Tenant Organizing Tactics

Outside of Frome, England      We were all organizers.  We adapted and made the best of it, and then got to work.  And, the work went amazingly well!  The combination of video and oral reports the night before meant that the day’s business could get right to the meat of the matter of sharing organizational and experience and knowledge with each other, country-to-country and, as importantly, debate and discuss critical issues of direction, planning, and program for all of ACORN.  I’ll admit I was skeptical.  We were sitting around on legless chairs on the floor in a huge yurt, but, shoulders to the wheel, and let the magic happen.  And, indeed, once everyone wrapped their arms around the agenda and got about the business, the meeting was excellent.

Here’s a good example, tenant organizing tactics.  Virtually everyone around the room had a suggestion with a story to go along with it.

The French talked about a “move in” they did at the city’s housing authority’s office in Grenoble.  The issue was electricity not working, so the move-in involved major appliances.  The members showed up with a television, refrigerator, microwaves, and whatever they needed to plug in and make the point.  The authority got the message that the wiring had to be fixed, so victory achieved.

We heard about an action that folks from Bristol called a “thunderclap” where everyone was posted a message on Facebook at the same time in order to pressure a target on social media.

The organizers from Ottawa and Toronto regaled the team with stories of cockroach circuses and rallies.

In the United Kingdom an action at a landlord’s house organizers’ referred to a “doorstopping” when they showed up to rally at the house.  A riff on that tactic other organizers mentioned involved flyering on the block where a targeted landlord lived where the leaflets shamed an unnamed neighbor as a slumlord asking them to guess who it might be.  Not surprisingly, they heard pretty quickly from the landlord that he would fix the problems at his property.

John Anderson told a great story about an action in Burnaby in British Columbia.  The tenant resolution office there had long lines and extensive waits for service as complaint cases came up on the docket.  There were no washrooms, so this became a source of constant complaint.  ACORN built a fake-porta-potty out of cardboard and erected it in the middle of the office.  It didn’t take long to win a commitment for the washroom to be constructed.




Retreat and then Attack from 42 Acres

Outside of Frome, England      Once a year we try to bring as many of ACORN International’s organizing staff together as we can muster given the costs in time and travel.  For years we would meet in Latin America somewhere:  Mexico City, Quito, Lima, Tegucigalpa, and San Pedro Sula.  As we have expanded in Europe, the last several years we slept and met in Paris thanks to the one of the militant farmers’ unions in France.  This year, courtesy of our friends at the Bertha Foundation, we took up their offer to meet at 42 Acres in Somerset in the southwestern part of England, some 20 minutes out of Frome, which is a little like saying somewhere on the other side of the moon from all any of us knew about the place or the geography.

A few more than twenty organizers were able to make it, and it was quite an adventure mastering the train schedules.  Somehow it took some of us eight hours to make it from Heathrow Airport in London to Frome in what should have been just a couple of hours drive or a three-hour train ride.  In an announcement in the Reading and Bath train stations that would embarrass even the New York City subway managers the disembodied voice said they apologized for the delays and cancellations – we had one connection from Reading to Bath simply disappear on us – because in their words, “more than the usual number of trains broke down today.”  That’s what passes for an “I’m sorry” from the Great Western Railway.

Somehow, we made it by seven in the evening in time for dinner with great relief which quickly turned into pleasure at seeing everyone from around England, Scotland, Canada, France, and the United States that had been able to make the journey.  Usually, the other countries Skype in their reports.   In the beginning in Latin America, it was more often that we lost connections than we had them, and then when we had a connection, we couldn’t hear.  It was painful and would last for hours.  Every year it got better, but never perfect.  Going into this meeting in a surprise we learned there was going to be no internet.  Hello, 20th century, we’re back!  ACORN adapts though.  We asked everyone to take their phones and do brief video reports ahead of time so that everyone could see and hear their reports regardless of lacking the internet.

Would this possibly work?  Well, it was amazing!  Organizers from everywhere embraced the opportunity.  Rather than just limit themselves to a couple of minutes, the reports from Peru and Libera were almost a half hour!  The team from Kenya gave a brilliant report going from one organizer to another.  The report from Cameroon was lengthy and in French with English subtitles.  It was like a small movie with action scenes and commentary.  The report from the AKORN cooperative in Prague included scenes of their construction work with dry wall and hammering as sound effects.

We may be in a rural retreat of bare feet, vegetarian food, yoga mats, and no internet, but from the techie edge of video reports and the PowerPoints from France, the United States, and the United Kingdom last night, we may be “retreating,” but we’re moving to attack!