Thursday, January 14, 2010

How Alyinsky has failed Chicago

Heather Mac Donald in City Journal on Chicago's youth violence and how "community organizing" has failed to do anything. It's a great, although long, article.

The Alinsky model views poverty as a lack of political power. Well, from a racial standpoint in cities such as Chicago and Detroit this just doesn't jive with reality.

But by the time Obama arrived in Chicago in 1984, an Alinskyite diagnosis of South Side poverty was doubly irrelevant. Blacks had more political power in Chicago than ever before, yet that power had no impact on the tidal wave of dysfunction that was sweeping through the largest black community in the United States. Chicago had just elected Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor; the heads of Chicago’s school system and public housing were black, as were most of their employees; black power broker Emil Jones, Jr. represented the South Side in the Illinois State Senate; Jesse Jackson would launch his 1984 presidential campaign from Chicago. The notion that blacks were disenfranchised struck even some of Obama’s potential organizees as ludicrous. “Why we need to be protesting and carrying on at our own people?” a prominent South Side minister asked Obama soon after he arrived in Chicago. “Anybody sitting around this table got a direct line to City Hall.”

So, where does an Alinsyite go from here?

[O]n the eve of Obama’s first political campaign, the aspiring state senator gave an interview to the Chicago Reader that epitomized the uselessness of Alinskyism in addressing black urban pathology—and that inaugurated the trope of community organizer as visionary politician. Obama attacks the Christian Right and the Republican Congress for “hijack[ing] the higher moral ground with this language of family values and moral responsibility.” Yeah, sure, family values are fine, he says, but what about “collective action . . . collective institutions and organizations”? Let’s take “these same values that are encouraged within our families,” he urges, “and apply them to a larger society.”

Even if this jump from “family values” to “collective action” were a promising strategy, Obama overlooks a crucial fact: there are almost no traditional families in inner-city neighborhoods. Fathers aren’t “encouraging” values “within our families”; fathers are nowhere in sight. Moving to “collective action” is futile without a core of personal responsibility on which to build. Nevertheless, Obama leapfrogs over concrete individual failure to alleged collective failure: “Right now we have a society that talks about the irresponsibility of teens getting pregnant,” he told the Reader, “not the irresponsibility of a society that fails to educate them to aspire for more.”

It's society's job to educated kids to inspire them for more. Ok, let's go with the thought that just perhaps society can't do that? It needs to start a bit closer to home. Yea, maybe not. This from last summer after the murder of Derrion Albert, from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

“I came here at the direction of the president, not to place blame on anyone, but to join with Chicago, with communities across America in taking responsibility for this death and the deaths of so many other young people over the years,” announced Duncan. Of course, the government has been “taking responsibility” for children for several decades now, at a cost of billions of dollars, without noticeable effect on inner-city dysfunction. The feds have funded countless programs in child and youth development, in antiviolence training, in poverty reduction. If “collective action,” as Obama put it in 1995, could compensate for the absence of fathers, the black violence problem would have ended years ago.

Can we now, please, put this canard to bed? Of course not.

Some members of Chicago’s Left will argue against holding fathers or mothers responsible for their children. “To blame it on the family is totally unfair,” says Gwen Rice, a board member of the Developing Communities Project. “I’m tired of blaming the parents. The services for the poor are paltry; it boggles the mind. Historically, you can’t expect a parent who can’t get a job to do something that someone with resources can do. These problems have histories; there are policies that have mitigated against black progress. What needs to happen is a change in corporate greed and insensitivity.” Rice corrects my use of the term “illegitimacy”: “There are no illegitimate births,” she says.

Chicago, Detroit, it's all the same. It's a great article. Read the whole thing.