Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Saul Alinsky and Jack Germond

Saul Alinsky

On this date in 1909, the great 20th-century community organizer Saul David Alinsky was born in a Chicago slum to Russian Jewish immigrant parents. Alinsky said in an interview that his parents "were strict orthodox; their whole life revolved around work and synagogue." When asked if he was a devout Jew as a boy, Alinsky responded: "I suppose I was — until I was about 12. I was brainwashed, really hooked. But then I got afraid my folks were going to try to turn me into a rabbi, so I went through some pretty rapid withdrawal symptoms and kicked the habit" (Playboy, 1972). Alinsky majored in archaeology at the University of Chicago, but after two years of graduate study he dropped out to work as a criminologist for the state of Illinois. In the mid-1930s, he started working with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and became a close friend of John L. Lewis. Alinsky shifted from labor to community organizing in 1939, focusing first on improving the impoverished slums he grew up in. In 1940, millionaire Marshall Field III provided Alinsky funds to start the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), which grew into a prominent training institute for radical community organizers across the country. Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez were connected to the IAF, along with numerous other leading community organizers and movements. Alinsky's "street-smart tactics influenced generations of community organizers," including President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who wrote her senior honors thesis at Wellesley College on Alinsky (The New York Times, "Know Thine Enemy," by Noam Cohen, Aug. 22, 2009). The New York Times said Alinsky was "hated and feared in high places from coast to coast" for being "a major force in the revolution of powerless people... "

Though Alinsky said he always told people he was Jewish (Playboy, 1972), his political philosophy was very nonconformist, and this carried over into his personal life. When asked if he had ever considered joining the Communist party, he replied: "Not at any time. I've never joined any organization — not even ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism" (Playboy). The goal of the radical, Alinsky explained in his final book, Rules for Radicals (1971), must be to bring about “the destruction of the roots of all fears, frustrations, and insecurity of man, whether they be material or spiritual." Enemies of the poor "can no more live up to their own rules than the Christian Church can live up to Christianity. . . . No organization, including organized religion, can live up to the letter of its own book. You can club them to death with their ‘book’ of rules and regulations" (Rules for Radicals, p. 128 & 152). In a move that horrifies the religious right to this day, Alinsky dedicated his final book to "Lucifer": "Lest we forget at least an over the shoulder acknowledgement of the very first radical, from all our legends, mythology, and history . . . the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer." In the opening paragraph of Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote: "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be." Alinsky died of a heart attack at the age of 63. D. 1972.

"If you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics."

—Saul Alinsky in an interview with Playboy Magazine, 1972

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Jack Germond

Jack Germond

On this date in 1928, journalist John Worthen "Jack" Germond was born in Newton, Mass. Germond wrote several books, mainly focusing on politics. After serving in the U.S. Army in 1946-47, he earned a B.A. and B.S. from the University of Missouri. He graduated in 1951 and began writing for the Rochester, N.Y., Times-Union, eventually heading its Washington bureau. He was the Washington Star's political editor from 1974-81 and wrote a syndicated column on national politics for 24 years with fellow journalist Jules Witcover. He moved to the Baltimore Sun when the Star folded. He first appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" in 1972 and "The Today Show" in 1980 and on PBS' "The McLaughlin Group" in 1981. Germond tended to be liberal politically and was seen by many as in touch with the average American and as a traditional "old-school" newspaper reporter.

His books included Fat Man Fed Up: How American Politics Went Bad (2005), Fat Man in the Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics (2002), Mad as Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box, 1992 (1994), Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars? (1989) and Blue Smoke and Mirrors: How Reagan Won and Why Carter Lost the Election of 1980 (1981). He co-wrote his earlier books with Witcover. He had two daughters with his first wife, Barbara Wipple. Their daughter Mandy died at age 14 from leukemia. After a divorce, in 1988 he married Alice Travis, a Democratic Party official and political activist. D. 2013. 

"In the interests of full disclosure, I must note that although I was brought up as a Protestant, I have been an atheist my entire adult life. I do not proselytize, however. Nor do I question the faith of others. I just don't want to be obliged to accept someone else's faith as a factor in my government. If John Ashcroft wants to hold a prayer meeting and advertise his piety, let him find someplace besides the Justice Department."

—Jack Germond, "Fat Man Fed Up” (2005)

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; photo by Jack E. Kightlinger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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