Community Organizers: Maximum Feasible Radicals

Ever since Governor Sarah Palin and other Republicans publicly mocked community organizers at the GOP convention, Barack Obama has been very defensive about his former profession. To protect his political flank, Obama supporters accused these critics of racism and made this ridiculous claim: “Jesus was a community organizer, Pontius Pilate was a governor.”

This rhetorical smokescreen is understandable because community organizing projects – products of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society – have had, to put it mildly, a checkered history.

The original intent of the “War on Poverty” was to encourage “maximum feasible participation” of inner city residents in their quest for community. However, social diagnosticians, whose goal was to create a permanent poverty industry, changed the language in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to read that there be “maximum feasible participation of public agencies and non-profits” in poor neighborhoods.

That simple clause was responsible for the rise of community organizers who Daniel Patrick Moynihan described as “guerillas living off the administrative countryside” exercising power without the corresponding responsibility. Unlike neighborhood pols, who were accountable to the electorate, they did not have to fear punishment for wrong or unpopular actions.

These anti-poverty warriors subscribed to radical Saul Alinsky’s principles that one must organize to “rub raw the sores of discontent” and that conflict is the basis of community organization.

In this spirit, a 1969 draft of the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Trainer’s Manual for Community Action Agency Heads actually encouraged “threat power” as an appropriate tool for community organizers:

Threat power – the ultimate threat power is the riot. This is clearly against the public law, the national standards of conduct and the rules of OEO; and it is most destructive to the citizens most in need. But it is important that Board members recognize the threat power of rioting as a very real power and possibility.

Hundreds of millions of dollars that poured into community action programs were dedicated to supporting professional rabble-rousers, not the downtrodden. New York City’s Democratic mayor, Robert Wagner, complained to the White House in 1965, that community organizers were “becoming full-time paid agitators and organizers for extremist groups.” One old-time lefty, Stanley Aronowitz, Chairman of Manhattan’s West Side Committee for Independent Political Action, conceded that the only benefit of the Great Society’s largesse was “it has given employment to the organizers.”

After studying the community organizing programs of the sixties, Moynihan concluded they consisted of soaring rhetoric, minimum performance, feigned constancy, private betrayal. There was not “maximum feasible participation” but “maximum feasible misunderstanding.”

Despite dismal results, to this day thousands of community organizing groups continue to be funded by taxpayer dollars and tax-exempt foundations to promote leftist ideological agendas. The most prominent of these national community organizing groups is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) which the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stein describes as “a 1960s-bred agenda of anti-capitalism, central planning, victimology, and government handouts to the poor.”

ACORN’s extreme leftist redistributist People’s Platform proclaims that “they are the majority, forged from all the minorities” and they “will continue to fight… until we have shared the wealth, until we have won our freedom….” ACORN calls for “sustainable development” to limit the growth of suburbs and “regional governments” that would prevent people and businesses from leaving inner cities and force them to pick up the tax tab for ACORN’s social policy agenda. ACORN also proposes that before large companies leave a municipality they seek “an exit visa from the community board signifying that the company has adequately compensated all its employees and the community at large for losses due to relocation.”

To enhance further their power in New York State, ACORN created the Working Families Party (WFP) which has provided the margin of victory for leftists in closely contested elections. (In the 2006 New York gubernatorial race, WFP’s statewide total was 155,000 votes versus the Conservative Party’s 168,000.)

To finance their national network, ACORN procures huge grants from national, state, and municipal governments, foundations, and even large corporations. Robert Wooden, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise reports, “The same corporations that pay ransom to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton pay ransom to ACORN.”

What is interesting in this year’s election is that ACORN money, through various accounting ploys such as voter registration drives, is being expended to benefit Obama, who has long-time ties to the group. (As a community organizer, Obama trained ACORN members in grievance mongering.) The Obama campaign also gave $800,000 to ACORN – which they failed to report properly to the Federal Election Commission – to perform “get out the vote” work during the presidential primary season.

Obama is sensitive about his community organizing history because he doesn’t want the public to realize their tax dollars have funded his political career and that the radical agenda of his social engineering confreres is dedicated to repressing, not enhancing, personal liberties.


George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.