Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and founding chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. 

Recent Articles

Hillary Haters’ Fixation on Saul Alinsky

Conservatives have exploited the life and legacy of community organizer Saul Alinsky in a bid to demonize Hillary Clinton, but they misrepresent his actual influence and writings.

(Photo: AP)
Forty-seven years after she graduated from Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton is still having to defend her senior thesis. That’s because right-wing activists and their media allies are assailing Clinton’s research paper on Saul Alinsky, a key figure in the world of community organizing whom conservatives have labeled a dangerous radical and a diabolical influence on both Barack Obama and Clinton. Ben Carson kicked off the Saul Alinsky hatefest on the second night of this year’s Republican convention in Cleveland, declaring during his primetime speech: “Now, one of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors, was Saul Alinsky. And her senior thesis was about Saul Alinsky. This was someone she greatly admired and let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky.” Alinsky “wrote a book called Rules for Radicals ,” Carson continued. “It acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own...

Caught on Camera: Police Racism

A recent wave of police violence against African Americans isn’t anything new. It’s just been caught on video.

(Photo: AP/Max Becherer)
This article was originally published in The American Prospect on July 30, 2015, and has been updated in light of recent events. A string of highly publicized police murders of black citizens in Louisiana, Minnesota, and around the country has prompted news reports of an “epidemic” of police violence against African Americans. But the harsh reality is that there has been no sudden upsurge of racial profiling, arrests, beatings, and killings of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers. Rather than an abrupt recent rise in police mistreatment of black Americans, we are seeing a surge in awareness of the problem due in part to the use of hidden body cameras and citizen videos. Because more incidents of police abuse are now being captured on camera, white Americans are waking up to how different black lives can be. These videotaped incidents are now part of the political terrain, making it harder for police to hide abusive behavior and easier for community...

Song for an Unsung Hero

In his revelatory biography of community organizer Fred Ross Sr., Gabriel Thompson traces the roots of today’s progressive movement.

Bob Fitch/Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University
America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century By Gabriel Thompson University of California Press In 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown inducted community organizer Fred Ross Sr. posthumously into the California Hall of Fame, where he joined a long list of other luminaries that includes the likes of Amelia Earhart, César Chavez, Steve Jobs, and Jackie Robinson. Ross may be the least-known figure among the inductees, but he is certainly one of the most influential. This anonymity was intentional on Ross’s part. He believed that organizers should always be behind the scenes. As organizer and journalist Gabriel Thompson explains in this fascinating biography, Ross “spent his life pushing people to lead—in living rooms, in union halls, on picket lines—and in doing so he pushed himself right out of the spotlight.” Ross was an “unsung hero,” according to author Carey McWilliams, the former...

Three Strategies to Beat the NRA

Gun safety advocates who until now have relied largely on traditional lobbying need to broaden their strategy to include partnerships with gun owners and civil disobedience.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
On Wednesday, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights hero, led a sit-in of fellow House Democrats on the House floor to demand action on gun control legislation. Lewis strode to the lectern and called on his colleagues to “occupy this floor.” Soon, about two-dozen lawmakers gathered around him as he spoke. As more Democrats came into the House chamber, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, they joined him, sitting with their legs crossed on the blue-carpeted floor. They carried picket signs with photos of the victims of gun violence and sang “We Shall Overcome,” changing the words to include “We shall pass a bill someday.” Some members cried. The protest lasted 25 hours. By sitting down, they were standing up to the National Rifle Association. House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to shut down the insurrection, even going so far as to declare a recess to cut off the official television feed. But the protesters used Twitter’s Periscope service to...

Farewell to ‘Darling Corey’ Lewandowski

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File

Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Palm Beach, Florida, as campaign manager Corey Lewandowski listens at left. 


Donald Trump just said, “you're fired” to his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

This was predictable. In fact, it was predicted years ago in a traditional bluegrass folk song called “Darling Corey.”

The Corey in the song is a woman, but otherwise it fits the tragedy of Corey Lewandowski to a tee. Her fate was sealed when she got involved with what the song describes as a “gamblin' man,” clearly a reference to Trump's casino empire. The song is also prescient about Trump's tax problems (“the revenue officers are coming”). Corey's partner was a con man engaged in selling moonshine liquor made in a local “still house.” Is this not an obvious reference to Trump's effort to enter the booze business through Trump Vodka, which the Donald marketed under the slogan “Success Distilled,” but which quickly failed?

The “meadow” and the “graveyard” in the song no doubt refer to Trump's burial site. Some folks recently erected a tombstone to the presumptive GOP presidential candidate in the Sheep's Meadow section of Central Park. Since Trump just killed Lewandowski's job, perhaps he'll be generous enough to bequeath his “lonesome graveyard ground” to his former campaign manager.

Questions about the size of Trump's wealth are clearly anticipated in the first verse, which is found in the earliest published version of the song, “The Gambling Man,” collected from oral tradition by folklorist Cecil Sharp, as sung by Mrs. Clercy Deeton, at Mine Fork, Burnsville, North Carolina, on September 19, 1918. Versions of “Darling Corey” were recorded by The Weavers, Buell Kazee, Doc Watson, the Monroe Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Jean Ritchie, the Kingston Trio, and Pete Seeger, among others.


My pocketbook full of money,
My friends are all standing around.
My pocketbook are empty
And I ain't got a friend to be found


Wake up wake up darling Corey
What makes you sleep so sound?
The revenue officers are coming
They're gonna tear your still house down


Dig a hole dig a hole in the meadow
Dig a hole in the cold cold ground
Dig a hole dig a hole in the meadow
Gonna lay darling Corey down


Can't you hear those bluebirds a singing
Don't you hear that mournful sound
They're preaching darling Corey's funeral
In some lonesome graveyard ground


Oh yes, oh yes, my darlin'
I'll do the best I can
But I'll never take my pleasure
With another gamblin' man


Throughout its many versions, the basic theme of the song has remained the same: Don't mess around with people involved in shady and illegal activities.