Action Day for ACORN in Ottawa Conventions

Arriving for the dawn briefing

Ottawa  The last day of an ACORN Convention is action day. It starts early because it’s also going home day for the members, as they pack out their gear on the buses so they are ready to roll once the work is done. There were already members sitting on the steps outside of the dorm room at 630 am when I hit the street.

Briefing from the leaders before the action

There were speakers in the morning, local and federal politicians and labor leaders came by, but the real preparation was practicing the chants for the day, so that Fair Banking and Affordable Internet substituted on some of the lines where normally a cry for Justice arose. Everyone was in good form by the time the briefing was finished, the speeches over, and it was time to roll downtown.

assembling for the march and asking drivers to honk their support!

After off loading on Queen Street, the march assembled near the War Memorial on Elgin, picking up some supporters along the way, and pressing cars driving by to honk their support as they sang and chanted. Humid days and sprinkling rain had been substituted for a bright day with a steady breeze breaking the heat, so everything seemed in order as the march set off down Elgin towards the building housing the Ministry of Finance, picking up some bicycle cops along the way as our de facto escorts.

coming down Elgin Avenue towards the Ministry of Finance

At the corner of the Ministry building, Ottawa moved along the side door to the formal entrance, while Toronto went towards the Elgin Street entrance, and Nova Scotia and British Columbia took the other side door. Quickly and efficiently everyone was in the large foyer of the building. Some held banners in front of the building with our demands so that all could see. Banking of any sort in the modern day specializes in security, so there was never any notion that the crowd would get past the foyer, so the chants demanded the Minister come down and meet. After some time when the police threatened to call the paddy wagons and begin arrests, all the members responded by sitting down and continuing signing and shouting their chants for action on fair banking and an end to predatory lending.

Come meet with us Minister

We’re Not Going Anywhere!

A demand letter was sent up as the members moved across the business district to rally in the shadow of the federal Parliament building and in front of the creepily named, Ministry of Innovation. The ministry had acceded to our demands for a meeting and held up announcements on internet access they had privately negotiated with telecoms after we protested our exclusion. This was a “warning” rally, that we were watching and waiting, but would be back in force if we didn’t get satisfaction.

marching to the Ministry of Innovation

Marva Burnett, ACORN’s president, addressed the crowd ending the action, and the convention, as everyone roared and then settled in for the trip home and the fights to come.

Marva Burnett, ACORN Canada and ACORN International President addresses the end of the convention

marching home

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ACORN Canada Was Revving Up and Reaching Out on ACORN’s 47th Anniversary

Ottawa ACORN leads the crowd at the meeting

Ottawa  Rolling out of breakfast, ACORN Canada members found themselves under a huge assembly tent, reminiscent of the Denver airport in my mind. Large delegations from Ottawa and Toronto practiced their chants, cheers, and songs they had devised for the march into the meeting hall. Toronto’s highlighted their expansion from the city into the GTA or Greater Toronto Area as its known locally, but christened Greater Toronto ACORN by the members from now on. They did so to the tune of the “Saints Go Marching In,” which was a nice touch as well. Ottawa of course gave their chant a French twist shouting “Ottawa, Gatineau, and Montreal” with the proper accents.

members coming through the doors

An array of power-speakers addressed the assembly once everyone was in place. The Housing Minister for Ontario was respectful and thorough in listing ways that he felt the existing government had stepped up to the plate on issues that ACORN had fought over. They were preparing to invest half-a-billion Canadian dollars in affordable house and what they called “purpose-built” housing for lower income families. He also professed his government’s commitment to continuing to build social housing as well. He got big applause when he mentioned that he had extended the rent control protection to an additional 250,000 families in significant areas. Landlords are allowed increases limited by the inflation index prepared by Statistics Canada.

Max FineDay of Canadian Roots Exchange drew a standing ovation

Max FineDay from the Canadian Roots was the most popular with the members. He gave a lively and impassioned speech focusing on reconciliation between Native Canadians and the rest of the population. He won people over with both well-timed personal anecdotes and moving descriptions of conditions on the reserved lands. Another favorite speaker was the head of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, known as CUPW, here. He was a familiar friend who had also spoken in Montreal at the last convention. The union’s proposal for a postal bank has been supported by ACORN as a way around predatory lending, as well as a way for the union to fight privatization. The crowd laughed when he told of a government committee claiming that such a bank wouldn’t make money, asking the members who knew of a bank that didn’t make money!

Chris Ballard MPP and Ontario Minister of Housing told us they had expanded rent control

Mike Palechek, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, spoke for a 2nd convention to cheers

In the afternoon, the members paired up in teams and hit the neighborhoods of Ottawa to gain support for the campaign for Fair Banking and an end to Predatory Lending. The winning petition teams filled 39 and 40 petitions in their two hours, including some new members from Hamilton which was exciting to everyone.

role plays before the doorknocking outreach

Marva Burnett, the chair of both ACORN Canada and ACORN International, gave some remarks over dinner that challenged the members about whether they were prepared to lead in building organization globally. She underlined the success on tenant issues and the demands by tenants for ACORN to build a tenants’ union in various countries.

Burnett also mentioned that June 18th was the 47th Anniversary of ACORN’s founding and led the members in singing Happy Birthday to ACORN.

What a great day!

more fun, food and speeches at the banquet

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Working on Skills and Listening to Promises at the Convention

Members from Toronto arriving to Convention

Ottawa  We could find members of the ACORN Canada convention delegation wandering lost around the University campus pretty easily, thanks to their bright red t-shirts. There were nicely designed ACORN “arrows” on the sidewalks and signs aplenty, but the campus construction and the different buildings could easily confuse so a small army of volunteers and staff shepherded people from place to place from the time people got off the buses on arrival.

Meet & greet before the work begins

An ACORN convention is about serious business, so the members had hardly said, “hello,” before they were on their way to workshops. Some attracting crowds were Disability-Social Assistance: Rights & Benefits, Big Turnout/Planning Chapter Meetings, and Affordable & Livable Housing run by leaders from British Columbia, Ottawa, and Toronto. There were smaller sessions that dove deep, like one I listened to for a while and run efficiently by an Ottawa member on Social Media and Action. Participation was key in all of the workshops. In that one they broke into two groups to figure out what they would “post” on Facebook and tweet on Twitter three weeks, two weeks, one week, and the day of a coming action to help communicate and move members to attend. Thanking the workshop leader later for the excellent job she did, she seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, saying it was her first time doing such a thing, and she had been so nervous.

heading to the workshops

These workshops help move consensus for the members for actions after the convention is over as well. A workshop on “energy essentials,” were dealing with fights against privatization of public services, especially electricity. Pay Equity/Childcare was a workshop preparing for a future campaign direction to try and win better income support for lower income families for childcare and achieve pay equity for women. Fair Banking/Internet for All was a large workshop on the two largest national campaigns for ACORN in Canada and was seeking to hone positions for future actions and negotiations.

Head Organizer, Judy Duncan, keeping it rolling

Nothing like a university cafeteria to make people happy though, no matter how hard they work. Buffet style with choices of desert? Wow! Is this what life could be like! Members had to be pried out of their seats, but they were ready for the first evening plenary to get ready to rock.

an Ottawa member speaks up at the disability and social assistance workshop

Andrea Horwath, the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, was the guest speaker, after the ACORN national board was introduced to chants, whoops, and hollers. Ontario is the California of Canada in terms of its size and reach in the country so would be a huge prize for progressives. Leader Horwath loved finding a friendly crowd that roared “Shame!” again and again as she listed the issues and roared with delight every time she committed that the NDP would join ACORN in the fight.

a Toronto leader runs the workshop on big actions

The real applause was saved for the reports from leaders from city to city throughout the country on their victories over the last year. Chants greeted the reports crying, The People United, Shall Never Be Defeated, and Who are We, Mighty, Mighty ACORN.

members listening intently to another Ottawa member tell them how to use twitter

the evening plenary is reading and rocking in their seats

Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP, commits to ACORN’s issues in her speech

no one was getting lost on the way to the dorms to prepare for the next day

 

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ACORN Canada Leadership Plans Its Next Moves

Ottawa’s Ashley and Jill are ready to make the registration work for the convention

Ottawa   The annual general meeting and board gathering for ACORN Canada’s leadership convened on the eve of the organization’s biennial convention in Ottawa at the University of Ottawa this year. While ticking off the legal requirements, signing minutes, audit reports, and other requirements of the Canadian Societies Act, the board found much to celebrate. The membership had now crossed 100,000, and the organization’s aggregate expenditures had broken $1 million in 2016, both huge accomplishments after fourteen years of organizing. Campaigns, some of them stretching back more than a decade, like the Toronto fight for landlord licensing, had been victorious. ACORN was now part of the conversation and a vital part of the coalition in any progressive campaign in Ottawa, Toronto, and greater Vancouver, from the fight for $15 per hour to hydro rates to blocking privatization and more.

This could have been a time for a bit of chest thumping and back slapping. A bit of gloating might have been in order. The leadership never drew a breath. Instead they focused in almost every conversation – and I know because I was keeping the minutes – on what they needed to do next, what issues might be on the horizon, and what had to be done to win.

Board Meeting

The multi-year “Internet for All” campaign had seen ACORN become a stakeholder at the table, so one of the most interesting questions, still unresolved at the end of the meeting was whether or not the weirdly named, Ministry of Innovation, would be a federal target for agitation during the convention. The process of expanding internet access had been fraught and ACORN’s role had been key in pushing the regulatory body and its hearings into a serious examination of what was needed to bridge the digital divide for lower income families. Many of the monopolistic telecoms had bent to ACORN’s demands over the years, but always in piecemeal fashion, beginning with Rogers concession in lowering fees to provide access to all public housing residents in Toronto. Others had carved out similar small slices to answer the call as well, but none were moving to the need, and likely wouldn’t without the government playing a stronger role. The new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau had indicated they were preparing a major announcement in this area recently that they had worked out with the telecoms, but ACORN and others protested that they were excluded from the consultation and having none of it. The government had backed off of its plans in order to re-position because they had left us out of the mix, promising that we would be allowed to impact the plans before they were finalized. So, the leadership debated with that concession, should they be left off the action list because they were now moving towards us or should they still be front and center because of their arrogance and lack of action?

Convention Swag

The debates now had high stakes. How would ACORN position its demands with a possible new minority government in British Columbia led by the NDP (New Democratic Party) in coalition with the Greens? With the federal Liberal government’s coming review of the Banking Act this year would we finally be able to advance our predatory lending campaign? Would the municipal elections in Ottawa finally allow ACORN with our labor partners and others to advance our municipal agenda on housing and living wages where we had been so close to winning in the past? Would be be able to force affordable housing construction in Burnaby and Surrey, the huge satellite cities around Vancouver and block demolition/evictions?

A measure of the organization’s weight was a special address to the board by the Secretary-Treasurer of the huge NUPGE, the National Union of Provincial Government Employees, representing a wide variety of public employees at the provincial or state level. NUPGE was concerned that the government’s move to create an Infrastructure Bank could mean a wave of privatization of public services, and of course public workers, that displace thousands, cost more, and render worse service to citizens. Meeting with ACORN, the Canadian organization that demands better public services for low and moderate families, somehow seemed a natural first step in any campaign.

ACORN Canada has much to celebrate, but they may not have time to pause to do so, because the next moves and one campaign after another demands the leadership’s attention and meets the membership’s demands.

Answering member questions at the registration table

 

 

 

 

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Sessions and Republicans’ ACORN Obsession Blocks DOJ Settlement Funds to Nonprofits

New Orleans   The clock may be ticking on Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama Senator, as Attorney General. Reportedly he offered his resignation to the President in recent days as Trump tweeted his displeasure at the Justice Department’s modifications of his travel ban. Nonetheless, an order from his office seemed to come out of nowhere last week barring nonprofits and third-party groups from participating in any implementation and remediation ordered as part of financial and other settlements approved by lawyers with the Justice Department. Who saw this coming?

Well, anyone who has followed the obsessions that Sessions and his old Republican colleagues continue to have with all things ACORN and nonprofits as a whole, that’s who.

What is Sessions talking about? Frequently settlements with big companies include provisions for remediation that can only be appropriately implemented by nonprofits. The Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal included a requirement that the company invest $2 billion to fund zero-emission technology and the related support to achieve zero-emission cars in the future. Settlements from the banking catastrophes that triggered the Great Recession also routinely included remediation by nonprofits involved in financial education or housing counseling involving groups as disparate as the American Bankruptcy Institute, La Raza, NeighborWorks, and the Urban League, all of whom have long standing programs in these areas. Republicans see this as unrelated and a siphoning off of money to create slush funds to support the nonprofits.

And, here’s where the ACORN obsession comes in. The Nonprofit Quarterly quoted one of its late columnists, saying….

Subcommittee chairman Tom Marino (R-PA) grilled a Justice Department witness over whether anyone from the White House or some unknown outside group had guided Justice and the banks on the selection of the third-party implementers—again, the specter of the hand of ACORN all but flowing from Marino’s lips. Rep. David Trott (R-MI) concluded that the settlement agreement process “looks and smells a little bit like a slush fund” and raised suspicions about how the banks got access to the list of HUD-approved nonprofit counseling agencies (apparently unaware that they are on the HUD website). Marino then observed that the Justice Department’s prosecution of the banks on mortgage lending issues amounted to “using extortion to make banks appropriate funds to left-leaning organizations.”

Or as reported by the Huffington Post…

.as part of Bank of America’s $16.65 billion settlement with the Department of Justice in 2014 (a former subsidiary of the company, Countrywide Financial, was one of the most toxic subprime mortgage lenders), the bank could donate $100 million to community and legal groups. Such donations to approved groups would then count toward the settlement’s total value. Conservative groups portrayed the Obama administration as a shadowy slush fund for leftist organizations, hyping connections of the groups that received funding to ACORN, the Republican boogieman that was defunded after false accusations of wrongdoing.

You get it now?

No matter the fact that ACORN and other groups working in lower income communities saw their neighborhoods, families, and work thwarted by these nefarious corporate practices, the key issue for the Republicans is making sure that these communities remain impoverished and continue to be feeding grounds for corporate vultures.

Thank Jeff Sessions for keeping hate and harm alive and well.

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Rising Rents are Squeezing Low-and-Moderate Income Families

New Orleans   The National Low Income Housing Coalition released its 2017 annual report, “Out of Reach,” looking closely at the impact of rising rent throughout the country and how it is pushing lower income and working families into untenable situations because the gap between rent and wages is widening. Millions of families are joining the great poet Langston Hughes by living his haiku: “I wish the rent were heaven sent.”

The gut punch of the report is plain and simple:

The 2017 national Housing Wage is $21.21 per hour for a two-bedroom rental home, or more than 2.9 times higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The 2017 Housing Wage for a one-bedroom rental home is $17.14, or 2.4 times higher than the federal minimum wage.

State by the state, county by county, the story of this growing crisis is stark. The gap is the largest in a bunch of overwhelmingly “blue” states, which may be one of the reasons Congressional representatives are not running up the aisles and going from desk to desk with a Paul Revere warning call to “Help, the Landlord is Coming!” Those states with the largest gap between wages and what it cost to rent the average two-bedroom house are led by Hawaii, then Maryland, California, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and then Washington, D.C. I don’t need to tell you that this is aggregate data because you were already scratching your head when you didn’t hear New York, so yes, thanks to lower average rents upstate that offset the New York City metro area, they didn’t make the ten.

Sure enough when you look at the data even states with relatively lower rent still find that urban metropolitan areas like New Orleans, Houston, Miami, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Seattle, San Antonio, Anchorage, Chicago and elsewhere would require a minimum wage worker to labor 80 hours a week to find a one-bedroom place where they could live. And, yes, the Coalition’s point is not that everyone is working 80 hours to do so, but that if they were able to swing a place that is what it would take. The cold, bitter truth on the ground is that they cannot, which leads to overcrowding, homelessness, and embracing rent-to-own predatory contracts or whatever is available until the eviction notice comes.

Even the states where the average wage required to rent a two-bedroom house is relatively low, it’s still astronomical in terms of a family budget. Want a two-bedroom in Arkansas, then you need to make $13.72 per hour, the lowest wage to rent ratio in the country. Neighboring states are a good comparison with Mississippi at $14.84, Louisiana at $16.16, and Texas at 18.38. The lowest wage required after Arkansas is Kentucky at $13.95. The problem is obvious though. Wages are pretty much stuck at $7.25 in those states and too many of the big whoops in these states are fighting to keep wages that way.

As the report makes clear, it’s not for lack of working or lack of looking. Other “key findings” include:

Six of the seven occupations projected to add the greatest number of jobs by 2024 provide a median wage that is not sufficient to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home.

An extremely low income (ELI) household whose income is less than the poverty level or 30% of their area’s median cannot afford the average cost of a modest one-bedroom rental home in any state.

In no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a two-bedroom rental home. In only 12 counties can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a modest one-bedroom rental home.

It’s easy to see where this is going: bad to worse to crisis. I’m seems like we’re already there.

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