Chincha Still Trying to Come Back from 2007 Earthquake with Little Help

barrios and squatters village built by Chincha citizens after 2007 earthquake

Lima   We drove 200 kilometers from Lima to visit the newest local group in ACORN Peru, Chincha, by the Pacific Ocean south of Lima, a straight shot on the Pan American highway.  This was a California climate, except drier perhaps with sand dune mountains along the way.  Grapes grow here and wine and Pisco makers abound.  A look at Wikipedia says there are 177,000 people who live here, but…

Only some of this is true anymore.  ACORN Peru’s head organizer, Orfa Camacho, estimates the population may only be 20,000 now since the 2007 earthquake devastated so much of this town, that too many have forgotten.  We spent most of our time going through the newly built barrios that had sprung up by the hardest hit areas in the last 5 years.  These were patchwork enterprises of thatch, plywood, and whatever.  There were signs everywhere of people trying to grow banana plants, trees, and flowers.

The committee told of a government program that was supposed to help in the rebuilding called Mi Techo Propio or My Own Roof.  Problem was that to access the program you had to put down 1000 soles or $400 roughly.  You also had to pay 20% interest and have a “formal” job which almost no one has anymore.   Worthless.

We were standing in the community center or what was supposed to be the community center some day.  The money had come from Venezuela, but someone messed up somehow and it was unfinished.

We heard about the issues of water where people were paying a fixed rate and could access water for only an hour or two per day and as more people came on there was less water.

There were industrial pig and chicken growing operations operating “informally” right in the barrio.  People would complain.  They would get a pig.

Most of the women were single mothers running households, but most of the governing councils making the priorities were all men.

Two story houses had been financed by Spain behind the unfinished plaza and the unfinished community center, but it was unclear if water connections had been provided.

ACORN Peru will have their work cut out for them here.

houses built by Spain without water connections


Blood and Eyes: Organizing Small Retail Workers in Bengaluru

some of the vendors with Suresh Kadashan

Bengaluru   In the process of visiting several of our organizing sites with Bengaluru organizer, Suresh Kadashan, we spent about two-thirds of the time on the buses of the city and one-third of our time actually meeting with the vendors in various locations where they worked in either a market or the street or as traders in stalls rented from the city.  We were all over the chaotic map of the sprawling city reaching to the misbegotten “ring road” being built on an unfortunate and ill advised Atlanta-model, where predictably even as the ring road is being built above, below, and at ground level, the sprawl of Bengaluru is already leading, Atlanta-like, to a cry for another ring road even farther out towards the airport.  As predictably, the old urban core is paying the price of new wealth and the Silicon Valley pretense with store closings all along Mahatma Gandhi (M.G. Road) in the shadow of the new Metro Station and the short 6 kilometer metro line, which dwarfs the street at perhaps double the height of even a express roadway.  The park that had sat across from M. G. Road is now somewhere between obliterated and the remnant of a construction site.

All of which makes ACORN and Suresh’s jobs that much harder.  There are 3000 registered slums in Bengaluru and more than 40% of the population lives in such housing and Suresh and others estimate that there are another 3000 that are unregistered in the patchwork pattern of pocket slums that dot the city.  One urban planner I know working for a group that contracts with the city told me that their instructions were to plan for the growing middle class and assume essentially that the poor will somehow make do with whatever.  The fight is clearly joined from the bottom up while ignored from the top down.

organizing on the bus

Our first stop was the almost 300 year old marketplace, K. R. Puram Santhe Maidane Market, where we work with the association and the over 1000 vendors there and the 800 farmers who bring goods there to market.  I was excited about meeting the leaders here again having seen the pictures of one of their recent actions where they rallied several thousand wearing gunny sacks (to claim the city had stripped them of their livelihood) and marched the 18 km to the statute of Gandhi in the center of town to give their demands to the chief minister of Karnataka.  Why?  In a bit of self-dealing, a previous minister was working with a developer to build a 16-story mall on the site of the market which would have evicted all vendors and farmers.  They won a halt to the construction from the government 3 days after the sackcloth protest march.  Now the new plans for improvement aren’t suiting them either because the combination 2-story bus turnabout and market place cuts down on the vendors’ spaces.   Talking to the third-generation president of the association working with ACORN, he told me the next action is slated to protest these moves is going to include a rally where at the end they give blood and donate their eyes to charity, since, yes, the city is taking their very lifeblood and future vision away.  They are on a winning streak!

The next stop was a visit to some of the members and leaders of the Hebbal Street Vendors who are working with ACORN to relocate from the street side where they work to under the flyover (overpass) in the highway.  The ACORN vendors have a tough dispute here partially because they are divided by a rail from another group of vendors which has agreed to pay daily bribes to the police, which our vendors are refusing.

The final stop was to a string of 107 stalls where we have organized the Sri Basaweshwar Traders Association with the Yeshlianthpur traders who rent from the city.  Once again there had been a plan to displace them, and they joined with ACORN to sue the city and to successfully fight against the displacement.  Now they are meeting today to discuss improvements.

After another bus trip back to the center of town where I’m staying, Suresh and his 750 rupees (c. $15.00) monthly bus pass (for non-air conditioned buses) ran for a bus back to the continue his meeting with the traders association.  There are many plans to be made in organizing these informal retail workers that are at the heart of the economy in India, but beleaguered at every turn.  Yesterday we discussed the difficulties and details in their winning union recognition from the state, but today it was clear that nothing is stopping them from winning some of these struggles.

the farmers' market


Great ACORN Reports from around the World and Remittance Campaign Breakthroughs

Jill O'Reilly gives ACORN Ottawa report to attentive organizers

Mexico City   A highlight of the year is always getting the reports of ACORN International affiliates around the world and hearing about the progress and the challenges members, leaders, and organizers are facing.  The obstacles are legion, but so are some of the surprises.

Vinod Shetty from Mumbai started the ball rolling with a clear Skype connection as he delighted everyone with the news that the ACORN India Dharavi Project band composed of some of our recyclers is being featured on MTV in coming weeks.  He topped that off by reporting continued progress with the Blue Frog jazz club partnership and the album they are doing of acts visiting Dharavi with us that will be a fundraiser for ACORN India.  Vinod also reported that we are running a school for our people now with 70 in attendance, which was a development I had not realized had gone so far.  Later reports from Dharmendra Kumar in Delhi focused on the huge struggle around FDI (foreign direct investment) in retail that brought Parliament to a standstill in recent months, but Delhi also reported that they continue to run a homeless shelter for some of our displaced members.   Bangalore reported on a full menu of action and activity!

In Honduras Dilcia Zavala delighted people with the news that the land rights had been returned to the squatters the delegation had visited in the rain in Tegucigalpa and they were going to be able to rebuild their homes.  Luis Martinez from San Pedro Sula gave a report that led all others in details on membership growth down to the fact that they have now knocked 10, 756 doors at some level in the several years of organizing!

Dilcia Zavala gives ACORN Honduras report on Tegucigalpa

For the first time people really understood how groundbreaking the tenant-landlord campaign and model is that we are building in Rome.  There was an education provided from Prague of the huge unrest around the current government that rivals the Velvet Revolution in 1989.  Orfa Camacho had me showing a map of Peru when she announced new cities in Peru where we are now organizing and the ongoing development of our partnership with FENTAP, the water workers union.

You get the picture?  It was fantastic!

Importantly the meeting also focused on developments with the Remittance Justice Campaign.  ACORN Canada reported that a bill to cap the rates will be introduced in Toronto for the Ontario province on May 31st with British Columbia following later in the year.  Honduras ACORN shared the news that they had a commitment for a bill to be introduced before the elections next February 2013 at the latest.  Working with our intern from the Clinton School of Public Service there was optimism that we would lay the groundwork for progress in Mexico.

Good work has been done with more to come!

Honduran organizers work with Dine Butler of Local 100 and Jill O'Reilly of Ottawa ACORN on bank draft procedures

Suresh Kadashan and his wife give report from Bangalore on ACORN India's work there



Daily Caller: Left-wing organizing kingpin: Tea partiers out-organized Occupy Wall Street

** Below is an article taken from The Daily Caller, a right wing news site & blog of an exclusive “interview” with Wade **

By Michael Volpe

10:56 PM 11/24/2011

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) founder and Service Employees International Union organizer Wade Rathke acknowledged that the tea party movement has been more effective than Occupy Wall Street in influencing American politics.

Rathke was unequivocal about the Occupy movement, telling TheDC that “in no way has it had the political impact that the tea party movement has.” Yet because Occupy organizing is “still in its embryonic stages” while tea partiers have been organizing for more than two years, he cautions that “comparing the tea party movement to OWS is apples and oranges.”

While watching ACORN implode in the United States, Rathke has thrived in his new role as community organizer to the world by remaking ACORN International, known as Community Organization International in the U.S., into a worldwide community organization with near-global reach and power. And former ACORN board members say Rathke’s remarkable global turnaround is proof that most observers completely missed ACORN’s bigger picture and its broader goals.

Rathke generally had positive things to say about both the tea party and Occupy movements. “They are substantially mobilizing individuals around a set of principles,” he added. “It’s fascinating that they’re both appealing to many of the same people.”

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Caveat Emptor / Buyers Beware the Fair Trade Mess

New Orleans               Part of the global dispute that ACORN International highlighted in our recently released report, “Unfair Fairtrade”, burst into the business section of the Times in a weird piece of Thanksgiving celebration.  The issue engaged most directly continued to be the rouge retreat of Fair Trade USA and its chief, Paul Rice, from any pretense of real support for producers to what can only be correctly described as a corporate convenience and branding operation for large companies and their sources.  There can be little doubt that Rice and the US operation are on the wrong side of this dispute and are leading a wholesale assault on any notion of fair trade principles, despite the fact that from our research and report there can be little doubt that some of his criticisms of the Fairtrade International (FLO) and its certification program are also correct.

The terrible truth is that both competing business models are perhaps fatally flawed endangering the survival of the fair trade movement and real values at all.  The slim hope raised at the end of the William Neuman might be found by grasping the straw held out by Seth Goldman of Honest Tea (owned by Coca Cola) who is debating whether to sell certified products from Fair Trade USA or Fairtrade International when he “called the dispute a mess, but added, ‘Opening up a can of worms gives a chance to understand what’s in the can.’”  Perhaps hard looks would force needed change in FLO as well, because right now these continued contradictions are mainly hurting the intended beneficiaries, the producers, while treating the consumers almost as shabbily by abusing their good graces and picking their pockets often without any benefit to producers in the fields.  Continue reading


Obama and India FDI

Indian Protesters burning FDI poster at demonstration

Indian Protesters burning FDI poster at demonstration

New Orleans President Obama continues to sightsee and glad hand his way across India on his sales trip for US business interests, soft shoeing around the issue of jobs being outsourced to India, even as he argues to the US press that by meeting his sales quota over there, he will create jobs over here.  What’s really up on the subcontinent?  Thanks to ACORN International’s Dharmendra Kumar who directs our Delhi operations and the work of the India FDI Watch Campaign, which has long been one of our signature efforts in India, we have a pretty clear view.

Dharmendraji shared a report filed by Maulik Vyas Maulik in Sunday’s Economic Times on Obama’s remarks to Mumbai business leaders:

President Barack Obama today said India should lift restrictions on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, saying old concerns that small shopkeepers would be impacted ignore today’s reality.

Mr Obama, while addressing the US India Business Council summit in Mumbai on Saturday, Obama flirted with the issue that raises bogey in India by saying, “Here in India, many see the arrival of American companies and products as threats to small shopkeepers and to India’s ancient and proud culture. But these old stereotypes, these old concerns ignores today’s reality.”

“Going forward, commitment must be matched by steady reduction to barriers in trade and foreign investment from agriculture to infrastructure and from retail to telecommunications,” he said.

Those present including commerce minister Anand Sharma and planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia would have surely taken note of the US President’s hint that opening up the retail industry among others could mean better bilateral trade between the two countries.

A “hint” from POTUS is hardly persuasive and simply saying that restriction on FDI for multi-brand retail “ignores today’s reality” is hardly going to change the debate in India or sway any opinions one way or another in the Parliament.  If this was the boost that business was hoping to get from Obama, they were definitely left holding a big fat hot air bag.

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