ACORN Reunion and Revival Tour

New Orleans    The Little Rock premiere screening of THE ORGANIZER documentary that looked at ACORN past, present, and future was a fascinating and unique event, where everyone there might truthfully say, “I wish you couldn’t have been there!”  Everything was going against it in some ways. It was a hot day, Saturday afternoon, and Mothers’ Day weekend, and that’s just the short list at rocks in the road.

Key people on the turnout were out of town for the last push.  Talking to organizers, all of whom were seasoned crowd counters, days before the event and on the eve of the showing, the numbers were falling like a rock.  On the last call on the Monday beforehand as we counted down the days, when I tried to put a positive spin on the weakening commitment count by saying, “I think we have a shot at one-hundred,” an old, senior hand cautioned that I was being way too optimistic.  On the eve of the premiere another veteran thought we might get sixty.  The show must go on though, so whether many or few, we were all in.

We got there more than a half-hour early, and there were already two people at the locked door of the Ron Robinson Auditorium of the Central Arkansas Library System trying to get in.  People coming early is always a good sign and come they did.  At the front table we were swamped trying to get people to sign “Tell Me More” attendance and information sheets and buy copies of Nuts & Bolts:  The ACORN Fundamentals of Organizing.  When it was over, the CALS crew told me they thought the count was 130.  Admittedly, we aren’t movie people, so what happened here?

Ok, it surely helped that we had gotten some early reviews including in the Friday edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that had scored the documentary at 87 out of 100, so people weren’t coming with expectations of seeing a dog.  But, the key to what drove people seemed simpler:  this was an ACORN love fest.  The standing ovation at the end of the movie was a giant “thank you” cheer for the organization’s contribution to change both in Arkansas and nationally.  It was an expression of deep pride that from this hard bitten, last on many lists, deep red state, ACORN had risen and become a voice for low and moderate-income people, had fought the good fight, often won, and sometimes lost.  The other secret to the event’s surge could be seen throughout the packed crowd when during a momentary lull in the Q&A period after the show ended, I asked everyone in the audience that had led or worked for ACORN or its family of organizations to stand and be recognized, and more than twenty people jumped up to long applause. This was a reunion of ACORN and those proud to be counted as supporters.

But, it was also more than that.  Question after question were not about the past, but about the future. What was the ACORN Home Savers Campaign doing in US cities, Wade? What are the chances that ACORN International would be big enough in the future to rebuild ACORN everywhere in the country?  Why was there such a “war on the poor” now and what could stand up to it?  These sparks of interest and anger were not nostalgic, they were demands for a revival, hard to answer, but impossible to ignore.

***

Please enjoy Samurai Cop (Oh, Joy Begin) by the Dave Matthews Band.

Thanks to KABF.

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Has Arkansas Become a Walmart “Company” State?

New Orleans  Hey, I get it. Arkansas is what it is, a smaller, poorer state than many in the statistical match-ups in one category after another.

But, having spent a lot of time there and lived there for more than seven years in the 1970s, I can assure you it has many charms, wonderful people, especially all of my in-and-out-laws, colleagues and co-workers. Arkansas even boasts a former governor who was an occupant in the White House in Bill Clinton, and the first women to serve a full-term in the Senate, Hattie Caraway. I don’t want to even start on Petit Jean hams or the best apple fritters in the world produced by the Donut Palace in Dumas. Arkansas also is the home state of one of the biggest of the big mega-corporations in the world, Walmart, the largest private sector employer globally and in the United States that without a doubt has transformed the Fayetteville-Bentonville corridor in the northwestern part of the state over the last 50 years.

But, I’m not a flack for the state bureau of tourism, so let me work my way around to the point. I know something about company camps and company towns. I spent some of the formative years of my boyhood and youth in such outposts in places like Rangely and Wilson Creek, Colorado. For years my family made a busman’s tour of such camps all over the western states in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico as well when my father was a bookkeeper and auditor for the California Company before it rebranded itself as Chevron. There are some pros, but there are a lot of cons.

It never really occurs that there was such a thing as a “company state” in the way there are company towns, until reading about the hot-breathed pursuit by cities throughout North America to be considered as the location of the Amazon’s second corporate headquarters and its claim to employ 50,000 workers at such a site. Some yahoos in the Little Rock business community are so Wally-eyed that they even slapped the Amazon bear, as the saying used to go in Arkansas. According to a piece in the New York Times:

A few applicants went in the opposite direction and sought to highlight their decision to not bid on Amazon’s second headquarters. A business group in Little Rock, Arkansas, recently took a newspaper ad (in the Washington Post, owned by Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos) and created an internet video telling Amazon it didn’t want the traffic hassles its new headquarters would bring to town.”

Perhaps needlessly, the reporter than added that, “Arkansas is the home state of Amazon’s arch-rival, Walmart.”

Don’t misunderstand me, Little Rock or anywhere in Arkansas, didn’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell of winning the second headquarters for reasons too numerous to list, but why prostrate the state to Walmart, I wondered? On second thought though, Arkansans have allowed Walmart to buy a place at the education table for charter schools and privatization throughout the state, and their money seems to have been key in taking over the Little Rock school system. The company and the family, that stacked up billions from its success, have more and more seemed to treat the state as their private playground and testing lab for pet public policies and personal preferences.

Maybe the Little Rock business folks just decided to acknowledge what should have been obvious to all of us: Arkansas is a company state for Walmart. Now that they have proven it, and I’ve said it, it would seem that Walmart should be ashamed at not having done better for the state than it has. You know the old story, if you break it, you own it. If Walmart owns Arkansas, it ought to try to be more accountable for something than its own bottom line and competitive position. Maybe even the Little Rock business community would agree to that?

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