Thinking About Ted Kennedy

Ideas and Issues Personal Writings
New Orleans   Dewey Armstrong, an early ACORN veteran, whose trail I had lost for more than 20 years, suddenly appeared in “in-box” recently with word of his good health, thoughts about helping in post-Katrina world in the New Orleans, and other things big and small.  Dewey had been the first head organizer in our expansion from Little Rock, opening up our office in Sioux Falls.  He had handled our delegation in New York in 1980 at the apex of the 20-80 campaign, and been our first political director.  He had lived across the street from me or around the corner only blocks away in the Bywater in the early 80’s.  His daughter was born on the exact same day as our son, one-year to the day later. 

 Opening my email finally in the Albuquerque airport late yesterday, I found a message he shared with a picture from a million years ago of him being arrested in 1982 at our convention in Philadelphia at the same time we were trying to force the mid-term convention of the Democratic Party to take seriously our demands for more inclusion of lower income citizens and their voice.  An article below the picture and story of the arrests covered the speech Ted Kenney, Senator from Massachusetts, was making to that gathering.  Dewey’s daughter is now living and working in Morocco, and he was sharing news from home that she might not have heard yet in the way that fathers do, but it seemed to express a way to understand some of what many are feeling with the news of Senator Kennedy’s current fight with brain cancer.
   As you may know, Ted Kennedy may not be with us much longer, though he is reported to be in good spirits and helping his family and friends and the rest of us through what is no doubt a scary scenario.  What a great guy!
   ACORN allied with him in ’79 (a tactical decision at the time), when he committed unequivocal support for the central demand of our ACORN 80 Peoples Platform campaign (our first real national campaign), while Jimmie (his spelling…) Carter didn’t much want to talk to us or risk being seen dealing with what we might call the broad-based progressive forces that were organizing, speaking out, and acting for social and economic justice. Leaving Miami early in ’79 (with your mom), I moved to New Orleans (ACORN’s recently established national HQ) to develop and co-ordinate the campaign, and then ACORN’s 2nd track electoral activity (1st track was always and fundamentally direct action speaking truth to power, as national political director – a position I struggled with and never really figured out – ACORN’s strength was always from the ground up based on local organizing.
   Apart from Jim Abourezk (D-S.D.), who invited us to organize in South Dakota when ACORN still stood for Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now, and greatly facilitated our setting-up operations (after 2 years training and organizing in North Little Rock, Little Rock, and Conway I was deputized to try and make it happen in South Dakota as Head Organizer of what soon became the 2nd of eventually 20+ ACORNs affiliated (not w/o periodic conflict) and acting together on the larger issues that faced us, while committed to staying grounded in the local, citywide, and statewide campaigns that were crucial to the interests of our low-to-moderate-income multi-racial and multi-ethnic membership; Ted Kennedy represents better than just about anybody our aspirations, appealing to the better instincts of even those on the other side of the ideological fence.  Mouth good, action better – that’s an old motto around ACORN.  Still makes sense to me.
   Ted Kennedy is an inspiration and example of what can be accomplished in the halls of power w/o sacrificing principles too much.  Who’ll be the next in line – doesn’t have to be just one, either. 
   I am attaching some press from 1982, in which Edward Kennedy’s eloquence and beliefs ring loud and proud. I should say that if we had been a little more aware at 6:00 in the morning we would have eluded that choke-hold while directing 3-4 bus-loads of ACORN members where to converge to discuss the Peoples Platform at a Democratic big-wigs’ breakfast.