Organizational Service and Autonomy

P1010017 Montreal What a great day in Montreal!  There are so few chances to have good spirited and deeply serious conversations about organizing down to the level of what we have really accomplished and our serious challenges, that one meeting after another seemed a gift.

Rolling off the road, Jill O’Reilly, director of Ottawa ACORN, and Nadia Willard, one of the great emerging leaders in Ottawa ACORN, sat down to a visit with our host and the main organizer of our day, Professor Eric Shragge, and a local organizer and filmmaker, Amy Miller, and got a sense that we were in for some fun.  By the time we had been revived by a stiff cup of Vietnamese brewed coffee, we were fired up and ready to go.

During the day we met first with more than 20 organizers and activists with local organizations where we were able to get a better sense of the organizing in Montreal.  When that session ended I then spoke and answered questions from more than 50 Concordia College students and members of the public about “Organizing for Justice in the Age of Obama.”  We finished with a dozen people drawn together in the large Maison Verde Coop in a neighborhood west of downtown in yet another spirited conversation with organizers, activists, and others.

Two of the most interesting themes that presented themselves continually were first the interplay of delivering services and membership advocacy by organizations and whether the two missions were compatible.  The second distinct phenomena of organizing in Montreal was the fact that almost all of the organizations were either wholly or substantially funded by the state or municipal government, which is a rarity, especially compared to the USA.  The issue that resurfaced repeatedly throughout the day is whether such organizations could in fact aggressively act as vehicles for the poor, especially if there were challenges to their funding.

As all of us struggled with these questions, I was taking calls from time to time from reporters and colleagues in the USA inquiring or outraged by the attacks on ACORN and the action of the US Senate, and perhaps both Houses, though I’m still behind the news, in voting unilaterally to bar funding to ACORN and any affiliated organization as part of the HUD appropriations bill.  Something to do with a sting operation, but I need to catch up.  From Canada it seemed like the worst form of galloping McCarthyism that I have feared was rising in the USA.  I wondered in the changing winds of political fortune, which organizations in Montreal might survive and how these challenges can be met.

There was nothing flip about organizing in Quebec and Montreal.  All of these discussions were good natured but struck to the heart of the work we do and what we hope to accomplish.  You could feel the love here, but fear and uncertainty was ever present and lurching behind the debates as we all searched for answers and the path to victory that so many depended on so dearly.

We left exhilarated with more questions ringing in our heads, than answers that settled all of these matters under debate.

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