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by Roldo Bartimole

(Plain Press, September 2017)     Fifty years ago, this headline appeared in the Plain Dealer: “NEGRO PASTORS TO SHUN ORGANIZER ALINSKY”

Things don’t change much in Cleveland, do they? Not in 50 years anyway.

Unless you truly understand—they do change. They get worse.

I wrote that story for the PD in 1967.

I wrote: “The United Pastors, a group formed by Negro pastors … agreed not to meet with Saul Alinsky, a militant consumer advocate when he comes to Cleveland next month.”

They didn’t want change. They apparently, like now, enjoy keeping control of those with dire needs.

This Thursday the United Pastor (now with added “Mission” to its name) worked a deal that undercut 20,000 signers for a vote on the Quicken Arena dirty deal to finance an expansion with public funding in the tens of millions. A dirty political deal against their own.

They sabotaged community action as they played a change role that never changes.

Alinsky, who died in 1972, was the great organizer of communities for people who needed help. His organization was called the Industrial Areas Foundation.

Conservative author William F. Buckley Jr. said in 1966 that Alinsky was “very close to being an organizational genius,” according to his Wikipedia citation.

He was genius enough to stay away from Cleveland. But his old organization has organizers working here now for the Greater Cleveland Congregations.

They helped gather the amazing number of signatures that shocked Cleveland political, business, religious and non-profit establishments.

But they were undercut from within.

In the three-page letter from the Cavalier (Dan Gilbert) organization withdrawing its proposal for the Quicken deal noted sarcastically that the Alinsky group organizers for the GCC had delayed the project by its collection of signatures forcing a referendum vote.

What dirty business—democracy.

Alinsky did visit Cleveland. I covered that meeting for the Plain Dealer when it was a newspaper, not a propaganda outlet.

In another article I wrote that Alinsky visited here but refused to come to Cleveland to organize.

“Cleveland has a reputation of having a beaten Negro population,” he told a crowd of some 700 people.

He said further, “its leadership is pretty much bought out. That’s your reputation.”

He didn’t gloss over the situation. He didn’t like what he saw here.

I wrote: “Alinsky said he views this Cleveland effort as an attempt ‘to operate in terms of a cosmetic cover-up instead of surgery.”

Again, just like today.

Fifty years ago, Alinsky said, “Cleveland has a reputation of having developed welfare colonialism.” He went on to attest that what is now known here as the black community as “docile… and not particularly militant or organizational minded.”

My, how slowly we change.

I remember calling two of Cleveland’s corporate elite at the time.

Ralph Besse, formerly of Squire-Sanders and head of CEI, told me Cleveland “doesn’t need an agitator,” which meant that’s exactly what the city needed. Jack Reavis of Jones-Day said it would be a “tragedy” if Alinsky came to Cleveland.

Now we have manipulator Fred Nance of Squires with the same attitude and a central figure in financing sports here.

Alinsky wrote Cleveland off. The Council of Churches prompted him to come here and had the intention of him helping organize the black community. But Cleveland corporate interests, just as with the Q deal, undercut the effort.

Of course, Cleveland in this period was experiencing uprising in our ghetto. Today, we have lots of crime but within these communities so the pressure is off the pols and business elites.

Now the GCC employs members of the old Alinsky group. They, with others, did an amazing job of collecting more than 20,000 signatures, really in opposition to welfare, not for the poor, but for a multi-billionaire Dan Gilbert.

It showed the community might be more awake than 50 years ago, or more aware of its subjugation.

But they got sold out.

Alinsky must be shedding tears somewhere today.

What a sellout!

How GCC can be trusted at all, on anything, seems remote.

GCC allowed the United Pastors, the same group that dissed Alinsky 50 years ago, to destroy one of the first successful fights against corporate domination in Cleveland with a dirty deal to go ahead with heavy financing of the Q’s expansion for little in return. In exchange for some pledges of little help from Cuyahoga County, in debt for $100 million and spending like a drunk on convention center, hotel and an arena.

Alinsky said in 1967 that he organized around principals that called for sort of “political guerrilla warfare” because to be effective his tactics “have to be outside the experience of the enemy.”

The enemies here are Mayor Frank Jackson, County Executive Armond Budish, City Council president Kevin Kelley, County Council president Dan Brady and the United Pastors.

It’s a pity but blacks have been sold out again.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published online on September 1, 2017 by Have Coffee Will Write. To view more articles by Roldo Bartimole visit


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