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.

***

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Gentrification Assault, Oakland Housing Market Out of Control

DARWIN BONDGRAHAM - Martin and activists outside of Community Realty's offices in April after delivering a letter requesting a meeting with Marr.

DARWIN BONDGRAHAM – Mr. Martin and activists outside of Community Realty’s offices in April after delivering a letter requesting a meeting with Marr.

Vicksburg, Mississippi   It was hard to believe a friend’s claim that Oakland, California has now become one of the three most expensive cities in the country in no small part because the housing market has gone berserk. He said that Oakland now only followed New York City and San Francisco, and had bypassed Seattle, San Jose, and other famously, exorbitant cities. What happened here? Oakland used to be where people moved for affordable housing who couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco, famous for its port, industry, and blue collar grit, and Jack London. The city where Gertrude Stein famously stated, “there’s no there, there.”

But, now they are all coming there. Suddenly, it is also one of the most diverse cities in the country with the population almost evenly split between Latino, African-Americans, whites, and Asian-Americans, so much so that one controversy, when I recently visited, had to do with racial profiling of neighbors in the Nextdoor.com application that is used by one-third of this highly connected city, exposing the well-known, little discussed racism that stalks almost all of these sites with their constant alerts of anyone with a hoody and a tan.

Not without a fight though. Visiting the weekly paper, the East Bay Express, I picked up a recent issue featuring a cover story on one of Oakland’s biggest landlords, Michael Marr, who had specialized in vulture investing of foreclosed properties after the 2008 real estate crash, ending up with 333 houses and apartment buildings in the city with 1300 rental units under management. Now he’s in federal court though for what the FBI characterized as a conspiracy to “rig foreclosure auctions” along with eleven other East Bay real-estate investors who “made a pact not to compete with one another at foreclosure auctions.”

Marr is letting his lawyers handle that mess and meanwhile is trying to jack rents in some cases by more than $1000 per month. Rent controls in Oakland only cap increases for homes built before 1983, as the impact of such increase would cause massive displacement of many long term residents. It was good to see that standing in the way and organizing the tenants was the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, known as ACCE, and formerly California ACORN. The tenants and the organization have demanded a rent freeze while the court case is pending, a sale of Marr’s ill-gotten properties to the Oakland Land Trust, and action on lingering issues with mold, bedbugs and other problems. ACCE is not only fighting these issues in Oakland either. Fighting a foreclosure with a late night rally at a vulture investor’s house in Los Angeles has found them defending their free speech and association rights in Los Angeles as well.

ACORN has recently won rent controls in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland with the Living Rent Campaign, and more landlord accountability in Toronto and Bristol, but there is little in any of our arsenals to prevent sweeping gentrification without a public and governmental commitment to diversity and affordability in a city. Oakland could become the battleground where we have a chance.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

James O’Keefe is Just a Clown Now

jof

Illustration by Mike McQuade; Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty (man)

New Orleans    I’m tired of hearing anything about James O’Keefe, the discredited video scammer, whose one infamous claim to notoriety was his heavily edited attack on ACORN in 2009 in concert with conservative pundits and Congressional representatives. Luckily, I’m now in the vast majority as one escapade after another further exposes him as nothing more than an unethical, unscrupulous jerk. Even better than being little more than a boring footnote of these dark times, we can all find some joy in the fact that increasingly he is nothing more than an embarrassment to the conservative cause and a source of ridicule as the poster boy for sheer incompetence.

None of us can forget the Keystone Kops affair at former US Senator Mary Landrieu’s field office in New Orleans, where he and his co-conspirators were caught monkeying with the phones in a ridiculous effort to try and prove her office was not answer the phone about the Affordable Care Act. Huh?!? Well, they got off without having to do time on a felony beef for breaking-and-entering, and eventually pled out and outlasted his probation, but wow….what a bunch of boneheads.

He and his flub-a-dub crew have had one blunder after another to their credit from ACORN on. They stumbled around Texas looking for some evidence of mischief in Obamacare signups and were chased out of the Local 100 office in Dallas when busted. They bought a Hillary t-shirt with cash and claimed it was dirty money. Small potatoes. Thin soup. No one’s eating any more.

The latest from the O’Keefe gang that can’t shoot straight was some kind of attempted sting they were planning on George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Supposedly they were trying to make a point about how groups are networked or something, but god only knows.

Anyway, according to reports in The New Yorker and on the Media Matters website, they were trying to set up their operation claiming some Hungarian émigré wanted to work with them, as if that’s the way OSI operates. They had someone with a British accent who was going to pretend to be Hungarian. The whole scene already sounds unbelievably bizarre.

As they reported:

Conservative media darling James O’Keefe accidentally detailed his plans to infiltrate and smear progressive organizations on the voicemail of Dana Geraghty, an employee of liberal philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, continuing a string of embarrassing missteps in his attempts at undercover stings. After leaving Geraghty a voicemail claiming to be “Victor Kesh,” a “Hungarian-American who represents a, uh, foundation,” O’Keefe held “a meeting about how to perpetrate an elaborate sting on Soros,” unaware that his phone was still connected to Geraghty’s voicemail. During the call, O’Keefe outlined plans to send an “undercover” operative posing as a potential donor to the foundation in a project he named “Discover the Networks.” O’Keefe’s plot involved using an English orthopedic surgeon with “a real heavy British accent” to secretly film Soros-linked progressive organizations. He later admitted that “some of us just forget to hang up the phone. The New Yorker continued:

 

The accidental recording reached farcical proportions when Kesh announced that he was opening Geraghty’s LinkedIn page on his computer. He planned to check her résumé and leverage the information to penetrate the Soros “octopus.” Kesh said, “She’s probably going to call me back, and if she doesn’t I can create other points of entry.” Suddenly, Kesh realized that by opening Geraghty’s LinkedIn page he had accidentally revealed his own LinkedIn identity to her. (LinkedIn can let users see who has looked at their pages.) “Whoa!” an accomplice warned. “Log out!” The men anxiously reassured one another that no one checks their LinkedIn account anyway. “It was a little chilling to hear this group of men talking about me as a ‘point of entry,’ ” Geraghty says. “But—not to sound ageist—it was clear that these people were not used to the technology.”

I mean, really, need I say more?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Green Papers and the Value of the Volunteer Research Army

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 12.52.32 PMNew Orleans   One of the constant dark holes of US politics is the arcane art of understanding delegate selection for the existing political parties, since all of these rules lie in the mysterious workings of the various fifty odd states and outlier territories. In fact the same is true of voter registration procedures, party formation and balloting rules, and any number of other things in our loosey-goosey federated system of sorts, but I don’t want to get off the subject. The reason I raise the issue of delegate selection is not to praise or condemn Caesar, but to give props to the eccentric and invaluable volunteer army that sometimes obsessively dives into the quicksand and keeps flaying at it until they hit solid ground.

Well-deserved props were given to a couple of fellows who, essentially for the love of it, have watched, and better, studied, the process for years for their own interest and posted the results on the internet at Green Papers. In so doing they have become the go-to site for journalist, political junkies, academics, data crunchers and even political campaigns in getting their arms around the process and putting the information on hard rock and real time. They have been at it for decades, make no money from the site, take no ads, and, according to the New York Times, haven’t even sat down and visited with each other since 1999. They got the bug as college roommates and became their own two-person geek squad. They won’t pose for pictures, and only respond by email, or at least one of them does, and just keep their feet on the ground and keep on keeping on.

I love stories like this. I can remember decades ago reading some book or another about politics that made the off-hand comment that one of the peculiarities of American politics and life is that we had more information than we could analyze and use. And, that was then, pre-internet. What we have now between search engines and endless data is so many factors more that it is way past my mathematical ability. Around the world people and organizations are too often blocked from information, and though that happens in the US as well, we’re still drowning in it.

I thought about this the other day as ACORN released a lengthy report on the lack of democracy and diversity in Southern rural electric cooperatives. These fellows have gotten away with stopping time, because, hey, who really, really cares about what happens out there in the rurals? But, it matters for so many reasons. Would anyone fund such research, much less organizing about this mess? Heck, no! But it has to be done, and that’s one of the beauties of the “volunteer” army, if it can be deployed effectively. We’ll keep at it with more reports to come. Add to that, another crew we have crunching the numbers on all kinds of loans in the United Kingdom. ACORN thinks there are discriminatory patterns, but we won’t know until we look at what’s available and try to connect the dots from one to another. Same thing for the requirement that tax exempt, nonprofit hospitals are required to provide charity care. Who wants to pull those IRS 990s apart? Well, we do, if we have enough volunteers willing to spend some time pulling it together in at least some states.

ACORN has volunteers from Ottawa, Edinburgh, New Orleans, Paris, London, Vancouver, and places far and near. None of our work would be possible without them!

Will any of this make change? Of course not, just like the Green Papers duo can’t elect a single delegate no matter how much they know about the system. To make change you need organizations, campaigns, even political parties, but all of these efforts can still help straighten out the path so the work runs true.

Anyone who wants to help out, give a holler, we’ll hear you!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Rural Electric Cooperatives: A Story of Democracy Defeated and Discrimination Unchecked

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 1.55.33 PMNew Orleans   Following a lengthy research and database project, ACORN International and Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center have now released a sobering, and in some ways shocking, report called “Democracy Lost & Discrimination Found: The Crisis in Rural Electric Cooperatives in the South.” Looking at all available information on 313 cooperatives and their governance and representation structure in the twelve-state southern region, the Rural Power Project housed at LNRTC found that time had stopped and the leadership structure of many of rural electric cooperatives seemed “frozen in the fifties.”

The report examined available documents revealing governance and representation patterns in 313 cooperatives in the South and found that of the 3051 supposedly democratically elected board members, 2754 are men or 90.3% and 297 members are women or 9.7%. This compares to a South-wide gender distribution of 48.9% men and 51.1% women. Examining available information on the racial and ethnic representation was even more difficult. The project found 1946 of the members are white or 95.3% throughout the South, while only 90 or 4.4% of the members are African-American. Of the more than 2000 governing positions for which information was available, only six (6) members were Hispanic or 0.3% of the total. In the southern states, 69.23% of the population is white, while 22.32% are black, and 10.19% identify as Hispanic.

Half of the states (Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee) had three (3) or fewer African-Americans represented in cooperative governance at any level with Louisiana and Kentucky only have one (1) and Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee having only two (2). Despite the fact that Florida counts almost one-quarter (24.1%) of its population as Hispanic and Texas totals more than one-third (38.6%) Hispanic, there is only one (1) Hispanic board member in Florida and only five (5) in the whole state of Texas.

The Rural Power Project found it difficult to believe that the lack of racial or gender diversity in cooperative leadership was coincidental given the lack of transparency of many cooperatives and the obstacles placed in the path of basic democratic practice that are embedded in the avowed principles of cooperatives. Many cooperatives seem “frozen in the fifties” and have resisted continuous efforts to democratize their operations. As cooperatives have become economic development and social services intermediaries for government and other agencies as key pillars of United States rural policies, such a lack of diversity and equitable representation tend to continue bad historical practices and stand in the way of the future most would like to envision for the South.

ACORN and its partners recommend intervention to assure democratic norms, including transparency in election and reporting matters along the lines passed in Colorado in 2010, as well as more aggressive compliance and regulatory action by the states and federal government. Many state utility commissions need to exert authority and federal loans need to be conditioned on democratic procedures.

We’re hoping the outrage at these statistics felt by policy makers and members of rural electric cooperatives is as intense as our own feelings, and we are committed to the fight to make them accountable, representative, and diverse.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail