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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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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The Expropriation of Community Organizing Techniques by the Gig Economy

Philadelphia  Every once in a while I run into something scary, not because it has to do with nuclear meltdowns or corrupt mortgage brokers or community-and-family killing slumlords, all of which are real things. I am also seriously concerned when there is an expropriation of the good for purposes of the evil. These are times when we are drowning in such amazing doublespeak that we are pinching ourselves in order to snap out of “1984” moments becoming our reality.

This is now common currency in politics. Terrible health care is now touted as great. Proposing to eviscerate social programs to provide the rich with a tax break is now packaged as a jobs program for working families. Turning the dial back to the 1950s on women, the environment, race, and a hundred other things is whitewashed as patriotism. It goes on and on.

It happens even in community organizing, most dramatically as Saul Alinsky and his Rules for Radicals became repurposed by the right as a model for their vicious tactics. Recently, reading a New Yorker article about the gig economy, it was disturbing to drop down the wormhole and see it happening again in a discussion of the organizing tactics of the ride-sharing service, Lyft, the Avis to the Uber, Hertz.

The author, Nathan Heller, was interviewing Emily Castor, who he described as the company’s “leader in the campaign against regulatory constraint.” She said, “We’re borrowing very heavily from traditional community-organizing models, and looking at the grass roots in each city…Who are the leaders? Who are the people who distinguish themselves as passionate, who want to get more involved? We have a team that includes field organizers who are responsible for different parts of the country.” Well, I don’t know if this is traditional or even community organizing. She is essentially talking about building a base, a customer base, and maybe in an Obama-moment she decided to slap “community organizing” on the hood as she drove around.

But, then she dove deeper into something that is hardly traditional and remains controversial, and threw logs on that fire without any sense that the temperature might be rising. Hired by Lyft as their first “community manager,” whatever doublespeak that might portend, the article goes,

“She found that she could draw on her political training. ‘Collective identity is one of those aspects that, in the theory of social movements, is so important…You’re not just ‘taking rides.’”

Then, Marshall Ganz, former UFW organizer and now Harvard Kennedy School instructor, gets drawn into this with his “story of self, a story of us, a story of now: the collective-identity movement-building method.”

For all of the utility of Ganz’ stories, it is essentially a mobilization model, rather than a community organizing or community building model, which is why it has been so embraced by political campaigns, and now it seems even by businesses that may be about the very opposite of community organizing values. Ganz objects to Lyft’s appropriation arguing that markets are all about exchange and finding a common purpose is what politics is about, but even while reading his distinction, it’s way too easy to see why Lyft and its organizers, thought they could just take the tools and run with them their way, since for them finding a “common purpose” is what triggers their market and its financial exchange.

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Oh, No, Subprime Mortgage Brokers are Coming Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans   Please, just move the soapbox over here a little closer, because I’m going to jump and shout yet again, and sadly, not for the last time about the little named co-conspirator and enabler of the Great Recession real estate meltdown: mortgage brokers. They are under regulated, lightly trained, totally unsupervised, largely sales people too often paid little more than commissions on mortgage closings achieved often by hook or crook. They beat the bushes to create the paper stream of deals that are then packaged and picked up by banks and, increasingly, nonbanks, who have even more of the mortgage action than they did a decade ago.

A thinly disguised job announcement in the “B” section of The Wall Street Journal headlined “Subprime Brokers Back in Demand” is a warning to the rest of us that big trouble is on the way, especially in lower income communities. The reporter wrote that Southern California was once again on the “cusp of efforts to bring back an army of salespeople who once powered the mortgage industry and, some say, contributed to the housing crisis.” Call me, “some,” because that’s exactly what I’m saying. Further she notes, that “some brokers faked loan applications and steered people into debt they couldn’t afford.” Oh, yes, many, many of them did, and subprime companies ate these loans like candy.

Here’s what’s really scary. The demand for brokers is coming largely from nonbank lenders and smaller lenders, both of which are lightly or hardly regulated, by states not the feds, and in the case of nonbank lenders, they are not even required to follow the Community Reinvestment Act or provide their data through the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The market includes families with lower credit scores, and, god knows, there is a huge market, especially now in the wake of the recession, and these families want and need loans, and many of them deserve mortgages, especially as the Home Savers Campaign has found, since too many are finding no alternative outside of land installment contracts and various rent-to-own schemes. Additionally, workers and families with difficult to verify income sources from cash payments in the gig economy or tipped employment, need so-called stated income loans, where their money is verified without company provided W-2s. We absolutely believe there needs to be a set of subprime products and stated income loans. Where we separate is over the issue of who and what is going to protect families from abuse. One of the reforms of the last decade has been an increasing reliance on affordability, meaning a family’s ability to pay the loan. Who and what is going to assure that that benchmark remains prominent?

Brokers are just in sales-and-promotion. They push the responsibility to financial institutions, and since they are the middle-men, they can venue shop until they find some place willing to take paper and issue the loan. They then get paid. Period. The consequences downstream mean nothing to them.

Meanwhile nonbank lenders have almost half of the total mortgage market now. In the increased scrutiny since the recession, only $6 billion nonprime loans have been issued in the first quarter of this year and only $22 billion in all of 2016, compared to $1 trillion in such loans in 2005 according to Inside Mortgage Finance, cited by the Journal.

If regulators don’t make the effort to separate the baby from the bathwater this time around, millions of families and thousands of neighborhoods will drown in it again.

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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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