ACORN Canada, ACORN International, Many Others Banned from FEMA Funding

acorn-international-logoNew Orleans Props to Dave Weigel of Slate.com for bringing to the public a better understanding of how the Republican U. S. Congress is so consumed by hater-ation that they can’t see the desperate needs of victims of disaster because they are still blinded in the fog of their ghostbusting of the tragically defunct ACORN.  Yesterday Weigel redacted a long, long list of groups banned by the U.S. House of Representatives included in the funding appropriations bill for FEMA.  Perhaps nostalgia, but I can’t tell you how proud I was to read that list.  It was an Honor Roll!  It was also totally bizarre!

Here’s the honor roll of banned groups:

“None of the funds made available by this Act shall be made available to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Acorn Beneficial Assoc., Inc., Arkansas Broadcast Foundation, Inc., Acorn Children’s Beneficial Assoc., Arkansas Community Housing Corp., Acorn Community Land Assoc., Inc., Acorn Community Land Assoc. of Illinois, Acorn Community Land Association of Louisiana, Acorn Community Land Assoc. of Pennsylvania, ACORN COMMUNITY LABOR ORGANIZING CENTER, ACORN Beverly LLC, ACORN Canada, ACORN Center for Housing, ACORN Housing Affordable Loans LLC, Acorn Housing 1 Associates, LP, Acorn Housing 2 Associates, LP, ACORN Housing 3 Associates LP, ACORN Housing 4 Associates, L.P., ACORN International, ACORN VOTES, Acorn 2004 Housing Development Fund Corporation, ACRMW, ACSI, Acorn Cultural Trust, Inc., American Environmental Justice Project, Inc., ACORN Fund, Inc., Acorn Fair Housing Organization, Inc., Acorn Foster Parents, Inc., Agape Broadcast Foundation Inc., Acorn Housing Corporation, Arkansas Acorn Housing Corporation, Acorn Housing Corp. of Arizona, Acorn Housing Corp. of Illinois, Acorn Housing Corp. of Missouri, New Jersey ACORN Housing Corporation, Inc., AHCNY, Acorn Housing Corp. of Pennsylvania, Texas ACORN Housing Corporation, Inc., American Institute for Social Justice, Acorn law for Education, Rep. & Training, Acorn Law Reform Pac, Affiliated Media Foundation Movement, Albuquerque Minimum Wage Committee, Acorn National Broadcasting Network, Arkansas New Party, Arkansas Acorn Political Action Committee, Association for Rights of Citizens, Acorn Services, Inc., Acorn Television in Action for Communities, Acorn Tenants’ Union, Inc., Acorn Tenant Union Training & Org. Project, AWA, Baltimore Organizing Support Center, Inc., Bronx Parent Leadership, Baton Rouge ACORN Education Project, Inc., Baton Rouge Assoc. of School Employees, Broad Street Corporation, California Acorn Political Action Committee, Citizens Action Research Project, Council Beneficial Association, Citizens Campaign for Fair Work, Living Wage Etc., Citizens Consulting, Inc., California Community Network, Citizens for April Troope, Clean Government Pac, Chicago Organizing and Support Center, Inc., Council Health Plan, Citizens Services Society, Campaign For Justice at Avondale, CLOC, Community and Labor for Baltimore, Chief Organizer Fund, Colorado Organizing and Support Center, Community Real Estate Processing, Inc., Campaign to Reward Work, Citizens Services Incorporated, Elysian Fields Corporation, Environmental Justice Training Project, Inc., Franklin Acorn Housing Corporation, Flagstaff Broadcast Foundation, Floridians for All PAC, Fifteenth Street Corporation, Friends of Wendy Foy, Greenwell Springs Corporations, Genevieve Stewart Campaign Fund, Hammurabi Fund, Houston Organizing Support Center, Hospitality Hotel and Restaurant Org. Council, Iowa ACORN Broadcasting Corp., Illinois Home Day Care Workers Association, Inc., Illinois Acorn Political Action Committee, Illinois New Party, Illinois New Party Political Committee, Institute for Worker Education, Inc., Jefferson Association of Parish Employees, Jefferson Association of School Employees, Johnnie Pugh Campaign Fund, Louisiana ACORN, New York Communities for Change, Affordable Housing Centers of America, Action Now, Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change, Arkansas Community Organizations (ACO), The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, New England United for Justice, Texas Organizing Project, Minnesota, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Organization United for Reform, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, A Community Voice, Community Organizations International, Applied Research Center, or the Working Families Party.”

Weigel was looking at the bill to try and understand how Congress was going to shift resources that would have been spent in Joplin, Missouri, still suffering from their tornado damage, to help folks on the East Coast who were battered by Hurricane Irene.  There is a huge story that is covered my appendix about Lessons from Disaster in my book, Battle for the Ninth Ward:  ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster (available www.socialpolicy.org), but that, as they say is another story, though it is the same story with simply another verse of governmental inaction and incompetence at the highest levels.

Some of the list is simply overkill.  ACORN International is banned by both that name and our other name, Community Organizations International.  ACORN Canada is banned though it doesn’t even work anywhere but Canada, duh.

Much of this is simply meanness.  The poor Applied Research Center is banned I assume just because they are my friends, and I have spoken supportively of them.  Oh, that and their founder was the great Gary Delgado, the first organizer I ever hired after founding ACORN, so sins of the fathers, I guess for the hater clan in Congress appearing near year on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

But among the elected Congressional haters accuracy is not the point after all.  One of the things I loved about reading this Honor Roll is that though they banned six or seven different entities that are component parts of Local 100, United Labor Unions, in fact Local 100, if it were of a mind, could go crazy applying to FEMA to help disaster victims, as could a number of other entities I direct that are not on the list.

Given that Congress sure isn’t helping disaster victims since the FEMA bill is stuck now between the House and Senate, maybe that is exactly what we should do.  Years ago I listened frequently to a story from my ex-mother-in-law (may she rest-in-peace) as she would say, “Wade, let me tell you what’ I’ve learned raising five children.  Never tell one of them not to put a bean up their nose.  As soon as you do, you’ll catch one of the little scudders in the kitchen doing just that!”

Seems to me like the Republicans in Congress are trying to put a bean up our noses now.

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Changing the Paradigm on Resources for Organizing

Wade at FairgrindsNew Orleans I will talk about this a lot more, and I’ve been talking about this a lot before, but the article in Sunday’s Times-Picayune is a flashing neon sign that I’m going “all in” on a number of bets that recognize that we have to change the paradigm of resources to organizing domestically and internationally in order to improve the results of organizing, particularly in creating independent, democratic, and self-sufficient organizations.

Community activist will practice what he preaches at New Orleans coffeehouse

Published: Sunday, August 28, 2011, 7:15 AM

By John Pope, The Times-Picayune

As Wade Rathke, the New Orleans-born community organizer who founded ACORN, prepared to turn 63 this month, he was at a crossroads. The U.S. branch of the activist organization he turned into a powerhouse and a punching bag for the political right was dead, a victim of internal and external strife.

‘Had this been a regular coffee shop, I probably would have just kept on walking,’ Wade Rathke says of his decision to buy Fair Grinds coffeehouse.

Although Rathke has kept busy traveling to the 12 countries that are partners in ACORN International, he wanted something that would let him do some organizing in New Orleans.

So he bought a coffee shop.

It isn’t just any coffee shop. It is the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, a two-story Ponce de Leon Street establishment whose name is a play on the name of the nearby racetrack.

Though coffee shops have become synonymous with bourgeois excess, the Fair Grinds is in some ways a natural place for a veteran rabble-rouser to land. The ground-floor interior, where flecks of paint peel off the dark-green beaded-pine walls, looks like one of the last outposts of the 1960s, with fliers touting yoga, concerts and meditation groups.

There are, however, some modern touches: Casually clad customers commune with laptops and smartphones, and the walls and front window display advertisements for vegan cuisine and gourmet cupcakes.

But, Rathke said, what drew him to buy the business from Robert Thompson and his wife, Elizabeth Herod, wasn’t just the opportunity to sell coffee and pastries, although he envisions the shop as an ideal market for fair-trade coffee made by a co-op of Honduran women with whom he works.

“The attraction here is the space we’re in right now,” Rathke said.

Rathke, who will take over in mid-October, was sitting with Thompson in a big, empty room upstairs, a space that has been used for years by art groups, meditation groups and boards of nonprofit organizations.

“You name it, and it probably met here at some time or another,” Rathke said. “Had this been a regular coffee shop, I probably would have just kept on walking, but the chance of combining what I know about building a community from 40 years of being a community organizer and the role that this coffee house has in this community was just too good to pass up.

“I’m excited about the fact that there are 300 or more people who come in here every day, and we’ll have a chance to talk to them. God knows what we’ll say. God knows what we’ll hear. I’m very much looking forward to the dialogue that a cup of coffee can help make happen.”

Rathke, who paid about $500,000 for the building, is no stranger to the coffee culture. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School, he got a job as a shipping clerk at Luzianne Coffee Co. after dropping out of Williams College, where he had organized draft resisters and welfare recipients.

At Luzianne, Rathke was introduced to coffee and chicory in the company cafeteria, and he frequently was given a 1-pound bag at the end of a week’s work.

“I liked coffee after that,” he said.

At Fair Grinds, Rathke said one of his priorities will be to educate people about fair-trade coffee, a category of coffee that may cost more because, Rathke said, its producers are getting paid adequately.

“People should get the reward of their labor,” he said. “The organizing I do, which is the broadest way I express my commitment to people and the justice they deserve as part of their lives, will also be meted out here at this coffeehouse.”

The Rathke regime will carry on a tradition that Thompson and Herod established when they opened the business in 2002.

“If we’re absorbing a penny or more in the cost per cup, so be it,” Thompson said. “We feel better about the cup of coffee we’re drinking.”

The two men’s apparel espoused the coffeehouse’s laid-back vibe. Thompson wore a Fair Grinds T-shirt, shorts and Crocs. Rathke wore a light blue shirt, jeans and sandals, and he carried a tote bulging with copies of his two books on community organizing.

His latest book, “The Battle for the Ninth Ward,” will debut Monday, the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, with a party at 6 p.m. at Light City Church, 6117 St. Claude Ave.

Rathke also is the editor in chief and publisher of Social Policy, a quarterly magazine.

Even though Rathke will be the Fair Grinds’ owner, he won’t be a regular fixture at the counter. He’s still busy, traveling to countries where he is ACORN International’s chief organizer.

In the United States, ACORN, which had been one of the country’s biggest community-organizing groups, disbanded last year after allegations of criminal conduct — an investigation found none — and the revelation in 2008 that Rathke’s brother, Dale, who also worked there, had embezzled nearly $1 million from ACORN and some affiliated organizations in 1999 and 2000.

The matter was kept quiet for years. Dale Rathke was ousted on June 2, 2008, shortly after the news became public, and Wade Rathke stepped down as ACORN’s chief organizer the same day.

Dale Rathke, who lives in New Orleans, had paid the money back before 2008, his brother said.

“He had his problems,” Wade Rathke said. “Obviously, it was very unfortunate. He made a big mistake; he paid back the money. That is a legal response. We could have thrown him in front of the bus, but we wouldn’t have gotten the money back.

“We weighed between getting restitution and having retribution, and restitution seemed like the wise course, and that’s the one we chose. The majority of ACORN’s members and leaders were OK with that.”

Even though there is no longer an ACORN structure in the United States, Rathke has plans for the coffeehouse as a nexus of activism.

“We’ll run it as a social-venture operation,” he said. “The work will directly support change, both out of the gross revenue and whatever the net profit is. Those monies will be expended to try to make sure that people in developing countries like where we get the coffee are able to come together, organize collectively, improve their livelihoods, build power. That’s where the resources will go.

“These things all integrate together, and I think the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse is a natural place to put more of these pieces together.”

Oh, and sure I was born in Wyoming but these are minor details.  The point here is to watch where we are going with all of this in the future.

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