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ACORN Sprouts Anew Under New Advocacy Groups

January 13, 2014

Who could forget ACORN’s spectacular downfall? Undercover video techniques worthy of espionage agencies? Tax evasion scandals, heavy tape editing, and the removal of an opposition to the right-wing power base seemed like all win-win scenarios for Republicans.

For conservatives, it was a triumph. The newly ascendant right-wing blogosphere caught ACORN reps on tape giving their low-income clients advice on how to engage in tax evasion, human smuggling, and child prostitution (the tapes, it was revealed later were heavily and selectively edited). What’s more, the right shut down an organization that was responsible for one quarter of all new voter registrations around the country, and had pushed for low-income housing and living-wage jobs over the past four decades.

The thing is, not everyone involved in ACORN was involved in advising illegal schemes, and those people who really wanted to use the ACORN vehicle to effect change have begun taking their own initiative and harnessing that to promote new organizations.

In Philadelphia, the former head of ACORN Pennsylvania leads a group now called Action United, which, together with teachers unions and labor groups fought efforts to shutter low-performing schools, leading direct campaigns that disrupted state board of education meetings. In California, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), lead by an 18-year ACORN vet, is occupying foreclosed homes in San Francisco and pushing the mayor of Richmond to use eminent domain to prevent more foreclosures. In Chicago, a former ACORN organizer leads a group called Action Now, which has battled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over issues like the minimum wage and school reform.  Action Now recently helped elect Toni Foulkes, a former Chicago ACORN leader, to the Chicago City Council.

No one is arguing that the illegal activities promoted under the original ACORN umbrella continue; however…

Former ACORN organizers acknowledge that there were problems with the old organization, most seriously that the brother of the group’s founder had embezzled close to $1 million from it. But they say there are advantages to being closer to the ground on the local level, without having to deal with the bureaucracy from ACORN headquarters in New Orleans.

it is encouraging to see new low income advocates working to push for change. The problem is that the national level of outreach allowed for increased voter registration:

But the lack of a national effort has been felt as well.  None of the splinter groups, for example, do voter registration like ACORN did—something that has become even more important, they say, in the wake of voting rights challenges in states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Plus, there has not been the kind of push on federal legislation that the old ACORN did, and some former members blame the rise of the Tea Party in part on the lack of an ACORN-led pushback from the left.

There is still work to be done, and those former ACORN leaders are pushing back against the far right to enact change, because as they put it, poor doesn’t go away:

“Poor people don’t go away. Black people don’t go away. Latino people don’t go away. Poor whites don’t go away. Middle class folks that have been hit by joblessness don’t go away. That is what they thought. And they are just wrong. Folks like me don’t go away.”

People who worked on behalf of ACORN ideals continue this work today:

“The work always goes on,” said Brian Kettenring, a former ACORN organizer who is now co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, which helped lead a three-day encampment in front of the Department of Justice to protest foreclosures and [lax?] federal banking regulations. “These are some of the best organizers in the country, and the corporate abuse of low-wage workers continues apace, so the need to organize never changes.”

Thank goodness the work on behalf of the poor continues, that the fighting of foreclosures and banking regulations continue. If these people don’t fight the good fight, who will?


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