John L. McKnight
A former ACLU director, John L. McKnight is a Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University (NU). He is also co-director of NU’s Asset-Based Community Development Institute, where he “directs research projects focused on asset-based neighborhood development and methods of community building by incorporating marginalized people.”
McKnight, who has worked with NU since 1969, was in charge of enforcing early governmental affirmative-action programs in the 1960s for then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He also has been a longtime, devoted disciple of the radical organizing tactics taught by the late Saul Alinsky, a Chicago Marxist whose motto was: “The most effective means are whatever will achieve the desired results.”
In the early to mid-1980s, McKnight helped train Barack Obama in the agitation/infiltration tactics of Alinsky, whoseReveille for Radicals has been a blueprint for the revolutionary activism of “community organizers” since its 1946 publication, as has Alinsky’s 1972 book Rules for Radicals. From McKnight and other expositors of the Alinsky method, Obama today claims to have received the “best education I ever had, better than anything I got at Harvard Law School.”
In the late 1980s, Obama asked McKnight to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf to Harvard Law School, where Obama would ultimately be admitted in 1988. McKnight complied, but not before cautioning the young Obama not to “compromise” his principles.
Just prior to setting off for Harvard, Obama published a chapter titled “Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City,” in a book titled After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois (Peg Knoepfle, Editor). In that piece, Obama praised McKnight and his organizing tactics.
In his 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope, Obama alludes to McKnight as a “friend” and as an “older man who had been active in the civil rights efforts in Chicago in the sixties” -- but never identifies him by name.
In addition to his aforementioned duties at NU, McKnight today is a board director of the Chicago-based Gamaliel Foundation, a subsidiary of which Obama worked for as a community organizer in the 1980s. McKnight also sits on the board of National People's Action (NPA), an organization that employs the aggressive street tactics of Alinskyite organizing.
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