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The concrete one was: Can poor people be organized into a powerful political force?The abstract one, which was in the water on college campuses in those days, could be put something like: What do these words like “radical” and “democracy” even mean, and can we challenge their currently understood meanings in ways that might distribute power more broadly to those who don’t have it?
Put more simply, that conflict can serve a social function.
She cites the sociologist Lewis Coser a lot, who strikes me as a very Hillary sort of person to cite—he was of the left but also a critic of the left.
The longest chapter looks at three case studies of Alinsky organizing projects and why they succeeded (in the first case) and failed (in the other two).
The first case was the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, where Alinsky’s efforts were successful in bringing jobs and opportunity to the neighborhood in part because the people there were white ethnic Catholics who had real representation in City Hall, including in the form of Mayor Richard J. The two other cases, in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood and in Rochester, New York, didn’t work out so well; the reason, of course, was race.
In Rochester, Alinsky formed a group in the black neighborhood called FIGHT.
The Kodak Corporation at first was actually cooperative, even promising to build a plant there, which it never did, at least as of May 1969.
This might seem surprising at first blush, but if you understand Alinskyism, it makes perfect sense, because Alinsky was all about local control.
He was very suspicious of the feds butting in, and Clinton imbibed some of that from him.
Her musings on the abstract question go back and forth between endorsing a more confrontational posture here and one more rooted in consensus there.
There’s a long discussion of conflict theory, which was pretty au courant at the time, and which held that conflicts between groups that have unequal power are inevitable and necessary and can provide the necessary group cohesion to spur the less powerful group to action.