Maximizing the Expanding Organizational Footprint

Making a point, Jill O’reilly from Ottawa ACORN

Paris   Listening to the reports from the head organizers in the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and operations in the United States was so exciting. There had been real progress in one campaign after another.

Questions were fired back-and-forth on the details of various campaigns. Exactly what was involved in the landlord licensing victory won in Toronto? How had the Sheffield organizer used Google keywords to find a mention of the codicil in the giant Spanish bank’s Santander’s lending agreement to UK landlords that forced a rent increase annually – that a quick campaign was able to upset. It was exciting to hear about our new organization in Aubervilliers beating back Veolia’s efforts to raise water prices and privatize their system, especially since Local 100 had long experience with the same company where we represent clerical and accounting staff for the New Orleans regional transit authority.

Beth from A Community Voice

Raising the hood on the nuts and bolts of the organization in report after report, it was impossible to ignore the impact of social networking recruitment efforts that were being bolted on the basic organizing model. Where we had begun counting “provisional” members in ACORN over the last dozen years who had expressed a threshold interest in ACORN and were in a targeting process to move up the ladder to full membership, the advent to so many other measures of social network indicating support were also being measured more intently. Petition signers and other overt expressions of support were being databased and integrated into meeting and turnout calculations, assembled into phone and autodialer programs, and counted reliably in the same way as regulars and full-pay members.

The numbers add up. With ACORN Canada at 110,000 members, 80,000 are associates and provisionals. ACORN in England has utilized social media in their basic organizing more aggressively than many other operations given their extensive base building among private tenants. Provisional and associate members now number 15,000 in the less than three years of the organization’s work. In Scotland, there are 3000 in the provisional-associate category. The organizing in France has been more traditionally based in social housing but still counts more than 800 supporters in Aubervilliers after only a year of organizing for example.

Stuart Melvin, head organizer ACORN UK

The high level of internet access and smartphone proliferation in our English tenant base has led to an exciting level of experimentation by ACORN in Bristol, Sheffield, and Newcastle. Tools by Action Network have been valuable. They have had more experience in using Slack than many of the other organizing operations who are more reserved in their utilization. They are using Facebook creatively to set up recruitment meetings that result in an extremely high sign-up success rate. I had heard something similar in Hungary from some organizers that were still able to use Facebook events on turnout, which we had largely discounted in the USA. They felt they were able to reliably count on one-of-three to attend.

As always there are changes and new technology, so the organizer were eagerly soaking up skills and techniques to see what might make their organizing more effective.

Melva Burnett, president ACORN International and ACORN Canada

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The Activists of Paris Are Ready for a Movement Now

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a workshop for activists at the labor union hall

Paris   On the bus to our meetings in Paris we were clogged up in a huge traffic circle where the Bastille, the infamous prison of the French Revolution was located. On that site now is a quite grand appearing Opera House. My colleague had earlier reprised stories of Charles De Gaulle and his comeback after the worst defeat of the French Army “in 2000 years,” as he called it. We met members of several local political parties in the afternoon at a café, where even I could translate the original sign saying this was the Café of the Unions. Down the street we met that evening in the a vast building constructed by the unions after the mid-1800’s Paris Commune, when workers concluded that they had insufficient space in Paris to meet, discuss, plan, and take action. In the room where we met a score of local activists, a translation of the sign on the door was that this was the room “of the little strike.” History seemed everywhere around us, but even surrounded by history, this is where things start.

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In Grenoble, our leaders were focused on the hard problems at the basics of organization. How to build their local groups and keep the members active? How to balance growing the organization with maintaining the existing pace? How to navigate their role as leaders between the staff and membership? In Paris, our colleagues had vast political experience in the labor movement, student unions, mobilizations, political parties, and more, but they were looking past the grassroots specifics to the grander vision, and they were hungry to ignite the movement that would bring back the good times and create the big changes of our dreams. They knew the work of our affiliates and partners, Alliance Citoyenne and ReAct, and the idea of ACORN excited them about the possibilities they could see in the future.

Answering Questions

Answering Questions

The questions probed recruitment, campaigns, and of course politics and how ACORN handled these issues around the world and historically in the United States. Ironically, where with the leaders I had tried to gently pull them towards looking at the bigger picture of their opportunities, with this crowd of seasoned activists I found myself pushing them to the concrete realities of the work and what it took to realize those dreams.

For example, one great question spoke of the decline of the workers’ movement in France and Europe and seemed to ask if ACORN could be the modern vehicle to revive those times of sweeping change. The question took my breath away with its excitement, but the enormity of the project and our place in it, forced an answer that must have disappointed many, when I argued that we would simply be one force of many and that we in fact couldn’t make it all happen without a wider array of organizations, especially labor, moving in the same direction. I had to remind my new friends that despite the growth and success of ACORN in the USA over its years, there was still galloping and growing inequity, the end of welfare, stagnant wages, declining incomes for many of our families, and abandonment of support for much of the urban America where ACORN members struggled and fought.

one of our leaders in Aubervillers and Solene Compingt of ACORN's affiliate Alliance Citoyenne

one of our leaders in Aubervillers and Solene Compingt of ACORN’s affiliate Alliance Citoyenne

Nonetheless, this was a hopeful crowd ready to do the work, and that was exciting in itself, and challenges us to do more in Paris and across France and Europe. It was refreshing finally to answer questions that came from one of our leaders in attendance from Aubervilliers, a Paris suburb on the brass tacks of negotiations, something I could handle more confidently. I even got a question on whether dues should be lower for a 23-year old member where with relief I could simply answer, “No.”

As we left in good spirits together after several hours of dialogue, we passed the door to the giant auditorium on the main floor. A peek inside saw people lined along the walls of the great expanse. They were singing, and we left the building to a joyous noise.

adrien roux of ACORN partner ReAct listens in on a small group at the end of workshop

adrien roux of ACORN partner ReAct listens in on a small group at the end of workshop

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