Saul Alinsky launched the Campaign Against Pollution (CAP) in 1969 with a column written by Mike Royko in the Chicago Daily News. Included was a tear out form seeking names, addresses and phone numbers of individuals interested in combatting air pollution generated by the electric company, Commonwealth Edison.
Several hundred individuals responded. They were contacted by representatives of Alinsky’s non-profit the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and invited to a public meeting. That meeting happened on January 15, 1970. It was attended by 400 (as reported in the Chicago Tribune). Taking off from there, a full blown IAF organizing project of a distinctly different character from past efforts emerged. The other IAF inspired organizations had either foundered after making major impacts (Rochester; Buffalo), split away from IAF connections (CSO in California) or lost a citizen organizing focus (The Woodlawn Organization; Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council). In the absence of live exemplars, invention was the order of the day. Alinsky believed CAP embodied a turn towards the middle class where a wealth of opportunities for building and exercising citizen power resided.
Something called Earth Day was in the works for April 25, 1970. It was an idea dreamed up by Senator Gaylord Nelson to highlight environmental issues. CAP’s plan was to capitalize on the energy provoked by those concerns.
At his core, Alinsky was an educator who taught economically-disadvantaged Americans to confront systematic racism and classism and, most importantly, develop a set of public skills that allowed them to get what they deserved, namely, fair and decent housing, equitable pay, and basic city services. And, as I explain in this article, Alinsky did all this with a large dose of humor, irreverence, and ridicule toward authority figures. The complete article here.