This I Believe-The People Shall Rule

ACORN Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

Atlanta So for those faithful readers who might be interested in the “essay” NPR rejected (regardless of the fact that it is also what I believe!), I share it below. You can comment on which one you like better, if you have a minute and we will take a straw poll.

The People Shall Rule

February 2006

I believe the “people shall rule.” I also believe it is my job, ACORN’s mission, and all of our responsibility to make sure this really happens.

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, was founded in Little Rock, Arkansas on a hot day in June, 1970. ACORN was designed to unite low and moderate income families in a membership organization engaging all of the multiple issues felt in the neighborhoods with corporations and government or whoever might be responsible and able to make needed changes. It is both hard and exciting to build an organization from scratch, and at the time we were on uneven and shaky ground, trying to build something that did not exist anyway or anywhere.

The idea of ACORN was radical then and maybe even now. It seemed destiny somehow to stumble on the Arkansas state motto — regnat populus — the people rule. Being a victim of 4 years of high school Latin in my hometown of New Orleans I immediately knew what that meant and felt it matched the mission of ACORN to a “t.”

The problem then, and now, is that in fact the people do not rule, and despite the President’s international obsession with democracy for others, we have not done what is necessary to achieve a more democratic society and practice in our own country. So, ACORN’s motto became a mandate and demand — the people shall rule. Our slogan recognized a fundamental problem needing real work and representing the hopes and aspirations of a whole people — the vast majority too often are excluded from decision making and ignored.

I have often been surprised at how we have trivialized commitments to democracy by simply drowning it in repetition and words without being willing to reckon with the full depth and power of its practice and application. In fact I am often seen as naive for believing that more of all of this is not only better, but also for the best.

I think we have to have bright line tests of where we stand on politics and practice and this is a simple one for me. It also explains in the simplest terms ACORN’s appeal to its members and its success as an organization. It’s why we have put living wage raises on the ballot in Florida in the past and in Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan in the future. It’s why we registered more than a million new voters in 2004 and will do more in the future.

I really believe that if low and moderate income citizens, who in fact are the majority of Americans, actually have the opportunity to take democracy off the shelf, dust, shine, and make it work, that we, and our communities, will be in much, much better shape.

I also think it would be a better America if the people rule.

Any time now would be a great!