New Orleans Ten organizations from the US and Canada in our family of community organizations, labor unions, media operations, and social enterprises came together as we do every year in a Year End / Year Begin Meeting to evaluate the work of the past year and plan for the current year. Beside the people meeting in the Common Space at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, reports were heard via Skype from a small sample of ACORN International’s affiliates in India, the United Kingdom, and our emerging project in France, adding excitement to the meeting, as well as a reports from our affiliates based in Maryland and Pittsburgh.
A lot of work was done, and there were thrills and chills a plenty as you might expect. Certainly one of the highlights was hearing from Suresh Kadashan, who directs ACORN India’s work based in Bengaluru, Chennai, and elsewhere in south India. Suresh had an amazing year, though he said he was disappointed at having failed to reach the goal he had set. The ACORN union now registered and rolling among hawkers, street sellers, and food workers in Bengaluru has now reached 18,000 members there with another 5000 in Chennai, another couple of thousand in Pondicherry, also in Tamil Nadu, and more than 10,000 in five other cities in Karnataka totally 35,000 members now. Suresh had set his sights on 50,000 this year, but we were ecstatic. Reports from the UK indicated solid progress in Bristol, Edinburgh, and London, but also encouraging news of the expansion now underway in Birmingham and Newcastle. Drives along the ACORN model have also begun in Grenoble, France and work is underway with our partnership with ReAct, based there as well, so the news was encouraging.
A lot of time was spent not only on reports and plans, but also on how to improve the way we organize our work so that we can get more done with the talented people we have despite often challengingly scare resources. The ACORN Canada staff had read Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto before their YE/YB in Chicago in December and shared the work they were doing to implement a system of checklists to streamline and make their work more effective. The meeting embraced the idea and small groups throughout the weekend tackled the process for actions, doorknocking, daily planning, meetings, and other common experience. It will be interesting to see how these next steps play out over the year.
The other major progress was the fruitful discussions around campaigns directed at developing new strategies to win hospital accountability and increase wages in cities where we work where living wage campaigns have been blocked at the ballot. Mike Gallagher, formerly with SEIU and an old veteran of ULU and many of our other labor projects, joined us to help look at the impact new regulations on nonprofit hospitals provide us with handles to force more accountability and lower costs for many of our members and people coming through the Citizen Wealth Centers. On wages we took a fresh look at whether coalitions might be organized with our allies to win adoption of wage increases based on public campaigns and agreements from individual institutions and corporations even in the absence of mandatory enforcement.
There’s a lot more work to be done, but it was encouraging to still mark our progress and continue to consolidate our team and our network of organizations so that they can engage big issues and deliver important victories as our members build power.