Montreal We were meeting on a cold afternoon in the new offices of the Immigrant Workers’ Center with a host of organizations and activists in Montreal much like a “focus” group of sorts on ACORN Canada and ACORN International and how they might fit and contribute to the ongoing work in this great city. People were friendly and welcoming, but in the spirit of old soldiers with wounds from many wars, they were guarded and probing to assess our work and where we might – or might not – fit.
One activist who had worked with tenant organizations all over Canada at different times and was quite a character in his own right, flattered us by mentioning how much they had been heartened in Vancouver in the early 80’s as they read and shared news of our squatting campaigns in Philadelphia, Detroit, and numerous cities. Note: we need to send a link to Charles Koppelman’s film, Fired Up! Others were querulous and then supportive when they gradually began to understand that perhaps as many as half of our members in Ottawa in Vanier and other areas were francophone and not anglophone.
Predictably the hardest issue was the expected one, since many of these activists were either veterans or at the least still worked in the traditions of the sovereignty and nationalism struggles when language had been a divider and there had been threats to the federal existence of Canada as one country. The discussion on autonomy was important and fascinating, and we will have to think about it for awhile.
One of the ACORN organizing principles has always been “coordinated autonomy” meaning the ability of any unit of the organization to make independent, democratic membership decisions within the area of the organizational units authority: local group, city, county, state or province, etc. That’s where the autonomy comes in. The coordination occurs when the organizational unit moves past the area of its influence into the spaces it shares with other ACORN groups in the city or province, and certainly federally, because there the democratic practice requires the support and consent of the other groups as well. We left with much to consider and our friends left with a lot of think about as well, since though we were likely unable to do some things that some wish, a cornerstone of the organization was precisely what they had always demanded.