The Call to Citizen Action

ACORN Community Organizing

29-lafayetteLafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania It was fun to talk to the crowd of more than 100 students crammed into the auditorium on a clear, brisk fall night.  It was a back-to-the-50’s group of largely fresh faced, white teenagers and just twenties folks, largely drawn from the Middle Atlantic student catchment area, who in the main weren’t liberal and weren’t conservative but were still lost in the maze and confusion of figuring out these times and their future.  They are not alone and they are not a  movement yet, but there’s a mass of unhappiness laying in wait of anger and issues.

My book on Citizen Wealth had been the excuse for Professor Josh Miller in the government department to invite me speak during the winter, when I was unable to travel due to a massive snowstorm in the East disappointing me and the local Tea Party folks who had been spreading the word to protest my appearance.  Thirty years before Josh had worked for ACORN in Texas and Arkansas, so this was also an opportunity to reconnect.  Larry Ginsburg, another old comrade from ACORN and the labor unions drove up.  Josh’s sister, Rebecca, also a veteran union warrior now specializing in back office miracle work much needed by many, was also in the house.  Besides the pleasure of old stories about friends and work, Josh had labeled my talk, “The Call to Citizen Action,” which gave me an excuse to talk about the special challenges of these dark times in America in the shadow of the rising right, shrinking left, weakening of unions, and death of ACORN.

I don’t have to worry about a lot of requests to speak at commencements, because my message in the malingering depths of this Great Recession, where job prospects are so meager for coming graduates, where the chance of these kids becoming homeowners is minor, where their school debts will be weights tied to their leg dragging them even further underwater, was essentially, “hey, you are so screwed, you are lost generation, you’re Japanese and stuck for the next 10 or 20 years, you might as well answer the call to citizen action,because there’s absolutely no one else on the phone reaching out for you.”  And, unless you to sober up, get real, and build you’re own “party,” and take action as citizens, you’re future is totally bleak and depressing.   My pitch was that they needed to push the college, their professors, and each other to help them learn how to create a job and get comfortable raising money so that they could create opportunities for their own future in citizen action to express their anger and find their passion.  I’m not saying there was standing in the aisles applause, but I will say, I had their attention.

The questions and answers were especially interesting around the issues of voter registration, voter education, and even election protection.  The students were struggling to get their arms around how it was really possible in an ostensible democracy to have voting impediments and perhaps even more confounding to some was the ability to cross over the empathy bridge to other life experiences and imagine why huge numbers of people in other circumstances did not just “naturally” feel an inherent obligation to vote.  One or two of the students wanted the call to action to be embedded like a computer chip in a dog collar or some such so that people just naturally could hear the high pitched dog whistle only available to them to run vote without any fuss or bother or work by their fellow citizens to move people to participate.  My response to the queries about whether registration, protection, or education was the chicken or the egg was to advise the students to fry all of it up in a large pan and eat away.  It wasn’t worth having the argument, the call to citizen action needed to be answered in all of these directors, so whatever moved someone was worth moving forward on to the future.

Sometimes you have to throw a lot of seed in the fields to hope something grows, and this visit at Lafayette felt a little bit like that, but it wasn’t boring for either the students or me, so I enjoyed the listening and maybe someone heard something special in what I was trying to say about their future, so it was all good.  Citizen Wealth flew off the shelves enough to make the bookstore happy.  Joey Carey and Loren got some more good footage for their documentary, “ACORN Under Attack:  The Past, Present, and Future,” and we had a good visit, so I guess it was a day well spent all in all.