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What’s Alinsky Got To Do With It?

This Sunday, at the Friends Meeting I attend, I shared a long, rambling account of my personal soap opera, which is what I call it, my life, my relationships, when I am not willing to be vulnerable about it all, but I still need to vent, and well, my reality, when I am, when I am willing to share.

Short non-vulnerable version: there is a divorce, there is another long-term romantic relationship gone bad, so bad in fact I have begun describing my feelings around it as a “deranged ghost that lives outside of my body” as I search and search myself for any truth to which I can hold — to hang my feelings of love — then there are are things like a diagnoses of PTSD, which I suffer from, and for good reason, and my struggling to finish a degree program in which I am writing a thesis on solidarity behavior while I struggle with a general grumpiness about solidarity in my life and the unnerving prevalence of a philosophy of personal liberation in our culture that says, wrongly, it is actually a philosophy of community. I feel alone in facing the deranged ghost, though I am the subject of much sympathy, and I am often told the best thing to do in response to my haunting is ignore it, not try any further to mediate it, because, ironically, trying to mediate it will result in my being alienated, as honest mediation just makes others uncomfortable. I want to scream.

Someone told me after my deep sharing that my statement was a challenge, a call to community, a catharsis, for her. God knows it was for me too. That is my clearly personal thought for the day.

The clearly political one that I want to draw your attention to is this quote from Newt Gingrich on Saturday night, in one of my home states, South Carolina:

“The debate we’ll have with President Obama mark the outlying of two Americas, the America of the Declaration of Independence, the America of Saul Alinksy, the America of paychecks…The America of dependence, the America of independence, the America of strength in foreign policy, the America of weakness in foreign policy.”

As fascistic as Gingrich is being here, I think he is onto something he does not mean to be onto. Alinsky was a wounded man. He lost his wife in a drowning accident in which she was trying to save someone else. He lost his brother in childhood. There is a machismo to his ideas, a cruel efficiency, a survivalism that I think shows this pain, and a reaction to pain that appeals to many of us. He believed in enemies you must destroy, or at least have a desire to. Nowhere is Alinsky vulnerable in his public writing, as far as I know, and if he were here to tell me off for saying so, for making it an issue, I bet he would. Alinsky would hate my guts.

Alinsky’s machismo is stamped on our activist culture, and, just as Gingrich posits the whole thing like the somehow simultaneous dullard and sociopath he is, our country’s debates are often flat on the inside even though they look potentially incendiary on the outside. Believe me, Alinksy wanted an America of paychecks. What else was he doing in the slums of urban America but fighting for that, and for independence? “I love this goddamn country, and we’re going to take it back,” Alinksy said.Sound familiar? There is so much more to fight for, to work for, though, and this debate we are in about taking back America sounds, to me, autistic. Every time I hear it from whomever I hear it from. It is an industrially organized effort, lacking empathy, alienated, and obsessed with irrelevant details.

The two Americas Gingrich is being a nutball about exist, but both are missing something crucial, married together in a death embrace, I think. This reality he is talking about is one in which machismo — lack of vulnerability, lack of true community, solidarity based community, *inter*dependence — lack of real values kind of talk, where enemies abound, and fear is about fear of not having personal power, not the fear of losing the love that makes us human, these things are the foundation of our thoughts.

Both Americas Gingrich is talking about think brotherly love is a higher state, a static noun, a yogic pose or a prayer or something, not a moving verb that is about our behavior, our willingness to engage in the messiness that is life with solidarity. And romantic love is like a mental illness we either accept with or without shame, depending on our personal beliefs. This is what passes for personal beliefs, anyway. Love requires a relationship, I think, any form of it, and relationships involve care and care involves some loss of liberty because you don’t always get to do what you want when you have to negotiate a reality with someone else who is real, because you care. Community is hard work and love requires being serious about and with community. We need a new tribalism that is not about taking America back, but taking ourselves, our hearts, our families, back from these two Americas, this bi-polar thing we have created.

I think a lot about community, solidarity, my life, life in general. Here’s my marriage of the personal and political. I have talked about the importance of being a good neighbor for several years. I often fail at this goal because I still care about the life I left behind, the life of the Leftist, the serious political person. I still want to be validated by a world I no longer agree with on crucial things. All people want love, food, companionship, solutions that get people what they need. I’m from the American South. I know, there is nothing saintly about any of our ideas about how to do that. We just need to be more present to one another.

I advise people all the time to be active in their own homes, neighborhoods, churches, anything that is organized more around people than an ideology. You may disagree with me on the churches part, religion being a kind of ideology, but churches are people based, I think. Look at the Civil Rights Movement. When I became an atheist I remember taunting people, saying that I didn’t need a church to have a social life. I thought I was seeing through some hypocrisy. Well, it is a hypocrisy, the relationships that are more important than the ideology, that I now wish was more prevalent in all institutions.

The Occupy Movement has been trying to do this too, I think. I think that is what the tent encampments were or are, in some cases, about, and certainly the reclamations of people’s homes from banks and landlords. This is what excites me about the Occupy Movement, though even here, we have so far to go, so much ground to cover, and I hope to god we manage it. We are going to have to work really hard, together, in our homes, neighborhoods, and churches to see it happen. Justice, like my own search for truth in that nebulous failure of a relationship, has got to be moved from being a deranged ghost that lives outside of our bodies. It does not live in a tent, or a non-profit, or anywhere that is not you touching another, making a circuit, living the mess. Gingrich verses Alinsky is not the conversation we need to be having.

I am making a choice today to do more for my Meeting and with my Meeting; do a lot, most even, of my activism there, through there, with, as I like to advise others, the people who know and love me best, or have the potential to, get a normal working class job doing something I just enjoy, part-time, in my neighborhood, which is something I have fought against for whatever reason. I will write, certainly, since I can’t help but not, and welcome the relationships I have and the ones I will have as a result. I’ll let let you know how it turns out for me as it keeps turning out.

Windy Cooler is a psychology student at Goddard College. A long-time organizer and former teenage-mother-welfare-queen, she writes about the emotional lives of activists. She has two sons and lives in suburban DC. She can be reached at: WindyCooler@gmail.com.

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