New Orleans June 18, 1970 is on ACORN Canada and ACORN International calendars everywhere as Founder’s Day if you will. The day I drove into Little Rock from Boston via New Orleans to begin organizing ACORN. When you work every day to build something, one day follows another and each day now adds up to forty-four years of ACORN organizing in one form or another since that day. There’s a party in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans celebrating the 20th home that has been rebuilt by the ACORN successor in New Orleans along with what they call the 44th anniversary of community organizing. That’s a nice combination.
Earlier this week in Little Rock I attended a meeting of the Central City Community Organization of another ACORN successor there, the Arkansas Community Organizations. Among the 25 around the room, the members included longtime ACORN member and elected Quorum Court member for Pulaski County, Donna Massey, former ACORN National President Larry Rogers, and several white haired longtime members, all of whom greeted me as comrades from shared struggles over decades. Sitting near Neil Sealy, ACORN’s head organizer there and now ACO’s organizer, was the son of an ACORN leader from 1972 in the Oak Forest neighborhood. Importantly there were also a bunch of other people, mostly young, who were also in the crowd. One of whom was talking about carrying the organization’s banner into a coming election, but all of whom were there to talk about stopping the expansion of what I called the Wilbur Mills Expressway, which it is, or the I-630, which is how most of them know it. The campaign to block the construction came out of ACORN’s Save the City Campaign in 1972. Now opponents of the expansion, including even the traditional downtown real estate and business group, Metroplan, is citing the ACORN fight by name in their opposition to the expansion, as are county and city officials. The battle lines are unbroken, and the fight is not about nostalgia but the future, and whether or not the Concrete Wall separating north from south, richer from poorer, black from white, will be allowed to become even more formidable and, frankly, ridiculous. Being able to cite 42 years of ACORN opposition, I was glad to sign up for more of this fight, and even throw out some ideas, including making the whole expressway into a bus-and-bike lane, which of course everyone thought funny, but might not seem so in another 44 years.
And, that’s the point of this great work that so many of us are honored to be a part of for so long. People ask me about my organizing legacy and the ACORN legacy, and I just smile, because they just don’t get it. It’s not about all of these years of yesterdays, but about all of the many decades of tomorrows to come. Organizing is an everyday proposition. You go to work every day to build on the day before in order to have a greater opportunity to win tomorrow and the day after. Like rebuilding New Orleans or stopping expressways, the fights are evergreen, and you only lose them finally, when you stop fighting and building the organizations stronger and more powerful. As organizers, we do our part until dirt is in our face, but the organizations continue when we have done our work well, and that’s a beautiful thing.
We’re in the business of change, and things do change, but they also expand. The United States is critical and the work has to continue and grow, but the world is even bigger and expanding ACORN’s work in Canada, the United Kingdom, Kenya, India, and another dozen countries is about their today’s and tomorrow’s as well, and the prospects for low-and-moderate income families and their empowerment. Our time is still coming!
Phil Jackson, the legendary coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball teams with 11 championship rings, including one as a player for the New York Knicks years ago, was quoted in the Times today with a similar attitude,
“I’m all about moving forward,” he said. “Just deal with what is and move forward. If it’s in the cards, man, are we fortunate. If it’s not in the cards, man, are we fortunate. We’re going forward, anyway.”
He was talking about Carmelo Anthony rather than peoples’ power, but whether the watchword is his “going forward” or my “keep working,” it’s all about considering ourselves “fortunate” for finding the work, and building stronger for the future, every day, day after day.