Another Year Passes

On the Road: Time never stands still, and as our children have gotten older we have found the only way to really get time with them in all of our hurried lives is to spirit them out of town.  And, it works.  Sure, the first year or so there were complaints about friends missed as well as certain homesickness for holiday traditions.  Of course they miss seeing the rest of their family as well, but somehow it is more than compensated by the spirit of adventure and the opportunity to share new things.  No one misses the commercialism of the holidays, so like squirrels saving our few nuts, a trip this time of the year settles all scores.

 We visit.  We think about the year past and the year to come.  We try to sort it all out in some fashion.  We actually find we enjoy each others company, which I know must have come as a surprise for the kids!  Now having weathered these excursions for the last few years, we also have a new set of traditions and comparisons that live strictly within the family, which is another welcome surprise.

 This year we were bone tired, so we were more bedraggled than usual.  The elections, huge growth, big campaigns, wheeling and dealing, pressure and stress, 24-7, blackberry buzzing – there just seemed no end to it all.  The kind of year where the vacation may not last long enough for sleep not to include work dreams – last night I dreamed about Wal-Mart, and that’s going way too far! 

 This year as well the work seems to erode the beach like the constant hammering of the waves.  Things not done, one sneaks to finish in the off hours that might have been more pleasantly spent with more books or even naps.  Not that even this work, no matter how intrusive, is really unpleasant, this is no complaint:  if you can do it, you want to do it.  There are only some many years, so many places and spaces where one can take the measure and matter, so one wants to push the day from dawn until dark as hard as one can do.

 This year we are also constantly reminded of war.  The protests seem everywhere written on the walls around us.  There seems to be no haven where we are not pariahs.

 This year we also read about the terrible tsunami and its devastation.  We recoil at the horror that again devastates the poor and marginal of some many countries along with the favored tourists who happened in its path for the holidays.  I think of the fact that I now even know people living in Sri Lanka and wonder at their well being in times where even the internet is not sufficient to suffice.  I can imagine some of these things differently, because I have been with these people in a different way.  What tragedy!

 This year we missed snow in New Orleans for Christmas, but with no regrets.  We last had snow in the city in 1989, and that was also right near Christmas.  We had only recently moved into our house and watched some of the pipes freeze, because we had not been there long enough to find them all to wrap.  Reports from the home front indicate that traffic was frozen for hours with highway closings for days, but it warmed up almost immediately bringing back the balmy temperatures that mark the season better in the our home city.

 Vacation is vacation though – a rest and reward from hard labor, and much appreciated.  Before we get back to real work next week we will have a chance to make our list, get our resolutions together, and think about all that needs to be done next year to make it even better.

 And, all of that is a good thing, just as it is a good thing to be able to wish all of you great things for the coming year as well.

 Feliz Ano Nuevo!


Year End — Year Begin Meeting

New Orleans: Every year for a million years — certainly close to 30 years or so — the organizational staff that make up the ACORN family of organizations — ACORN, ACORN International, AHC, SEIU Locals 880 and 100, KABF, KNON, CCI, and a score of others — come together for what we call the YE/YB — the Year End / Year Begin Meeting.  The purpose is almost self-descriptive.  The staff assesses the performance of the organization over the past twelve months in both written reports and direct meetings, and plots the goals and objectives for the coming year.  There are dozens of workshops on everything from services to organizing to skills to campaigns.  There are meetings 24 hours a day it seems with formal sessions and caucuses, and of course there is the French Quarter beckoning just across the street!

 The meetings last anywhere between 1 1/2 days to 3 days — depending on the operation.  For the last 25 years or so the meetings have been held either in New Orleans or nearby ever since the operational headquarters of the organizations moved to the Crescent City in 1978.  In those days we met for many years across Lake Pontchartrain at Fontainebleau State Park in their group camping area — sleeping in bunk beds and meeting in an open, damp room on concrete floors and sitting on picnic tables.  Those days were really not that long ago and continued through the early 1990’s at the least. 

 Gradually the organizations have grown and size overwhelms space.  Over the last several years we had to move the swelling crowd of staff first to hotels off of Canal Street, then to the Hyatt across from the Superdome for a couple of years, then last year to a new hotel on Canal — the Astor — and now over the last several days we met at the Sheraton on Canal.  As the organizations have expanded recently the texture of the meeting has changed.  The 2003 YE/YB was the largest.  The staff was over 500 then and 380+ were at the meeting.  That was huge.  But, this year it was dwarfed in the explosion of growth for ACOFRN and some many of the other organizations.  More than 720 paid staff crowded into the Sheraton for the meeting!  Literally twice the staff that were there last year!  Once I finish the agenda these days and open the meeting and look out at this huge crowd of our staff, my job seems to have migrated from Chief Organizer to Master of Ceremonies.

 The last two years as we have gradually bitten more of the bullet in this cultural shift, we have also had a banquet and some of the top organizational leaders — Maude Hurd, ACORN’s President, Vernon Bolden, Local 100’s President, and Helene Miller, Local 880’s President, have traveled down to take part in an awards ceremony highlighting those staff and offices who have had the best year.  The staff leans up and gets a chance to celebrate — and it is a wonderfully, fulsome and happy time.

 This year we had great performances from every operation.  The organizers for the year were all outstanding:  Hector Cortez (Phoenix ACORN), Wanda Busby (Local 100 Baton Rouge) and Margaret Grayson (Local 100 Houston), Margaret “Brynn” Seibert (Local 880 Child Care Director), and Holli Holliday (ACORN Political Organizer).  The office of the year for ACORN was Newark, New Jersey — more than 1000 new members in that one office last year.  The Housing Counselor of the year was Regina Davis from Oakland and the Housing Developer of the Year was Tara Benigno.

 After the awards people starting dancing a the line was jumping with the electric slide as folks got ready to hit the streets and keep it going until trains, vans, cars, and busses pulled off at dawn to take hundreds of organizers back to their home offices fired up and ready to go.

 You should have been there when we had the 2004-year end meeting!

More than 700 staff crowded into the Sheraton for the YEYB 2004 Banquet! Literally twice the staff that were there last year!