky Well, conflict and battle is the, is the very matrix out of which every creative idea, every form of progress comes out, and out of which life is. Other--did you ever hear of any society that believed in consensus and conformity really doing anything? Can you think of a more conformity society or with more consensus than, say, the Third Reich? Where you, if you disagreed on anything you were a handful of ashes the next morning.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So, I'm thinking of the, people are asking, you know, the very ways to do it, and there's so many techniques. Right now you're working with middle-class groups, aside from the, your work with the have-not groups. There's a perfect case in point: suppose you act yourself and I'll be this guy on the street. You know, when these are tenants, you know, the guy lives in a slum house.

Saul Alinsky Yeah.

Studs Terkel And you've got it here. Perhaps we can even read it. You know. The idea.

Saul Alinsky Oh,

Studs Terkel Oh, you know, it, I'll read the guy. Okay. And this a--here--quoting from Saul Alinsky's book, Saul's book: "the organizer's job is to inseminate an invitation for himself to agitate." By the way, you are an agitator.

Saul Alinsky Sure. And an outside agitator.

Studs Terkel An outside agitator. There

Saul Alinsky There is no such thing as an inside agitator, Studs, you know that. If you come up from the inside, one of two things happens to you. They either knock you off, or you get co-opted, or you have to take off and go someplace else. There's another important thing there, too. Because when an agitator comes in, he's an organizer, he's got to have something to really contribute in that scene. Otherwise, what does he do? He just adds another digit to the population figure there. Now, you know the old cliche "A prophet is without honor in his own hometown?" So suppose I walk into a community.

Studs Terkel He's also without profit, too.

Saul Alinsky He's also without profit, yeah. You walk into a community and, and you say you've got answers here on things that can be done and so on. If you, if you're in your own community, hell, they've known you from the time you've been a little kid and so forth, they can't look upon you as an organizer. They'll say, "Well, well geez, that's the Alinsky kid, you know, we grew up with him, we played ball with him. What the hell's he know we don't know?" Other--also, they also have the reaction--this goes for any organizer--"God, why, why should this guy from right in our own neighborhood have answers that I don't know?" It becomes an ego blow to them. But if it's somebody from the outside, all of a sudden there's a, [there's a difference?]--

Studs Terkel Yet, Saul, isn't there a case, someone who studied with you, one of your disciples in a sense, Cesar Chavez is successfully, it would seem, organizing his own people. Even though he, it's true that he

Saul Alinsky Yeah, but he [was? is?] an outside organizer to them.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Saul Alinsky Well, no, he's, to a lot of those people he is an outside organizer. He didn't come from those farm fields right outside of Delano, you know.

Studs Terkel Here's a case. Okay. So, here's a guy. He lives in a rat hole, it's infested, he doesn't know what to do, he's paying all sorts of rent to some absentee slumlord no doubt, and you're coming along. You use what you call the Socratic method.

Saul Alinsky Yeah, you're always questioning.

Studs Terkel So I'm walking along--

Saul Alinsky That's

Studs Terkel I'm walking along the street and I'm just disgusted with my life, okay? And you ask me about that building I live in, and--but he has--it's his own book, so I've got the book in my hands. So you ask me.

Saul Alinsky Oh. Well, now, first of all, I hand you a cigarette, or I ask you for a light or something, you know, I've got to start out [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel You don't know me. I don't know you.

Saul Alinsky I don't know you, no.

Studs Terkel Alright.

Saul Alinsky But I know this, I know that I can't come in and start telling you what to do without my looking like, you know, who the hell am I, Jesus? You know. I respect your dignity. I respect you as a person, and in order, and therefore in order for me to, to work with you, you've got to ask me to work along with you, you see? So this is what we're setting up now.

Studs Terkel Okay.

Saul Alinsky So I come along and I ask you for a light, and you, if you--and then you give me--

Studs Terkel As of, at

Saul Alinsky As of this moment.

Studs Terkel So I'm lighting your cigarette, okay.

Saul Alinsky So then I offer you a cigarette and I'm seemingly waiting for a bus and I say, "You from around here?"

Studs Terkel "Yeah."

Saul Alinsky "You live around here?"

Studs Terkel "Yeah, what about it?"

Saul Alinsky "Where? Where do you live?"

Studs Terkel "That building over there."

Saul Alinsky "No kidding. You live in that shit house over there?"

Studs Terkel "Yeah. What about it?"

Saul Alinsky "Jesus. You pay rent?"

Studs Terkel "And how!"

Saul Alinsky "You pay rent to live there?"

Studs Terkel "Well, of course."

Saul Alinsky "Well, look, don't, don't start getting all, you know, burned up on me, I just, I'm just asking some questions."

Studs Terkel "Well, you see, what do you mean, why do I live here? Of course, I--where else am I gonna live. I'm on welfare, and of course I pay rent!"

Saul Alinsky "What would happen if you didn't pay your rent?" Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Before--"That building looks like it's full of cockroaches, rats, and"--

Studs Terkel "Well, you're tel--not only that, it's got everything! It's got lead poisoning, too, for the kids."

Saul Alinsky "And you pay rent?"

Studs Terkel "Oh, come on. Of course you--what would you--what do you think would happen if I didn't pay rent? Of course."

Saul Alinsky "Well, what would happen if you didn't pay rent?"

Studs Terkel "Well, they'd throw me out in five minutes. You kidding?"

Saul Alinsky "Hmm. Well, what would happen if nobody in that building paid rent?"

Studs Terkel "Well, they'd start--what?"

Saul Alinsky "[Unintelligible] nobody paid any rent."

Studs Terkel "Now, wait a minute. They'd sta--I was going to say they--well, you know, they'd have trouble throwing everybody out, wouldn't they?"

Saul Alinsky "Well, what do you think?"

Studs Terkel "Hey, you know, hey, maybe you got something. Hey, I got some friends. You want to meet some of my friends? Come on, you want to go for a drink?"

Saul Alinsky "Sure."

Studs Terkel And so, it's true. This is done in a very simplistic way, this conversation.

Saul Alinsky Okay, now we're off

Studs Terkel But this is basically--

Saul Alinsky Yes.

Studs Terkel That's basically the way

Saul Alinsky That's right. And you notice, Studs, I never say what to do or say anything or venture an opinion. All I'm doing are asking, I'm asking questions. And all the way through, all the way through an organization it's straight questions. You're never told what to do. If you come up even with a tactic--and I think the tactic is a lot of crap--I may, I'll say to you, "Well, now, what's gonna happen with so-and-so if you pull this?" Hey, just the way we talked. "Hey, maybe that won't be so good." And so we keep going until finally the tactics come out of you, and everything else comes out.

Studs Terkel So, then, something happens here. You're not telling some what to do, merely piquing, hitting what might--well, I notice you quote Niels Bohr and the impertinent question, the question that never was asked is asked, in a sense.

Saul Alinsky The question is, when you say "subversive," which I am to a lot of these things, "agitator," which I am, what it cuts down to is asking questions. If you, if you put the mark of the agitator, if you had to depict it, it would be the question mark. Look, That's why they knocked off Socrates. The minute you start asking a question or getting people to ask any questions about any sacred cow, it can't be stopped. They question on, and say, "Hey, why should I believe that one? Why should I buy this thing?" Why should I go along living in this crap over here?" Why, why, why, and a revolution's on.

Studs Terkel But it's also the question that hitherto had not been asked. Suppose it is not just me alone, but suppose all of us did it. That's the thing, [see,?] [because?] the guy doesn't think that maybe someone else thinks as he does in the same predicament that he does, but we did it together. That's what you're talking

Saul Alinsky That's right. You see, the "whys?" come along and the "why?" keeps going on. "Why can't I do anything about it? Well, because I'm alone. Because why, what do I need? I need power. Well, how do I get power?" Everything's a question.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Saul Alinsky You get together with others.

Studs Terkel And as a result of this, there is someone in the community, always, who comes along; that is, as a result of this, as right this moment, the committee against pollution, which is also--

Saul Alinsky That's right.

Studs Terkel There's als--has appeared a figure, Father Leonard Dubi, who's quite remarkable. That's

Saul Alinsky That's right. There are always [unintelligible]. That's the beautiful thing about people on it, that's [unintelligible]--

Studs Terkel So this is what's happened, this is what happened when you were in Rochester, say. Rochester involved something involving the Kodak Company. Perhaps we can talk about that. We're skipping really, all we're doing is touching very lightly on Saul Alinsky's newest book, his other one of course the classic, "Reveille for Radicals", we're talking about "Rules for Radicals" that Random House has put out and where do we go--it's almost any place you find the sources of power, and the sources of power are the people who live there, obviously.

Saul Alinsky That's right. Now, basically when we're talking about a free and open society, when we're talking about a future of people, the best kind of society, we're talking about the best kind of society for people. Not a few people, but for all of the people. This means that what we have to do is to try to get power to the people, which has become a cliché today. But realistically here, and in order for people to have the power they've got to organize. And then we've got to have one article of faith, just one. And that is that if people have the power, they will do the best thing for themselves in the future. Who the hell are we to sit up there like some gods and say, "This is the thing that will bring you happiness," you know. Not only that, but the world keeps shifting all the time on us. How do we know what the problems are going to be 20 years from now? In terms of imagination, look at the dream, Studs, that both of us have had, the days when you could have gone back into the '30s, "Hard"--your "Hard Times". The dreams we had if the CIO really got successful, if we got the whole WPA into CIO, we got a third party or we took over the Democratic Party. Or the days once Hitler was defeated and a whole new world, the great United Nations would be set up, a world of peace and everything else. And you know, and we've talked about this before, if anybody would've come to us in 1947 right after the war was over and said to us that our great gallant allies, the Soviets, and the Chinese, the mainland Chinese, our great allies that we loved so much, we died together, fought together, as over against those sadistic butchering Germans and every profane term we had for the Pearl Harboring Japanese and so on, that within two years that whole power alignment would be reversed. You know, you'd have thought, geez, we were off on a trip that made LSD look like a two-bit going around the corner, you

Studs Terkel Of course, this is what Pentagon Papers is all about.

Saul Alinsky Yeah, this is what happens, and it's happened repeatedly, you know? The fact is that we got to make the choices we do on power to the people on a same basis we make all choices. This is the big problem I have with a lot of my younger radical colleagues: that all value judgments and all tactictive sessions, all policy decisions, all everything, are never made on the basis of what's best because life never affords us that opportunity, but always on the basis of alternatives. If we get away from a policy of power to the people, what are we left with? Power to the elite? Dictatorships? What have we got? What's the other side of the coin? You know? So we take it in terms of the alternatives and the old Lincoln business, you know, people will make mistakes a lot of the time, but in the long run--

Studs Terkel But the appeal also is to self-interest to people. To self-interest.

Saul Alinsky Yeah. Do you know of any other interest people

Studs Terkel [laughs] You have in your chapter--

Saul Alinsky Except when they're stoned?

Studs Terkel In your book "Rules for Radicals", in your chapter "Means and Ends", and this always comes up. Saul Alinsky leaves too much in pragmatism is the accusation, the charge, you know, and you explain what do you mean by means, what do you mean

Saul Alinsky I don't believe too much in pragmatism, I believe totally in pragmatism. What do I mean by means? A means is something that works. If it doesn't work, it isn't a means. If I only got one means ahead of me, I'll use it, and then say like everybody else in the world has always said, "What else could I do? What do you want me to do?" You know, it's so easy to luxuriate on all this morality stuff when you've got it and I haven't got it. I had somebody--where the hell was I?--I was just--oh, it was on a TV show in Dayton, this guy says to me, this is one of those talk shows and all that stuff. And he says, and this is sort of a purist guy, and he says, "What are you taking the people from? You're telling them that, to get a bigger piece of this pie of corruption, of bourgeois decadent imperialistic warmongering degenerate values? That's what you're fighting for?" Well, geez, you know, the guy doesn't understand, if I only got a crumb of bread, I haven't gotten anything, and there's a guy up there with a big piece of pie, I should start worrying whether that's a corrupt pie at this point? It's sort of like the business also when you start talking about values, which we've talked about before, when there's somebody over here saying to me, "Look, we're being discriminated against, we're being shafted, we're being exploited, my children have no future ahead of them. Help us organize. Work with us. So what should I do?" Say to--and "We need bread! We're starving!", you know? And I say, "Now, look. First of all, cool it, man. You should learn the first lesson, that man does not live by bread alone." At this point he's ready to take my head off, you know? But let me go further. Now, you know what will happen if we all get organized and we get power on it? You know what happened Back of the Yards and what'll happen to elsewhere--you're going to win because we know how to organize and we know how to win, and then you're going to become part of this decadent materialistic bourgeois culture. So why don't you sit there in your crap and stay there, you know. What the he--you can't do that,

Studs Terkel And so your point is, let what happens happen later on, assuming that people will develop, people will grow. There is so much you do at a certain moment. From then on then you assume, or you hope, there will be a certain development

Saul Alinsky What else can you do?

Studs Terkel First of all, the stomach has to be fed. Your second rule, of Saul Alinsky and of ways, of means and ends in the chapter in "Rules for Radicals": "The second rule of the ethics of means and ends is the judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment, who defines it," and you quote Shaw's "Man and Superman", that little marvelous dialogue between Tanner and Mendoza. What did Mendoza say? "I'm a brigand." And you quote him: "I live by robbing the rich," and Tanner replies, "I'm a gentleman. I live by robbing the poor. Shake hands."

Saul Alinsky Sure.

Studs Terkel So who defines? Now we come to the question who defines what is ethical. Isn't that the point.

Saul Alinsky It's always the other side that defines it. I don't think I have it in there, but I can remember the first time it hit me right between the eyes. I was in Westminster Abbey, you know, that big Forest Lawn that the British have over there, and I'm looking up at one of the plaques on the wall, and it's to his "His Majesty's great patriot, Major John Andre," I look at it and before I could stop myself I say out loud, you know, "Why, that traitorous son of a bitch," and I suddenly realize I'm an American.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Saul Alinsky This guy was--

Studs Terkel John Andre was the British spy.

Saul Alinsky That's right. But to a, but here I'm now in Britain. Look, if we had lost the revolution, there's one line in there that's very important in that book, and that, on definitions of ethics here: "There can be no such thing as a successful traitor, because if you succeed you become a founding father." Now, if we had lost the American Revolution, names like Jefferson, Madison, Jay, Hamilton, Adams, all those names would be names of traitors and you know what'd be the name of the great heroes?

Studs Terkel Benedict

Saul Alinsky Benedict Arnold, sure.

Studs Terkel So we come to the question of how does one succeed, and this is the thing, and you again point to certain tactics, this is ter--and we'll come to specifics in a moment, too, we'll take a slight pause for a moment with Saul Alinsky as my guest and he is the organizers' organizer. "Rules for Radicals" is the book and a pragmatic primer for realistic radicals, we'll come to that adjective in a moment. Random House the publishers. [pause in recording] We pick up the conversation with, with Saul Alinsky, and "Rules for Radicals". And now the question of tactics and techniques. You were telling me a story, it's in your book too, that the power boys, those who run things, most of the big shots, you've, you--if they don't know where your source is, you have to surprise them all the time. What they think you have, and you were mentioning to me your father years ago, a certain incident that was revelatory to you and you use that as a metaphor to take on the--

Saul Alinsky Oh, you want me to tell it?

Studs Terkel What do you think, it--in a way that kind of--that kind of--

Saul Alinsky Yeah, well, you see, power to begin with, these, a lot of these characters that we call the Establishment, or we call the power elite, or there are all kinds of names, and we're so damn busy in our organization we just call 'em the lousy bastards, power, a lot of their power is not what they really got, but what we think they have. And as a consequence we go along always, always being afraid of what they might do. It sort of reminds me in a way of an old story. Maybe you can remember it, Studs, the guy who had this red dragon? He kept it out in his backyard and used to be a nice dragon until one day it went berserk and started knocking over the garbage can and everything else and raising all kinds of hell. So the guy goes out there and he looks at the, his dragon, and he says, "Now, look. You either behave yourself or I'll take two aspirins and get rid of you." You know? And this is a problem with a lot of the illusions that we have about power. It's the kind of thing I had with my father on an episode you mentioned, when one day he just beat the hell out of me and then leaned over me and said, "Now, if you ever do that again, you know what'll happen to you." And why, I don't know, but through my tears, I must have been about seven years old, six years old, I looked up and said, "What?" And I never saw my ol' man go so completely disorganized in my life, and I suddenly realized he didn't know what the hell was going to happen, it was just a threat. And then I realized that he didn't know, and he was the Establishment to me then, and over and over again I've looked at the Establishment and said, you know, "Screw you. This is what I'm going to do, what are you going to do about it?" And geez, they run for their woodworks, they start climbing the walls, over and over again this has happened.

Studs Terkel And there's something else that's interesting, again, the book, I'm just, I'm just picking out various parts at random here, that's something that John L had taught you, too, John L. Lewis.

Saul Alinsky You know, old Marshall Field the Third in his biography--the biography written on me--on him, rather--in which they had a lot of notes on his relationship with me, he quotes me, correctly, as having said one day that I could go ahead and persuade any millionaire on a Friday to subsidize a revolution on Saturday from which he'd make a big profit on Sunday, although he most certainly would be executed on Monday, but he couldn't resist that Sunday profit, you know. I'll give you an example of what happened on it. Maybe I'm talking out of turn here, but when "Reveille for Radicals" came out, I know it was going to be a number-one best-seller as it turned out to be, from the minute bef--a week before it hit, because we knew it was going to be lead reviews all over the places, editorials, and the University of Chicago Press, which was publishing it at the time realized it. So Marshall Field and Company cancels out a cocktail party. One of these autographing parties over there, I don't know whether, I think I told you this story. And on a basis this book was so highly controversial and so inflammatory it would create disorder and unrest, stuff like that. So Field came over to see me and he was really upset, and he was going over to Fields, to the department store, but he was a minority stockholder at that time. I said, "Well, cool it, you know." And then I repeated the story about this millionaire thing that I just told you. I said, "Look, this book is going to be a number-one best-seller, it's coming out on Monday. By Wednesday they'll be handling it." They'd also refused to sell any of the books in their big third-floor book section, you know. They did it in writing, too, over to Joe Brandt, who then was head of the University of Chicago Press, and Joe was really upset. Well, what happened, it hit the first day. And Jesus, it just rolled, you know, and by Wednesday, "Chicago Tribune" Page 3, quarter-page ad, Marsh-- you know, Marshall Field and Company script writing, "proudly presents the nation's most controversial book, order it, charge it," [laughs] all that stuff.

Studs Terkel When the profit was too hard to resist. By the way, talking about techniques, we have to come to those tactics. You show that there are certain boycotts that don't succeed, like there was a boycott says, "Don't buy things from the Christmas weekend," and you know it's not going to work out,

Saul Alinsky you That's

Studs Terkel Or don't take photographs in your [coda? Kodak?], but you know what can succeed, and [you say?] how would a department store, you point this out on page 146 somewhere, a department store that does not hire Blacks, discrimination, a way in which--do you mind describing it? How the customers come in, you

Saul Alinsky Oh, you mean the tactics we used on them?

Studs Terkel Yeah. I think this is terribly

Saul Alinsky Well, that was, that was right here in Chicago, actually, without naming the store because they're now cooperating with [us?], one of the biggest department stores. Well, you see, one tactic, one thing I'm constantly keep trying to get across to all of my kids is "Look, play it inside the law." You can just, if you--you can kill 'em by making them live up to their own regulations. You don't have to go outside of it. They can't live up to their own code of operations, law, or ethics, or anything else. It's like trying to make the Christian church be Christian, they can't be Christian, you know. So instead of having a big sit-in or something like that, being militant, what we're gonna do was, we were going to send down about 4,000--of course, you've got to be organized, be able to pull these tactics. Four thousand Blacks in their one decent suit, one decent dress, and they were coming down on a key shopping day, which in this case was going to be, I think, on a Friday or Saturday. And we're going to bus them all down, then they were going to go into the store shopping. Well, you stick 3000 Blacks on a main floor, even though this department store covers a square block, and you know from that point on, and they're shopping, and there legitimately. And since they're poor it takes some time to shop. You know, you look at a shirt, you want to see what kind of material it has, the design of the collar, the cuffs, the this, the that--and then you keep moving over from counter to counter. Well, what happened? Any white guy walking through those revolving doors would take one look and figure he stepped through a time barrier and he's in Africa or some place, and he'd keep rolling out and go out, that'd be the end of the white trade. All day long they'd be tied up that way. Then just about an hour before the closing time, we'd order every damn thing in the store, buy out the whole place. C.O.D. Okay. That would tie up all their trucking for the next two or three days. And of course, we'd turn it down when it was delivered there. Now, one of the important things also in terms of tactics is understanding that the threat is often infinitely more terrifying than the tactic itself. It's just like going to the hospital for an operation. You'll worry about it a hell of a lot more than what's going to happen once you hit the hospital. They put you under sedation, most of the time you don't even know what the hell happened until you get out of it. So we had a couple of stool pigeons who were Uncle Toms who were highly treasured by us because you've got to have a means of communication over to the other side. So we put them on strategy committees and then of course immediately they, then once the meeting was over and everything lined up in just what we were gonna do, they got on a phone with this department store. The very next day we got a telephone call from the head of personnel over there. "We'd like you to know that we just had an emergency meeting and we've changed over our whole personnel policy and we want to hire Blacks to work as, as right on the counters. Also in our executive departments and so on and so on, and we'd like to have a meeting with you." So then to really sink the hook, we said, "Okay, we'll have the meeting next week." Remember, we're scheduled to pull this in three days. "Oh, no, no, no, no! Let's have a meeting tomorrow." You know? Right away. Well, then we knew. The bait had been taken, and that's the way it

Studs Terkel was So that's the way, and now that same technique you've suggested recently at the Unitarian Church on the South Side in connection with middle-class people, Black and white, and in the matter of automobiles, you know, we hear so much from Detroit that one day there will be a pollution-less car, we know damn well it could be now if they wanted

Saul Alinsky Sure. It could have

Studs Terkel Now there's a technique, a similar technique to the one you just described. This also involves joy, we'll come to that in a minute, the matter of getting a kick out of life itself, too, as well as sense of--

Saul Alinsky That's very important.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Saul Alinsky The tactics, the people involved, the tactics should be such that people are having a good time doing it, not only having a good time, they're having a sense of adventure on it. It's exciting, it's dramatic, it's a little bit of living, which the middle classes are starved for, because the middle-class monotony is almost as bad as ghetto monotony is, you know, and tedium. Well, they start going--let's take a look at it. We've got General Motors here. How the hell are we going to get General Motors to really move? They're in Detroit. They've got all their big stock operations and everything else. Here we are in Chicago. Here we are in Buffalo, New York or someplace. How do we get at this huge dinosaur? Well, there are a couple of clues you have. You have the clue, you know, of the mosquito that gets up the elephant's rear end, and that's the end of the elephant, he goes nuts on it. We've got to find us a vulnerable spot. Get them right under their fingernails or up around other sensitive areas. Well, where can we get 'em? Their dealers. They make the automobiles in Detroit, we buy 'em in Chicago, we buy 'em in Buffalo, New York. Okay. Now, as far as middle-class people, and you've got to remember that their tactics have to be inside their experience. You know, nothing too rough or too crude until the other side were radical, were all radicalized

Studs Terkel By the way, that's terribly important, too, has to be within the life experience of

Saul Alinsky this Of those people. No, you can't be crude, you can't be profane, you can't be this or that, there's this middle-class background they have. So they get organized to start coming in on GM dealers and looking over a car. They want a demonstration, ride in it, they take up a salesman for an hour, an hour and a half, going around, ask 'em all kinds of questions, getting all the way into the finances, getting all set to buy the thing, dickering on the trade-in, all the things that go in on a car and then suddenly they say, "Hey, I understand that the pollution-making engines are going to be out in about five years and I don't know what the government's going to do as far as all the cars are still on the road. And besides that, this pollution's a pretty bad thing. I think I'll wait until 1975. Thanks very much." Now, as they keep coming in on all these dealers, you know, one, they take all the salesman out of circulation. And what the hell is the dealer going to do? How does he know that that nice family group coming in, or those women coming in are really agitators, radicals out against, against pollution, you know? He can't take a chance on it. What's he going to say, "Look, are you one of those troublemakers?" That's the end of a possible sale.

Studs Terkel So that means all the salesmen are tied up--

Saul Alinsky All the salesmens are tied up--

Studs Terkel Indefinitely.

Saul Alinsky Sure. And so are the, so are the agencies, and you don't think they're going to start screaming to Detroit? "What the hell is happening to us? Look at all the dough, or how can we take delivery on all these cars? We're not selling." "Why aren't you selling?" "'Cause our salesmen are tied up with all these troublemakers."

Studs Terkel And so then you're saying similar to the department store thing then, very soon then the pollution-less car would be available on the market.

Saul Alinsky Very,

Studs Terkel So, envision the scene then, as the one that you envision is if we're organized in these communities, and there were 10,000 people in each city that day going to all the car dealers and asking for the test ride and then coming back "I'll wait 'til 1975." They could -- this is the technique you're talking about.

Saul Alinsky That's right. It isn't just picketing, it isn't just giving out press releases. These things are important with reference to the media getting people more and more aware. But basically, you know, the old business is nothing is dead as yesterday's news still applies. Basically you've got to keep the pressure on and on where it hurts. And this means organization.

Studs Terkel You have all these old and new tactics and you're always talking about this, and the tactics must always be outside the experience of, experience of the Establishment.

Saul Alinsky Yeah, well, I point, I point out in there for example I knew that sit-downs, or sit-ins, were dead when the vice president of one of the biggest drug corporations in America rolls out a blueprint in front of me and shows me a blueprint of his new factory in which he's got a big room which is going to be called a sit-in room, so when guys come in to sit-in, they're going to be led into this huge sit-in room with color TV and coffee and magazines and everything else and they can sit there for 20

Studs Terkel So he's co-opted it, then. He's

Saul Alinsky co-opted. Sure.

Studs Terkel So now the key then is to have a technique, a way that is immune from being co-opted by the very one from whom you seek certain rights. This is very funny, you quote Finley Peter Dunne. I guess--

Saul Alinsky Oh,

Studs Terkel Until Mike Royko came along, you might say perhaps the greatest columnist in the Midwest. And this is Mr. Dooley, turn of the century, "Don't ask for rights. Take them. And don't let any one give them to you. A right that is handed to you for nothing has something the matter with it. It's more likely that it's only a wrong turned inside out." So it has to be--

Saul Alinsky Sure.

Studs Terkel Won.

Saul Alinsky It has to be.

Studs Terkel And taken, doesn't it. Perhaps you could describe--we've merely touched very briefly on this book, and we've gone almost an hour, I know you have other engagements, Saul Alinsky, but perhaps touch on the technique. Oh, by the way, people say "Alinsky has all this planned, and it's all worked out," of course, and you indicate in the book and to me, [unintelligible], that often it's improvisation. Something unexpected comes to you that you hadn't planned, such as the proxy matter. Would you mind describing the Rochester and why you were there, [unintelligible], and the proxy matter.

Saul Alinsky Well, this is something I'm real--practically doing a whole new book on, just on the part that accident and chance plays in, in one's life, on tactics or anything else. Let me give you an example, Studs. This is the first time it's come up publicly. I'm, I just finished writing and I've always had sort of a feeling about not talking that openly about, but what the hell, you know, you only live once,

Studs Terkel Right.

Saul Alinsky And it's, this is the way so many things happen. But other people will not accept it that way. They believe, they have to believe, that life is rational, it's logical, and everything goes according to plan, calculation. Everything we learn in our colleges is reason, logic, mental discipline, being systematic: Roman numeral one, small a, small b, Roman numeral two, and so on. So as a consequence a whole mythology develops around you. And since so many guys like to believe the mythology--and like a story I tell in there, that I selected July 14th as the first date for the first community Congress of the Back of the Yards purely on the basis that it was, it was the one date that the CIO had open, the one date that was best for the church, it was the one day that was best all around, and the park auditorium was open that one day. So an hour before the convention starts I'm sitting in a press conference and Ed Lahey, formerly of "Chicago Daily News" and a top labor reporter then, says to me, "Well now, Alinsky, people know about you and the way you think and so on, now obviously there wasn't any question you deliberately picked today because it's Bastille Day. Now, do you have any further comment on it?" I said, you know, I looked at him--it was the first time it crossed my mind [Studs laughing]--and I said, "Well, no, I have nothing further to add to it." Then I go around, and I tell all the speakers, "Remember, today is Bastille Day. To the barricades!" In every speech, you know, but every damn account that's been written about me always points out my Machiavellian genius on it, you know, and the stuff like that. It's, let me give you an example on how some of these things happen.

Studs Terkel Sure.

Saul Alinsky This is the first time anything like this has ever come out. I'm, I'm sitting in my office, this is around 19--, oh I don't know, but let's see, this is '71, it's about 20, 21 years ago, and a guy from Montana calls me and he's the editor of a newspaper, a small paper, and he's one of the few guys fighting Anaconda Copper, and he's saying to me, "I've got to have an organizer. Will you send somebody out here to help me organize?" And I said, "I haven't got one, I wish the hell I did have one." So I'm still bothered over it, because this is a beautiful guy and, Joe Kinsey Howard, I don't know whether you remember that name, he wrote a book called "Montana: High, Wide, and Handsome", a beautiful book, and Anaconda Copper hated him as much as Eastman Kodak hates me, you know. So, and that night, I'm still living in Hyde Park then, and it was sort of our weekly social thing of a poker party, a couple of University of Chicago professors, a couple of, a couple of psychiatrists, a couple of left-wing agitators, and myself. I suppose I'd put myself in with the latter. And we always used to meet and play poker. So one of the University of Chicago professors, very well-known, top, top sociologist--he's been dead for some time now--while we're playing poker he starts griping about the fact that he's had to take over an organization called the American Council on Race Relations, which was set up between Marshall Field and the old Rosewell Foundation to study civil liberties around civil rights through the country. And what happens, he--this organization is so crapped up that he's going in to reorganize it. And so I'm not paying any attention, I'm just trying to figure out should I be another sucker and try to fill an inside straight again? Geez, when am I going to learn, you know? But the pot's getting bigger on the table. And all of a sudden he says something about, "And one of the first things I'm going to do is, they've got a guy working out in Los Angeles, every time we send--he's been sent out for a survey he always starts organizing." So my ears go up, you know? Jesus. So I'm still, so before I say "Well, I'll take another card. " I said, "What's this ki--this weirdo's name?" you know? He says, "Fred Ross." "Oh, where's he live?" you know. So after the hand is over, I go to a phone and I call Ross. I said, "Look, you know anything about me?" Well, it turned out he was a big admirer, he'd read "Reveille" and so on. I said, "I'm coming out to L.A. and I want to talk to you. I'll be out next week." So I go out there and I start talking to him and I'm impressed with what I see, but he, he won't go to Montana, he wants to stay in Los Angeles and organize Mexican-Americans. I said, "Well, hell, I haven't got any dough for that stuff" and so on, and, you know, skip it. Now remember, this an accident, it starts off in

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. Right, yeah.

Saul Alinsky So at this point another accident comes from another thing. So he goes over to see a guy that he knows, Carey McWilliams, who's now, you know,

Studs Terkel of-- "The

Saul Alinsky "The Nation." So Carey comes over and starts talking to me about the plight of the Mexican-Americans. I'm from Chicago, I don't know what the hell the plight of the Mexican-Americans. Blacks you can talk to me about, Poles, working people and so forth, we haven't--at that point we haven't too many Mexican-Americans [appoint a?] problem in Chicago, and I'm thinking of, still of Montana. So finally I said, "Well, Carey, look, all right, I'll buy everything you tell me, I've been around to these barrios and it stinks, they ought to be organized, but I haven't got the dough. How the hell am I going to put this guy on the payroll as an organizer?" He said, "Well, let's go over to see Melvyn Douglas." You know, the, movie star, the actor. So we go over to see Melvyn Douglas. Well, now comes another accident. This is just six months after Nixon had done the job on Helen Gahagan Douglas, his wife.

Studs Terkel Mmhmm.

Saul Alinsky And Melvyn is boiling, he wants to hit back at Nixon, see, this Congressman at that point. So he come--so we talk about organizing and registering Mexican-Americans, getting hundreds of thousands of new votes in, and be able to get Helen Gahagan, and be able to get back at Nixon, you know. So he puts up the dough. So we hire Ross. Okay. Now, accident after accident, so I come back to Chicago, Ross is now working out there. In the meantime--I know we're running out of time--

Studs Terkel It's

Saul Alinsky But a series of accidents occur in New York with reference to a, to a new foundation set up by a guy who used to, who made all of his money and was one of the big wheels in the Schenley distilleries. And this guy's set up, left all of his dough to set up a foundation for a purpose which was no longer existent, a deal with immigration, and immigration stopped 30 years before, and he hadn't changed his will. I find myself out on the street with a stranger and I don't know that this stranger is one of the trustees of this foundation, and I bitch all over the place, the guy asked me a lot of questions and he gets sold on it. So he then tells me that he's tied up with this foundation and I'll give us a clunk of dough. Now, you see the way this pattern's building up.

Studs Terkel Yeah,

Saul Alinsky Some, some months later, just when all this is happening, Ross calls me and tells me that he's found a young Mexican-American lumber handler in Hayward, California who's sort of rebelling against a lot of the crap his people are dealing with, and can he hire him for the Industrial Areas Foundation and put him on our payroll and we can start training. So I say to Ross, "Well, call me back in a week, I'll know whether I get the dough out of this New York Schenley operation and then we can hire him if you think he's got those potentialities." I get the dough, I call Ross and say, "Okay, put the kid on your payroll." That's, turns out to be Cesar Chavez, you know? Otherwise Cesar probably, you probably never would have heard of him, you know? And so

Studs Terkel And so we come to the question of accident--

Saul Alinsky Accident, chance.

Studs Terkel Improvisation, but also the imagination to go

Saul Alinsky The imagination, you've got to cont--you don't panic, you're willing to go with the action, you know. And on the proxy thing, coming back to your question when the proxy thing first came up, here was the organized Black ghetto. Here was a battle against Eastman Kodak. What do we do? How do we fight 'em? All the old tactics were out the window. We couldn't have a boycott, boycott them on what? No, nobody would take any pictures, that was out. What else could we do? So the important thing was we had to have action and not try to figure out too much, just where the campaign was going, because it's a very fluid world, just as I've indicated on the way--it's from poker to this, to that, to this, and you're going with the action on the thing. And so there's a stockholders meeting that's coming up in about five or six weeks. All right, it'd give us a piece of action, we'd get some publicity out of it, we'd picket the joint, we'd try to raise some hell inside, but it was action! While we think up of other things, you know. That's ALL that was in my mind as I spelled it out in

Studs Terkel "Rules"-- And the rest, of course, is in the book itself--

Saul Alinsky The rest of it is there.

Studs Terkel By the way, it's very dramatically--very dramatic, very thrilling, too, the Kodak fight, the proxy fight to, to result in reformation in some of the ghetto areas of Rochester. This in a way is what Saul Alinsky is offering, a certain way that people can get together and find a sense of power and in some sense, a sense of joy, basically. Saul, I think--you know, I know you have an engag--

Saul Alinsky And once they start, the accidents will start happening.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Saul Alinsky That's the interesting thing.

Studs Terkel You know, it's funny how this connects with art. Duke Ellington spoke of this too, what he calls "happy accident," a certain phrase unexpected, it was misplayed by say, Johnny Hodges, and suddenly it, it opened up avenues to Duke, and a new piece of music came into being as a result of it. That's right [unintelligible]--

Saul Alinsky Everybody! [Zolar?], Niels Bohr, all the scientists will attest to the same thing, Heisenberg, they'll all attest to the same thing.

Studs Terkel By the way, that's a good way to end, with a Niels Bohr quote which is your approach, that it's not a question of offering a solution so much as asking questions, of the Socratic approach again, it's questions, isn't it? Isn't that the idea pretty much? So I think Saul--

Saul Alinsky [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel You know what would be kind of good, if you would read the last paragraph, of course, Alinsky had to be a good writer, too. In the last paragraph, "Rules for Radicals"--

Saul Alinsky Aw, c'mon, Studs. You know, flattery will get you everywhere.

Studs Terkel Huh? Flattery will. Saul--

Saul Alinsky We usually don't flatter each other until we've had about three double, double scotches.

Studs Terkel That's true. We're doing this cold sober, and Random House is the publisher of "Rules for Radicals" of Saul Alinsky, and perhaps the last, the last paragraph as a sort of a "Hail, farewell" for the moment.

Saul Alinsky You really want me to

Studs Terkel I think so, yeah, that'd be kinda good.

Saul Alinsky Okay. First time with a libretto since I saw it in proofs back some months ago. "A great American dream that reached out to the stars has been lost to the stripes. We have forgotten where we came from. We don't know where we are, and we fear where we may be going. Afraid, we turn from the glorious adventure of the pursuit of happiness to a pursuit of an illusionary security in an ordered, stratified, striped society. Our way of life is symbolized to the world by the stripes of military force. At home we have made a mockery of being our brother's keeper by being his jail keeper. When Americans can no longer see the stars, the times are tragic. We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it."

Studs Terkel When we believe it, see it, in a sense there's an optimistic note here, too.

Saul Alinsky We've got to, Studs. Otherwise, where do we go? Nowhere. We

Studs Terkel So the phrase, this phrase Samuel Beckett used and I'm sure that's Alinsky's phrase too, in "Waiting for Godot", blind Pozzo is asked, "Where do you go from here?" and he said, "On." [chuckling] On.

Saul Alinsky Where else? It's the old mountain climber's business, you know, "Why do you climb it?" "Because it's there." What else is--if we don't believe it, if we take hope out, if we say, "Is it too late?" If it's too late, well, scrap it, it's all over, you know?

Studs Terkel And we say it's not.

Saul Alinsky Of course we say it's not.

Studs Terkel Saul, thank you very much. "Rules for Radicals" is the book, and quite a powerful, revelatory, and I'd say a very therapeutic one, too. And Random House the publishers and it's quite available. [pause in recording] This is our program for this morning and after this message a word about tomorrow's program. [pause in recording] Tomorrow I thought we'd rebroadcast a conversation and some of the musical style, too, of one of the premier of accompanists of concert singers, Paul Ulanowsky, who as you know was the favorite of Lotte Lehmann as well as among others, so Paul, the late Paul Ulanowsky, tomorrow, and his reflections and music. Until then, take it easy, but take it.