Jewish Activist Alinsky Inspires Unconventional Protest Set for Convention’s Final Afternoon

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“Bernie supporters planning a ‘fart-in’ at DNC,” read the New York Post headline. Many who reposted the news prefaced it with a variation on the same question: Is this a joke?

The story, which seemed at first like an Onion article, has traveled far and wide, from legacy news outlets like U.S. News and World Report to online-only juggernauts like Uproxx.
“Bernie supporters planning a ‘fart-in’ at DNC,” read the New York Post headline at the top of an article that quickly made its way around social media. Many who reposted the news prefaced it with a variation on the same question: Is this a joke?
It is not a joke.
The plan, which was hatched by longtime community organizer Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign in Kensington, is meant to draw attention to the issue of income inequality and the plight of poor people in the city of Philadelphia.
The organization’s actions will start July 25 at 3 p.m. with “March for Our Lives” from City Hall along Broad Street.
That nonviolent protest march is meant to call attention to Philadelphia’s deep poverty rate — tops among the 10 largest cities in the U.S. — and to “demand an end to unemployment, hunger and homelessness; money for education; affordable, accessible housing; living wages; and an end to the prison industrial complex.”
On the afternoon of July 28, the group will hold an interfaith prayer service and bean supper in Kensington as a lead-in to Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Wells Fargo Center. The Beans for Hillary meal will open with an interdenominational prayer by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, bestselling author and activist Chris Hedges, who also happens to be an ordained Presbyterian minister.
Honkala, a former vice presidential candidate for the Green Party, told TruthDig that “the Sanders delegates, their bellies full of beans, will be able to return to the Wells Fargo Center and greet the rhetorical flatulence of Hillary Clinton with the real thing.”
Reached on her cellphone in Cleveland, where she’s protesting the RNC, Honkala explained that the fart-in is intended to demonstrate that “the [Democratic primary] process stinks.” And, as a bonus, “Farting is not considered violent,” she said.
The idea for the Philly fart-in arose organically from various supporters who recommended the action to Honkala.
But the notion originally came from the mind of the late Jewish writer and community organizer Saul Alinsky.
The Chicago-born son of poor Russian Jewish immigrants, Alinsky went to the University of Chicago as an undergrad, studied archaeology and worked as a criminologist and as a labor organizer. It was organizing that ignited his passion.
With powerful supporters like John L. Lewis and Marshall Field III, Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation to train community organizers and to inspire poor urban communities to fight for their rights.
He wrote the bestselling books Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals. In 1970, Time magazine wrote an essay about Alinsky called “Prophet of Power,” that noted, “It is not too much to argue that American democracy is being altered by Alinsky’s ideas.”
Shortly before he died of a heart attack in 1972, Alinsky was interviewed by Playboy magazine, and explained the origins of the fart-in concept.
During the 1960s, he led organizing efforts in Kansas City and Buffalo, and then sponsored and funded the Community Service Organization of Mexican-Americans in California, which trained Cesar Chavez.
In 1964 he was summoned to Rochester, N. Y., which had been rocked by race riots and by tensions between the city’s main employer, Eastman Kodak, and its black residents. Along with picketing and boycotts, Alinsky considered buying 100 seats for the Rochester Philharmonic to be attended by people who ate a preshow banquet of baked beans.
The Playboy interviewer asked Alinsky if the idea wasn’t “a bit juvenile and frivolous.”
Alinsky replied: “I’d call [it] absurd rather than juvenile. But isn’t much of life kind of a theater of the absurd? As far as being frivolous is concerned, I say if a tactic works, it’s not frivolous.”
Honkala said that fart-in participants will be both inside and outside the Wells Fargo Center. Her organization has been soliciting donations of beans since mid-June. Whatever’s left over, she’s said, will be given to the homeless.
Ironically, the target of the action, Hillary Clinton, wrote her senior thesis at Wellesley College on Saul Alinsky in 1969.
Titled “There is Only the Fight: An Analysis of the Alinsky Model,” the paper examined his tactics and the notion of radicalism; Clinton’s overall reaction to him was mixed.
She interviewed him for the paper, and he offered her a berth at his activist training school in Chicago. She went to Yale Law School instead, but will perhaps be reunited with one of his most outré ideas, at least, next week.
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