Year End Meeting Highlights: Bengaluru, Checklists, and Campaigns

IMG_2746New Orleans               Ten organizations from the US and Canada in our family of community organizations, labor unions, media operations, and social enterprises came together as we do every year in a Year End / Year Begin Meeting to evaluate the work of the past year and plan for the current year.  Beside the people meeting in the Common Space at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, reports were heard via Skype from a small sample of ACORN International’s affiliates in India, the United Kingdom, and our emerging project in France, adding excitement to the meeting, as well as a reports from our affiliates based in Maryland and Pittsburgh.

A lot of work was done, and there were thrills and chills a plenty as you might expect.  Certainly one of the highlights was hearing from Suresh Kadashan, who directs ACORN India’s work based in Bengaluru, Chennai, and elsewhere in south India.  Suresh had an amazing year, though he said he was disappointed at having failed to reach the goal he had set.  The ACORN union now registered and rolling among hawkers, street sellers, and food workers in Bengaluru has now reached 18,000 members there with another 5000 in Chennai, another couple of thousand in Pondicherry, also in Tamil Nadu, and more than 10,000 in five other cities in Karnataka totally 35,000 members now.  Suresh had set his sights on 50,000 this year, but we were ecstatic.  Reports from the UK indicated solid progress in Bristol, Edinburgh, and London, but also encouraging news of the expansion now underway in Birmingham and Newcastle.  Drives along the ACORN model have also begun in Grenoble, France and work is underway with our partnership with ReAct, based there as well, so the news was encouraging.

A lot of time was spent not only on reports and plans, but also on how to improve the way we organize our work so that we can get more done with the talented people we have despite often challengingly scare resources.  The ACORN Canada staff had read Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto before their YE/YB in Chicago in December and shared the work they were doing to implement a system of checklists to streamline and make their work more effective.  The meeting embraced the idea and small groups throughout the weekend tackled the process for actions, doorknocking, daily planning, meetings, and other common experience.  It will be interesting to see how these next steps play out over the year.

The other major progress was the fruitful discussions around campaigns directed at developing new strategies to win hospital accountability and increase wages in cities where we work where living wage campaigns have been blocked at the ballot.  Mike Gallagher, formerly with SEIU and an old veteran of ULU and many of our other labor projects, joined us to help look at the impact new regulations on nonprofit hospitals provide us with handles to force more accountability and lower costs for many of our members and people coming through the Citizen Wealth Centers.  On wages we took a fresh look at whether coalitions might be organized with our allies to win adoption of wage increases based on public campaigns and agreements from individual institutions and corporations even in the absence of mandatory enforcement.

There’s a lot more work to be done, but it was encouraging to still mark our progress and continue to consolidate our team and our network of organizations so that they can engage big issues and deliver important victories as our members build power.

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Progress on Payday Lending and the Digital Divide in Canada

10872772_10205576017666745_904929552335494071_oChicago     Like clockwork the ACORN Canada staff continues the tradition of mid-December YE/YB or Year End / Year Begin meetings.  Getting snowbound in Montreal one year and caught again another year in Niagara Falls, convinced them that perhaps meeting in the USA made sense, given that plane fares was actually cheaper.  Several years ago we managed to meet in Miami on the coldest day ever for that time of year.  The other advantage of such locations has been the opportunity to meet with organizations on the US-side and compare notes, pick up tips, and generally keep current in the work.  This year found the crew in mid-20 degree temps in Chicago.  Meetings with Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Workers’ Justice, Lawrence Benito, the ED of Illinois Refugee and Immigrant Rights Coalition, one of the leaders in the fight for immigration reform, and Ed Shurna, executive director of the unique and activist Chicago Coalition of the Homeless should add spice to the meetings as well.

Listening throughout the day to the reports from the offices, it was clear 2014 had been another banner year for ACORN Canada.  Almost 7000 members of their 70,000 were full payers on bank drafts giving the organization almost $200,000 of steady dues income to power the program.  The likelihood of a federal election next year also provided a fertile field for discussion about how ACORN can bundle our issues and leverage the campaign.  I may not have been in the United Kingdom but it sounded like the same discussion!

Perhaps the most interesting measures of progress were found in listening to the reports from the offices where solid work on both local and national issues was yielding big wins.

Scott Nunn, reporting from British Columbia, detailed a breakthrough in a new, locally-based strategy to stem the advance of predatory payday lending operations.  After preliminary discussions the city council in Surrey passed a zoning restriction pushing such stores away and limiting the numbers possible in our neighborhoods almost preempting our campaign.  We are also engaged heavily in this fight in neighboring Burnaby, so they could be the next city to fall.

Shay Enxuga surprised everyone with a report from Nova Scotia, the newest ACORN Canada outpost, with details on discussions and negotiations with cable internet provider, Eastlink, who seem ready to not only implement our $10 internet access plan, but to extend the program outside of public housing to the general neighborhoods.

The likely April consideration of the internet access by the federal commission could find itself under real pressure by the Rogers telecom plan for access we had won earlier in Toronto and now the Eastlink breakthrough.  Telus had seemed to be moving in British Columbia, but has stalled.  ACORN Canada may see an opportunity to expand the fight for the internet to be regulated as a public utility in the north as well?

Ottawa continued to win the staff awards for activity and took the prize after spirited competition.  Toronto is leading with more work on an exciting initiative to increase the living wage.  The coming convention in June in Montreal should see ACORN Canada expanding the organization there in 2014 and meeting hundreds coming to make decisions for the organization.

I hated to have to leave the meeting early.  There’s great work happening in the north!

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