ACORN Tenants Taking Charge, Running for Seats on the Board in France

Grenoble         Every four years social housing tenants in France have the opportunity to run for seats on the board of their city’s housing authority.  Admittedly, the seats allotted for tenant representation are a minority of the board positions, because in France, as elsewhere, a voice for tenants is preferable to allowing real power for tenants.  From conversations with organizers, leaders, and members of ACORN’s French affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne, in Grenoble and the Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers, that may be about to change.  Members of the Alliance have put forth slates of candidates in three different housing districts, two in Grenoble and one in Paris and have begun to campaign in earnest.

In various meetings throughout the week the plan has shaped up.  In Grenoble where the voting pool is 17000 families, we have been wrestling with the mechanics of the election.  There is a voting period of roughly two weeks in which tenants have to return mail ballots to be counted in the election.  A list of tenants is available as well as a map of all buildings in the system, but the exact time of their availability is still uncertain, making it difficult to make a comprehensive week-by-week plan.  Nonetheless, Alliance candidates have an advantage simply because they are running as a team, backed by the organization, and in some cases partnered with a local union as well, but that advantage only works if we are all able to come to consensus on a plan and then do the hard work of campaigning for the almost eight weeks until the voting closes in December.

After conference calls throughout the week, I attended a meeting of the candidates, organizers, and key organizing committee members in a common space meeting room in one of the housing projects of Grenoble Habitat, where over potato chips and apple juice the plans were being hashed out.  Like all campaigns and organizing the focus was first on lists and building an organizing committee.  Regardless of when – or if – a list is supplied by the housing authority, the key first topic on the agenda of the meeting was how to use the list we have and how to build it larger in advance of the election.  In the smaller election, we have 800 names and in the larger one we have closer to 1500.  There was agreement that the committee would divide up the list, report on daily progress, and commit individually to spending 10 hours on the phones to contact all 2300 names in order to reach 800 to 1000.  The objective was to use the calls to identify building representatives as organizing committee members in as many buildings as possible.  Those campaign representatives would commit to circulating the literature, building a list of building tenants, joining the candidates in doorknocking in their building, and organizing a building wide meeting to meet the candidates between now and the election.

The literature drop would be in the following week, and staff and the planning committee committed to developing a week-by-week plan until the election to be discussed and decided on at the regular weekly meeting.  There was agreement that the concentration would first be on identifying and turning out our base to vote before trying to expand to buildings in the suburbs and elsewhere that we had not previously organized.  These elections are decided by only one or two thousand votes, so the GOTV and multiple “touches” to make sure the ballots are filled our correctly and mailed is central to victory.

This is the first time the organization has embarked on an election campaign of any kind, so it’s exciting and heady stuff.  The one thing that is certain is that the leadership and organization will be stronger once the votes are counted, win, lose or draw.  The other thing that is clear will be that if the Alliance/ACORN members are elected, change is coming to housing authorities in Grenoble and Aubervilliers as tenants join their voices together to create power on the boards that will not be denied.

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Please enjoy Southern State of Mine by Sugarcane Jane.

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles’ Get as Gone Can Get.

Thanks to KABF.

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“Solidarity and Fraternity Should Prevail”

New Orleans    France, what a country!  Here’s an inspirational and “good news” story to bring some brightness into the bleak performance of so many countries in Europe and of course the United States in handling the ongoing political crisis involving migrants.

The French farmer who had attracted worldwide attention when arrested and fined for helping organize rescues through the mountains in southeastern France for migrants who had illegally crossed the border and driving them to his farm for food, shelter, and sanctuary won a critical court decision that should have huge ramifications not only in France, but around the world.  The French Constitutional Court ruled that Cedric Herrou’s actions were legal and protected under the constitutional principle of “fraternite” that means “all humanitarian assistance should be legal once people have entered France – provided it doesn’t entail helping them enter the country and isn’t delivered for financial benefit,” as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The French Revolution was different than the American Revolution.  “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” was the motto.  Political philosophers have often pointed out the power of the distinction between a demand for freedom in the United States versus the demand for liberty in France.  Equality is mainly ignored in both countries as we all know too well, but fraternity, the notion that all people must bond together in solidarity, is also unique.

Interviewing Harvard Professor Jacqueline Bhabha about her new book from Polity Press, Can We Solve the Migration Crisis? on Wade’s World it was impossible for her not to emphasize how much migration is not driven by choice, but by humanitarian crises of war, violence, and climate whether from Syria, Central America, or currently the forced starvation and conflict pushing people out of Yemen.  In our conversation we didn’t discount the “pursuit of Happiness” that drives economic migrants to uproot their families from their homes and traditions to seek better lives.  Bhabha’s book noted that the lifetime earning gain was over $225,000 for such families.  Reports from Central America indicate that the average cost for migrants to journey to the United States is between $9 and $10,000, and Bhabha notes that Syrian migrants were also paying about $9000 as well.  To believe that migration is simply “the poor and huddled masses” misses much of the modern experience even as we watch the repeated forced migration in the sub-Saharan area, with the Rohingya, and with others.

The French court was clear that the border needs to be protected and that traffickers must be prosecuted, but their decision about the responsibilities that we all have to protect and assist the men, women, and children that need our aid and succor should be a clarion call to all countries and all people, not simply the reading of a piece of the French constitution and law.  This is part of what drives the outcry about family separation and child incarceration at the US border.

The New York Times interviewed Vincent Gasquet, a pizza chef who aids migrants at the border near where he lives in France, and his statement should be close to all of our hearts, as he says,

“The law states that we shouldn’t help migrants, but it also says that we shouldn’t leave them in a dangerous situation, so what can we do?…The line is so thin, but solidarity and fraternity should prevail.”

Voila!

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