Forty Years and Counting

P1010003New Orleans        I was a couple of minutes late and walked into a speech by long time New Orleans community leader Beulah Laboistrie’s remarks about her decades of leadership in ACORN and now A Community Voice, which has arisen from the ashes of the organization in Louisiana, so I was looking sidelong at the wide grins of 50 local leaders and friends of the organization.  The spirit was powerful in the room as they announced an award named after long time leaders Gerri Bell, dead now several decades but a legend in that room and represented by her daughter and son, Beulah Laboistrie, who mentioned she would be 90 this year, and Lanny Roy from Lake Charles, who has been a rock in southwest Louisiana.

Greetings were read from ACORN Canada and ACORN International.  Mildred Edmond, President of Local 100 of the United Labor Unions, was there and in the thick of the celebration.  I wore my new “Tenants Vote” t-shirt from Toronto ACORN with its big maple leaf in the middle of their design of the ACORN button, which elicited comments and appreciation from many of the leaders in the room.

This was a gathering of a community foraged in the steel of struggle from decades of neighborhood and citywide campaigns, fights for the living wage, heroic struggles to lead the post-Katrina recovery, and now the heartbreak of having to build a new organization again.  Watching the smiles as leaders hugged Vanessa Gueringer and Gwen Adams as they marched up to get their certificates and listening to their remarks sometimes brought tears to my eyes.  I couldn’t help thinking about the indomitable spirit and will of the members, which trumps money every time.

Here is a place where the name, the experience, the “brand” of ACORN is still golden in the streets and community centers of New Orleans just as it is in so many other cities in the country.  It’s not a “word” but a shared experience that lights the flame guiding the work going forward.  Beth Butler spoke about her father having told her when she went to work for the organization in Little Rock to make sure she worked with “strong leaders” and many were in this room.  Mark Moreau, head of New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation, brought the crowd to peals of laughter after receiving an award, saying he had been with them for more than twenty years and would be with them forever “no matter what the name.”

In fact the truth of the old chant is indisputable:  the people united shall never be defeated!

Happy anniversary to a peoples’ struggle that will continue unbroken!


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