Good Spirits at the Auckland Trades Hall for “The Organizer”

Auckland       How many times do we get to travel most of the way around the world?  If lucky, as I have been in life and work, sometimes, but it’s still rare, so it was a gift to hear from Mat Danaher that he was now living and, even better, working in New Zealand.  I knew Mat from several annual meetings I had with him when he was working in the London headquarters for Unison, the 2ndlargest union in the United Kingdom.  He knew I was on vacation, but wondered if I was up for a screening of the THE ORGANIZER and talking about my book, Nuts & Bolts both of which he had been following on FacebookMy answer to his generous offer was not yes, but, heck, yes!

So, we found ourselves trying to figure out parking nearby the Auckland Trades Hall building on a Tuesday night as the wind was almost knocking us off the hillside on what passes for a winter night in New Zealand.  All of that was an hour before the scheduled start time for the event, but when we went through the door of the union hall, there were already a half-dozen people scurrying around in preparation.

They know what they’re doing in Auckland!  Mat of course was making sure the projector and speakers were set up to the screen and working, but the rest of us got to work setting up tables in a semi-circle which is the preferred method for the unions and the Auckland Labor History group sponsoring the event.  It took us a while to figure it out, but it turned out there was a bar and snacks being prepared by the Working Women’s Collective, so that by the time the documentary began showing there were tablecloths on each of the tables and bowls of food everywhere including a “nibbles” table in the back.  Ah, now we get it!

Not sure that’s the whole explanation for why there were already a score of people there a half-hour before the event?  Folks seemed genuinely glad to see each other.  They were chatting over a beer or glass of wine, even as they were making apologies for the traffic holding others up that they knew were on the way.  The film in fact started with over forty in attendance at five minutes after the scheduled six o’clock time – where does that every happen?  It turns out New Zealand is the answer – what great people in a great country.

with old comrades from the Philippines now working with unions in NZ

Not surprisingly the crowd warmed to the film, laughing and crying in all of the right places.  The questions, as expected, were direct and to the point about the impact of media on organizing, the ever-difficult question of expansion versus maintenance, the prospects for the rebranded groups and the potential of ACORN returning in the United States.  The unanimous verdict was that the film was inspiring.  There was also interest in whether or not there might be a place for ACORN in New Zealand, especially given our experiences organizing the ACORN Tenants Union in the United Kingdom.

The family consensus, walking back outside hours later into the wind, was straightforward:  the film was better, but the people in the audience were wonderful!


Interesting Questions from the Netroots Crowd

New Orleans    Netroots has become a big event for the digerati, especially the subset involved in internet campaigning and the like.  This year they held their annual confab in New Orleans.  In August, believe me on this, the Morial Convention Center makes some deals to bring people into the city, and, thank goodness, they brought in some good folks this time!   The latest, and reportedly the last, version of “The Organizer” documentary was kicking off the film screenings, and I was scheduled to do the Q&A after it ran.

I was a hot mess having landed after 1 AM from Charlotte only hours before.  I was running late for a quick meeting before the screening, parked at a two-hour meter knowing I was going to get a ticket, and bolted towards the Convention Center and the elevator going up to the meeting rooms.

Whoops!  Security was tighter than an airport!  No badge-y-no entry!  I fast walk to registration that then pushes me between three different tables as weird punishment for having missed some kind of internet code they might have sent me in Honduras, but, oh well, the internet does not end bureaucracy, it just creates another kind of impersonal set of gates to goods and services.

All good, I made it when I needed to be there.  The documentary had so many changes, I almost didn’t recognize some parts, even after having sat through it at least thirty times before, but I learn from the Q&A’s, so I was in for a penny, in for a pound, and it was worth it.  I knew some of the audience.  Hector Vaca and one of the new organizers from Action NC, formerly North Carolina ACORN, was there, as was Ron Neimark, a former Local 100 organizer now in Minnesota, and Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, son of Local 100’s field director from Houston, Orell Fitzsimmons, and Judy Graves, an ACORN organizer in Iowa and Texas, and now a long time CWA staff and deputy organizing director of that union.  A woman in the back whispered to me after the start of the film a question about whether I was related to her former accounting professor at Southern University at New Orleans, and when I told her he was my father, it was a special moment.

And, many of the questions were excellent and insightful.  The lead question was the obvious one:  why had more groups not learned from the ACORN scam attack?  Answer: beats me!  Predictably given the crowd, I was asked about how current social media might have impacted ACORN organizing methods a decade ago and now.  I answered, but raised the issue of the “digital poorhouse,” as a warning that the progressive digerati needed to oppose this and raise it up higher on the “to do” list.  One woman astutely observed that she could tell from the movie that our organizer recruitment program had changed from the 70s from idealist young white, college educated organizers to a more diverse, constituency reflected staff, so that was fun to talk about.

Importantly, one question noted that the new climate in the last ten years made diversity important, but anti-racism a greater priority, so how would ACORN have responded and represented in the current climate.  I answered that we always had been at the vanguard of adaptation to changing times politically and culturally, and I thought we would have continued in that vein, since the nature of successful organizing is adaptation on all fronts.  Having touted Automating Inequality earlier, I asked who had read Stamped from the Beginning and its anti-racism argument around historical figures and movements.  The book was known more than read, I joked that I was sounding like Oprah, but that only proved how much time I still spent on airplanes.

I didn’t even mind the $30-dollar parking ticket.


Sky Full of Song by Florence & The Machine.

Thanks to KABF.