Essay: Radical Saul Alinsky: Prophet of Power to the People

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One Alinsky proposal to help the middle class seize its share of power is Proxies for People, a group that will solicit proxies to be used at stockholders' meetings. This organization would put pressure on corporations to stop polluting the environment or to support such social causes as better mass transportation. If enough concerned stockholders show up at annual meetings, contends Alinsky, corporations will eventually have to rent Yankee Stadium to accommodate them all and will hardly be able to ignore their demands. Proxies for People, he thinks, would restore an "adventure in living to the dead majority, and might even bridge the generation gap, since both parents and children would be fighting the same problems from different angles."

Proxies for People demonstrates Alinsky's unsurpassed flair for the dramatic gesture. Some fault him, however, for lack of follow-through, for jumping too quickly from one project to the next. His reply is that he pulls out as soon as he can to give local leadership a chance. It is true, though, that he is spread perilously thin. Operating on his I.A.F. income of $25,000 a year, he seems to live at airports as he speeds from one speaking engagement to the next. At 61, having suffered personal disasters (his first wife, by whom he had two children, drowned; he recently divorced his second), Alinsky has a keen sense of mortality and seems to find more satisfaction in the pursuit than in the attainment of a goal. No ultimate Utopia lies over the horizon for him. "Every time you resolve a problem," he says, "you create another. My life is a quest for the unexpected." After life? "They'll send me to hell, and I'll organize it."

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