Missing ACORN with Mid-Term Elections Coming

ACORN Community Organizing Ideas and Issues Voting Rights

met_TonyaaWeathersbee111708Portland A meeting is on the horizon this week with the Toronto elections commissioner and ACORN Canada to discuss how to meet ACORN’s demand that more voting stations be provided for city elections in the numerous high rise apartment buildings throughout the working districts of the city.  ACORN Canada in its “Tenants Vote” campaign had demanded polling places be established in any complex with more than 100 units.  ACORN Kenya has been at work for months to make sure that our members in the Korogocho slums are educated and ready to participate in the critical election determining the new constitution.

On the web the news out of Nevada indicates that a Project Vote and ACORN voter registration worker is due for trial after Thanksgiving.  The AG in Pennsylvania is scrapping around the cases of another couple of workers.  For all the sound and fury two years ago about ACORN and its voter registration efforts among the poor and disenfranchised, these two efforts seem to be all that remains of a forest of press coverage back then, and both are mighty thin soup.

All of these ironies come in focus for me as I realize that even as ACORN Canada and ACORN Kenya work to expand voting access and participation in that country, the fire has been snuffed out in the United States.  Two years on as some observers look at the impending election and the absence of huge, large scale registration efforts like those mounted by ACORN; some understand that the loss is huge to democracy when such forces are removed from the battle.

A recent piece by Tonyaa Weathersbee, regular columnist and member of the editorial board of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville that was published in the Louisiana Weekly called “We’ll Soon Wish We Still Had ACORN,” is worth noting:

”Call it a piece of democracy done in by deception.

ACORN, the community organizing group that became an obsession of right-wingers appalled that scores of black people dared to exercise their right to vote in 2008, was recently vindicated by the General Accountability Office.

As it turns out, the GAO found that the group, which is formally known as the Association of Communities Organizing for Reform now, did not misuse any of the $40 million in taxpayer funds it received between 2005 and 2009.

Seems that when Congress voted to strip it of its funding last year, all it was guilty of was employing some dimwitted folks who allowed conservative operatives masquerading as a pimp and whore to dupe them into doling out illegal  advice.

But now, ACORN is in tatters – done in by a doctored videotape and a Republican witch hunt. And their demise couldn’t have come at a worse time.

I say this because in 2008, the organization helped to register millions of voters in key swing states that President Obama won. And while there’s no denying that the communities ACORN serves tend to be filled with black and poor people who are constantly marginalized and vilified by the GOP, the key thing that they did was help millions of people understand the power that voting gives them.

Perhaps, just perhaps, ACORN could have used its power to persuade many of those same people who voted for the first time in 2008 to vote in the upcoming midterm elections – because there are lots of people who are counting on them to stay home as they vote to undo what was done two years ago.

I know this because recently, Gallup released a poll showing that Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more enthusiastic about voting in the midterm elections this year than they’ve ever been in the past. Fifty-nine percent of them say they plan to vote in November, compared to 44 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

That’s the highest average that Gallup has found among Republicans since it first asked the question in 1994 – the year that the GOP swept both housing of Congress and saddled us with Newt Gingrich and the Contact with America.

That tells me that that a whole lot of GOP voters see a chance to, by way of their vote, accomplish what all the town hall screaming and racial epithets couldn’t: Neutralize Obama’s agenda. It also tells me that a lot of Democrats are, at this point, either disillusioned by what he hasn’t done, or don’t understand that he still needs them to vote if he is to get anything done.

For some of that, Obama has himself to blame.

When black people and Latino people went out and voted for him in unprecedented numbers, they did so because they saw him as representing a new social and political order; one in which their needs and issues would be a priority.

But so far, that hasn’t happened.

There’s no immigration bill. Black unemployment is still triple that of whites, and while Obama inherited an economy that will certainly take years to fix, he’s shown little inclination to create any programs that target black joblessness.

Of course, Obama continues to poll high among those key constituencies. But he isn’t on the ballot, and the voters who put him over the top in 2008 haven’t seen enough difference in their own lives to make the connection between the president’s success and the success of his party in the midterms.

The Democratic Party realizes this is a problem – and it plans to spend $50 million to get those new Obama voters to return to the polls come November.

Still, I wish ACORN was around to help because voting shouldn’t just be about putting a particular party in power, but about helping marginalized people realize their own power to hold all politicians – Obama included – accountable.

I also wish they’d vote because it’s disturbing to hear right-wing pundits continue to paint Obama’s election as an anomaly – because what they’re really saying to white politicians is that without Obama’s name on the ballot, they never have to worry about black folks voting again.

That alone ought to be enough to make black people mad. Mad enough to prove them wrong.”