Leaders Taking Charge in Rapidly Growing ACORN Canada

ACORN Canada leaders national board meeting in Ottawa

ACORN Canada leaders national board meeting in Ottawa

Toronto    Pushing thirteen years old, ACORN Canada is like a teenager going through a growth spurt, making it exciting to hear the passion and discussion of the ACORN board as they debated new directions, campaigns, and other initiatives. It was a time of transition with new leaders coming on board in full strength for the first time from Nova Scotia, new delegates elected from Ottawa and British Columbia and summer plans that could expand the organization into Winnipeg and Calgary in the western states for the first time. Yippee, kayay, here we come!

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The reports from the testimony made throughout the country via Skype teleconferencing to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on our demands for “internet for all” were, believe it or not, moving. And, they moved the head of the CRTC, who was honest enough to say so himself. The new delegate from Ottawa repeated the testimony that brought tears to her eyes, when one of the members had told the story of her 7-year old coming to her and asking if he could be sent to a foster home. A foster home, what in the world?!? The child said, if he were able to live with another family, then he could get a tablet and connect to the internet. Her face turned red as she told the story, and tears came to her eyes. Were the rest of us not so jaded, we all would have been weeping – such a sad, terrible, true story. We’re going to win something, but we may not win all we need to make sure 7-year olds never say this again, but we won’t stop until that day!

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There was also an exciting discussion, as I listened carefully, about the need for a national housing policy in Canada. Yes, inclusionary zoning and landlord licensing were huge issues everywhere, but the leadership wanted to figure out a way to double down, to increase security for tenants, to open up opportunities for home ownership, and to dramatically increase the pool of affordable housing. The discussion was so animated that lunch was late and the queue for more points to be made saw everyone around the board table throwing out suggestions. I was excited when the board passed a motion to investigate, research and move forward on finally doing what it took to win a community reinvestment act in Canada along the lines available in the United States for almost forty years. As importantly, the board unanimously demanded in the same motion that banks fully disclose not only their lending statistics for home mortgages but also for smaller consumer loans. Movement in this direction seemed natural since the refusal to by banks to lend small sums was forcing our members into fringe banking outfits like our payday lending nemesis of long standing.

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So sure, there were internal decisions made that were necessary to keep the big wheels rolling: officers elected or re-elected, a decision on the location of the 2017 national convention, and clarification, given the growth of the board, on different rules and best practices for all levels of governance. There was discussion of a huge summer program which will pace student organizer-trainees in new cities and provinces as well as Ontario and British Columbia. Mainly, though even as the reports were given and the leaders analyzed the progress in the last year, there was a spirit and a conviction that the organization was taking off and the members – and the country itself – hadn’t seen anything yet!

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Please enjoy Eric Clapton’s Catch the Blues. Thanks to KABF.

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Buying, Rather than Building, Affordable Housing

demo3-460x250Ottawa   In one city after another we’re getting closer to winning landlord-leasing rules, some rent controls, and inclusionary zoning programs. But, even as victories come closer to hand, the scale of the need for affordable housing is overwhelming our capacity to deliver change. It is not that our eyes are bigger than our stomach anymore. Our stomachs are ravenous and are outstripping the vision we can see with our eyes.

Social Policy does a trade-out with Shelterforce, and I happened to have a recent copy in the stack of things I brought to read on the plane and started flipping through it over breakfast at Carleton University before the beginning of the ACORN Canada national board and annual general meetings. Some of the pieces were a bit out of my league. I wasn’t sure what to make of something called “trauma-informed community building” or TICB, as they proceeded to call it, but I knew I was uncomfortable having poverty medicalized, no matter how good the intentions

On the other hand there was a fascinating piece by Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress and the National Housing Institute that looked at a different direction that the French had taken to developing affordable and mixed-income housing. They were buying it, rather than building it. Mallach discussed the disastrous and well-documented French housing policy in the 1970s when many projects were built on the outskirts of the city and went down from there. The good news, according to Mallach, is that the French learned something from the experience that might teach us something in the United States and Canada as well.

“Now, when French developers build subdivisions or condo projects, nonprofit housing corporations enter into turnkey contracts with the developer to buy blocs of apartments or houses, up to a maximum of 50 percent of the units in the development. Based on those contracts, the nonprofits apply for a package of government loans, grants, and tax breaks so they can both buy the units and make sure they remain affordable. When the projects are completed, the nonprofit buys the units and operates them as affordable rental housing.”

In transferring the French lessons to the USA, Mallach made a couple of comments that made sense in many cities. First, he noted that “most parts of the United States have large inventories of good-quality existing housing available.” If Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) funds could be utilized by nonprofit housing developers to buy blocks of these houses either from developers or on the market and convert and manage them as affordable housing, it would both save money, and immeasurably diversity communities, benefiting our families, and potentially serve as a bulwark against blight as well by keeping the housing maintained, viable, and affordable. He also made the case that private sector market developers can create reasonably good quality housing for a price point that is often significantly lower than nonprofit developers utilizing LIHTC monies. Maybe so? Maybe no? I haven’t really looked at that closely, but where I think he is absolutely right is that buying existing housing stock or buying into developments already in motion, drastically reduces the lead time and opportunity cost, meaning more affordable housing is developed now. And, now is when we need it!

This is worth a good look in a lot of places.

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Please enjoy Eric Clapton’s Alabama Woman Blues. Thanks to KABF.

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Pine Bluff’s Maxine Nelson and Susie Thomas, Great ACORN Leaders

Susie Thomas, Pine Bluff ACORN leader, 102 years old

Susie Thomas, Pine Bluff ACORN leader, 102 years old

Pine Bluff   Often I get gas on my way from Little Rock to New Orleans at an exit off ramping on the same highway that the Watson Chapel School District administrative office calls home. I realized this coincidence when I had the excuse to visit there. A documentary film crew wanted to talk about how the first organizing committee meeting of an ACORN group in Pine Bluff was disrupted by representatives of the Klu Klux Klan. I wanted to talk about the great ACORN leader, Maxine Nelson, so here’s how they were connected.

The group meeting that was disrupted in 1971 was being organized by an early ACORN organizer from the area, Herman Davenport, in a mixed area, of low and moderate income homes in the Watson Chapel area. The first drive was troubled by these episodes, but eventually ACORN took hold and developed deep roots in the area. Maxine Nelson merged as one of the leaders of the Pine Bluff chapters. She was an African-American RN at the Pine Bluff hospital and ready to make change. She was also fearless when it came to politics. She ran and won a seat in 1989 on the Watson Chapel School Board, and held the seat until her untimely death in November 2013, serving several terms as President of the School Board as well. Maxine was also the chair of the ACORN Political Action Committee (APAC) and the elected secretary of the ACORN Association Board nationally for many consecutive terms. For that matter, she was also on the KABF board as well and even while leaving that board was prodding me in 2011 and 2012 to do something to help stabilize the station.

I thought it was a great ACORN story from the KKK to Maxine Nelson and her leadership of ACORN, but there was more. Rechecking the date of her service before driving down to Pine Bluff, I stumbled on an article in the Pine Bluff Commercial Appeal reporting on a meeting of the Watson Chapel board in late 2014, and they were talking about naming the administrative building after Maxine. Walking in there to alert the clerical staff that I was outside with a film crew, they quickly – and enthusiastically – walked me into the board room to see a picture of Maxine with a plaque over the board dais.

I also visited Susie Thomas, who joined ACORN in Pine Bluff at the very beginning, 45 years ago, and stayed as a member and leader throughout those years. Sister Thomas attended every ACORN convention, and when visiting her, I asked about her favorites. She liked lobbying in Washington, DC she said, and remembered telling off one of Arkansas’ US Senators about cutting back food stamps. She remembered a squatting action in Chicago at the 20th anniversary convention in 1990, when they all ran for it. I gave her a Los Angeles convention t-shirt, and that got her talking about the LA convention. She pushed me on getting ACORN rolling again in the US. We remembered Maxine and their years together. She remembered that I had last seen her when she came to a book signing with Maxine in 2009 at Little Rock’s Community Bakery, and that I had called her on her birthday two years ago. Did I mention that she is now 102 years old!

I called Neil Sealy, the executive director of Arkansas Community Organizations, the former Arkansas ACORN, as I pulled away from Susie’s house. He mentioned that they were getting some letters and a petition together to help show community support for naming the administration building after Maxine. It will be fun to get the word out and easy to find support for that in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and for that matter around the country.

It seems the right thing to do.

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Please enjoy Paul Simon’s The Riverbank.  Thanks to KABF.

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If PayPal Billionaire Thiel Wants to Fund More Lawsuits, Here’s a List

Hulk Hogan with Thiel paid for counsel at trial

Hulk Hogan with Thiel paid for counsel at trial

Little Rock    Paul Thiel, the libertarian billionaire, co-founder of PayPal, board member of Facebook, and venture capitalist, Trump delegate, and Silicon Valley community leader, went public about the fact that he is the money bags behind the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that is trying to put the on-line scandal and news sheet, Gawker, out of business. He says the price tag is in the range of $10 million to the lawyers so far. He swears it is not just for revenge over a now defunct Silicon Valley blog that had outed him in 2007, but more about privacy and setting limits on scurrilous press abuse. He had referred to the Gawker blog previously as the Al Qaeda of journalism or words to that effect. He was not a fan. Observers knew there was an angel behind Hulk and his lawyers when they agreed to let the insurance company for Gawker off the hook. In wrestling, they would call this a “death match.”

With a billion dollar bank account he very accurately described himself as having the resources to defend himself and noted that that was not always the case for many others somewhat slandered in one way or another. He also says that he is financing other litigation as well but didn’t reveal it. He was educated as a lawyer himself, and supposedly asked a team of legal beagles to find some areas where he could make a difference at this interesting juncture of self-described philanthropy, vengeance, and politics.

Dude, where were you when we needed you a couple of years ago when ACORN was fighting for its life over the unconstitutional Congressional “bill of attainder” in 2009? Well, never mind there are always other issues, and I’d encourage brothers and sisters everywhere to make a list and send it over to Thiel so his team can saddle up and defend our liberties and lives as well.

You take the recent report for example by ACORN International and its partners about the lack of democracy and diversity in membership-based, rural electric cooperatives. I’ve talked to one lawyer after another who are convinced this ought to be against the law, and I’ve even tried to track down lawsuits that have recently been filed in Alabama on this issue, but it’s one of those Gordian knots where I can hear my friends on the other side of the phone kind of sighing because they know it’s wrong, they suspect it’s illegal, but who has the time or money to wage such a fight. A colleague send me a picture of the all-white, male, mostly elderly board of the Mississippi land bank supposedly soliciting interest from all the farmers out there who might want loans. A lot of them can look at the board makeup and not bother, but is that legal. I guess I’m sighing now!

Or how about the discrimination against the poor on getting their tax refunds at the same time as everyone else if they happen to qualify for an earned income credit? Going after the taxman, isn’t that a libertarian issue, too?

Or how about all of this voter mischief? A federal judge in Ohio allowed people to register and vote on the same day, declaring the effort to prevent such activity was discriminatory to black voters. There’s a lot of that and rollbacks on voting rights in one state after another. Voting is equal to individual liberty isn’t it? Sounds like someone financing more of these lawsuits would be a good libertarian philanthropy.

Hey, pile on! If this isn’t just a piece of Silicon Valley revenge, there’s a long list of injustices where some cash could help us get some of these issues before a judge and settle some scores for millions.

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Polls Show Trump Now Leading Clinton, All Hands On Board!

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer/Andrew Spear/The New York Times Hillary Clinton button and Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) ORG XMIT: MIN2016040813524411

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer/Andrew Spear/The New York Times Hillary Clinton button and Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Little Rock  The latest average of all outstanding polls considering a two-way race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the first time shows that Trump has edged ahead of Clinton by a fraction of one-percent. Yes, there are many months to go before the election and polls will go up and down, but the consolidation of support around Trump is disturbing. Worse news indicates that with almost 70% of the November electorate likely to be white, Hillary’s support there is dropping like a rock. She’s now down to 33% support from white voters, and that’s men and women, brothers and sisters. Barack Obama in the 2012 election, a hater magnet for white voters like no others, polled 39% by comparison. We’ve got trouble in River City!

I’m not going to apologize for rooting for Trump to get the Republican nomination. I still think he is the best representative of everything that is most frightening at the confluence of all of the fringes of the right as they come together in elephantine proportions in that party. I still stand by the fact that the Cruz-Rubio-Bush-Etc group was even more rightwing and scary. I also still think that Trump is the best contrasting candidate for Hillary Clinton, giving her the best chance of mobilizing her potential base to win. Nonetheless, it’s like the NBA finals. It doesn’t matter what the record might have been in the preliminaries, she still has to get out there and beat him to claim the presidency, and she has not gotten her game together yet on her own.

Unfortunately, that is likely to mean that she can’t win without a full-court press from progressives as we hold our noses and cover our eyes at her neo-liberalism, war mongering, Wall Street ties, and myopic sense of self-entitlement. I’ve read a number of well written, thoughtful essays of advice for Sanders now that everyone in the country, but the Senator himself, seems to understand that he cannot and will not win the nomination, so he’s paying attention to no advice whatsoever, no matter how friendly or supportive. The papers and pundits are throwing bricks at his window trying to claim that he’s made his point, now he needs to move over, but every sign from inside the campaign is that he’s not hearing any of it and is still obsessed with every delegate. I get that. For sure, fight down to the last vote. Why listen to a bunch of self-serving advice from folks on the sidelines?

But, geez, man, help make a plan for tomorrow after the primaries are over to make all of this matter and help all of us join to move the base that’s now been built to a place to win in November and build a permanent fighting machine for progressives. You have demands, make them to the Clinton campaign. Have a say on the vice-presidential candidate, the potential president for the future, and make sure they are “one of our people.” Negotiate a role for your people and techniques in the structure of the party’s campaign from June to November. Agree to carry your weight until then, whether you go your own way or help build a new party or whatever once the election is over.

So, sure, Clinton is about as capable of change and listening to other voices as Sanders is being criticized for now, but with the election potentially hanging in the balance, there’s leverage there and opportunities that can now be seized. It’s time for all hands to get on board before Hillary sinks the ship, and Trump rides us all down to Davy Jones’ locker.

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Poisoned People and Poisoned Politics

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A coho salmon carcass in a small coastal Oregon river. (Photo: Justin Bailie/Getty Images)

Little Rock    We’re right to have issues with the police, but bad or good, at least we know when we’re hurt or shot or when someone is murdered, there’s someplace to go, there’s a direction to point our fingers, there’s someone, somebody, somewhere that’s supposed to do something. When we’re poisoned by thoughtless, indifferent corporations and practices embedded in business models, the damage is as real and as permanent and the death as devastating when it comes, even if slower, yet the long timelines provide cover for corporations, Congress, and others to hide, obfuscate, dissemble, and downright lie to prevent having to take responsibility in the full knowledge that it is unlikely that they will be held accountable. Let’s not forget, we’re still hurting, our children may have their health and futures robbed, and our communities destroyed.

The problem with being poisoned is that we can’t see or hear the shot being fired, over and over, even though the impact will eventually explode in our bodies the same way, just more gradually. After 40 years Congress is finally, in collusion with the chemical industry, coming up with a new law on handling toxins because the last one they passed in 1976 was so sorry that it has only allowed the EPA to ban five chemicals in the entire period. The law was so damaged that an attempt to ban asbestos, which everyone knows is eventually deadly, from products was overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and 120,000 people still die from such products globally every year.

Look at lead, which we also know is deadly and a crippler of children particularly. Even with the calamity in Flint, Michigan, which has now also been found in Newark, Detroit, and other cities and their schools, has there been a rush to test? Heck, now! There’s been a rush to posture. Local 100 has tried to get the Houston and Dallas school districts to test for lead, and even found authorization in federal funds that would pay for them to do so, but, ridiculously, we’re gathering soil samples ourselves and depending on a national expert at Xavier University in New Orleans to test them with the help of board members of the Lead Safe America Foundation. One water district after another has sent out letters to their customers assuring them the water has been tested and it’s all good, without telling them about the plethora of lead pipes between the drain and the street. There are city-based ordinances forbidding dry sanding of paint because of the lead and other particulate matter disbursed into the soil, neighbors’ yards, and air, but please let me know of a city that actually enforces this at all.

Now Congress has come to a bipartisan compromise, so whenever we hear that we’re waiting for another shoe to fall, because it’s not like that are coming to any true religion of putting people and their health ahead of companies and their lobbyists. Sure enough, they are partially doing something here in order to preempt some states, like California, that have stiffer laws and enforcement mechanisms, to have to abide by the federal protocols on chemicals that will be developed through this bill. There are waivers on anything done before passage and waivers available after passage which give hope that a failure to receive a tough waiver might be exposed. On the other hand many of us, millions of us, live in “red” states or places like Louisiana and it’s chemical plants that have earned the nickname of “cancer alley” along the Mississippi River, so in such states where we have had little or no hope of effective regulation and enforcement on the state level, finally putting some teeth in EPA’s mouth might give us hope for the future.

Of course on the same day we read the news with a little hope here on this front, we also read about Monsanto being sued for putting PCBs in Oregon rivers for 40 years when they were the sole manufacturer of that deadly concoction. We also read about the NFL giving millions to supposedly fund research into the connection between hard hitting and brain damage to the players, but really only doing so in order to cover up the damage. We also read about the struggle to get ExxonMobil to own up to its impact and knowledge of climate change and the destruction of life as we know it.

It takes a very active imagination to feel secure in the news that we’ve learned our lesson about corporate practice, chemical poisoning, and the need for government accountability.

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