Anniversaries and Agreements

ACORN Community Organizing

42-15660639Washington A front-page story in the Times detailed the story of an Arizona homeowner, who lost her job, and when calling Bank of America to modify her Countrywide mortgage was only offered an expensive re-financing option.  A spokesperson from the Treasury Department confirmed to the reporter that the woman was eligible for a modification, rather than the mess she was offered.  I was also struck because the story so clearly was a breach with many available remedies in the precedent setting agreement dating way before TARP between Countrywide and ACORN in early 2008.  I couldn’t help wondering if ACORN was still enforcing that agreement, but had to also quickly reckon with the fact that I didn’t know, and wouldn’t follow up and find out. 

Partly this is because ACORN has so many fish to fry these days given the continued assault of the right and the pre-and-post unprincipled election abandonment of much of it liberal foundation funding base, that minding the store around issues at the base including precedent setting agreements on loan modifications is probably greatly strained.  But, mainly I wouldn’t follow up and make inquiries because I recognize that it has now been a year exactly since I resigned from ACORN on June 2nd of last year after 38 years as Chief Organizer.  For me this is an important anniversary and a milestone and relief in many ways.

The first couple of weeks after leaving from the intensity and commitment of such a job, reading such an article would have sent me to the email to sent a note to old colleagues with advice or reminders or make a call to remind someone of who to call and how to handle.  Quickly though I learned to resist such impulses, not just because they were unsolicited, but more often because it was a sad experience.  I couldn’t do anything really to help, and often the staff person on the other side also knew that they couldn’t do much either for one reason or another, especially after when ACORN was having its Britney Spears moments in the run-up to the election thanks to the Republican strategy and right attack.

You don’t stop caring and rooting for what was your home team and all of its players and fans for almost 40 years, but having been on the field for all of those years, you simply learn to be a fan, clap for the wins and boo the opponents.  The work is hard on the best days, money is scarce, and change and challenge is everywhere.  I found I had to work as hard or harder every day for the last year as anytime when I was at ACORN.  The hours were the same as were many of the jobs, even while I navigated the changes.  Much of it was reminiscent of what it was like in the beginning at ACORN with the thrills of close relationships and connections to the work and the members and the chills of too many bills and tight payrolls.  It was a pleasure to replace the 100 emails a day that really boiled down to binary “yes” and “no’s” with work closer to the core of what it had always meant to me to organizer and be an organizer.  I have a trade, and I was able to go back to the tools, as the labor movement expression goes.

There are always regrets, sure, and things that you miss, big things like relationships and being able to help, and small things like having support in the work, a regular paycheck, and not really having to think about every single detail.  But, there is also relief in finding the strength of deep friendships both expected and surprising, welcomed support when needed, and real clarity and disappointment in finding where character was lacking and learning to reckon with abandonment and cowardice where unexpected.  I say all that is a relief, because that is really what I ended up finding for myself in sorting through facts and fictions to find hard truths.  Life and work is better in such a reality despite the sentimental lingering you attach to what you had thought or hoped or wished was real.

A year to the day after my leaving, I was finally able to sign along with many others the long, 5000 words of legal agreements and understandings that seal all of these transitions more constructively for the future while securing the ways and means for all of the various organizations to continue to work and find success in the future.  The same agreement could have been negotiated and signed nine months ago, but one of the things I have also been forced to relearn is some more patience to go with all of the discipline I’ve always brought to the task.  Everything in its time, and marking the 1st anniversary of my resignation, it was in fact the perfect time to settle all accounts and tie off all loose ends of the past to secure the future.

This is not necessarily an anniversary I will always remember to celebrate, but in this case the huge relief at marking the passing of one milestone with another is a relief that requires some special note of passing, even if I won’t be dancing in the street.