Taking a Punch

ACORN Citizen Wealth Organizing

P1010020Washington I’ve often told this story.  It’s about a big, rookie mistake I made as a green organizer of 20 years old trying to figure out how to be head organizer of Massachusetts Welfare Rights when total craziness broke out between two contending groups of leadership.  Because of some idealistically pure view of staff and leadership roles I had at the time, I sought to keep the “staff out of the middle” of the dispute by closing the office for a couple of days until everything calmed down.  Maybe a good idea, maybe a bad one, but it turned out to make everyone even madder, because they didn’t have me available to yell out for better or worse.  In retrospect I learned that I should have closed the office perhaps, but sat in a chair outside and waited until leaders showed up, and then taken whatever yells and shouts they had to offer until a plan was made moving forward.  They needed someone to take the punch, and I was too young to understand that was part of my job and came with being an organizer, and that it was political and not personal.

A friend who worked with me 30 years ago sent me a note of concern suggesting it might be time for stepping back, rather than stepping forward.  He was worried about me, and I appreciated that, but found myself explaining why it is precisely the time to step forward.  First, it’s been a while since I worked for ACORN, and, secondly, the situation is such that the chance of collateral damage is now zero.  There’s no election in the offing where this could be a distraction, and the host of locusts that have swarmed on the organizations couldn’t be much worse for me shooing some of them off.

I also think in a very, very small way, I can already sense a small turnaround.

Last night at Busboys and Poets talking about Citizen Wealth I actually had the folks from biggovernment.com (the ACORN sting people) compliment my manners (making my mother proud!), and a gentlemen from the National Review applaud my “courage” for being out in the public and taking his and other questions.  I know I’m grabbing at thin straws here, but at least it’s something.

Newsweek magazine flinched a quote of mine they found in the Washington Post as one of their “quotes of the week” in the front of the magazine, where in reaction to the Congressional dog pile defunding of ACORN, I responded that “it was balderdash with a side of poppycock.”  Truer words have hardly ever been spoken.  Good to have them out there!

On a Baton Rouge NPR call today with Jim Engster of the 5 calls only 1 was whack and 4 were dead-on positive about the need for ACORN and its future.  An article from my hometown paper, The Times-Picayune, after starting out snidely was actually to the point, and reasonably objective as these things go.

The Google alerts are down and perhaps people are taking a breath and finally looking at what is really going on.

I may be deluding myself, but I feel like I’m even getting traction on my argument that we have to all stand up and stand together to oppose McCarthyism.  That is what is really at stake here, not ACORN, me, or whatever.  Unfortunately, I can’t say that without also being willing to also go 15 rounds with what seems to be all comers.  It’s not pretty and it’s not fun, but being able to take a punch has a value still it seems just as I learned 40 years ago.

Maybe soon people will in fact really hear what I’m saying – along with the voices of so many others.  And, maybe soon, the progressive forces will finally unite together rather than continuing to stand apart and scoff and at best say to themselves, “there but for the grace of God go I as well.”

If we don’t jump out there, we won’t find out.