Charlotte Pat McCoy, the executive director of Action NC, and I visited with a class of students at Charlotte School of Law who were trying to learn the often delicate dance required of partnering with community organizations, offering stories and advice, even if perhaps not helpfully in some cases. More fruitfully, we talked about campaigns and conferenced in the whole team to look at the prospects for nonprofit hospital accountability in North Carolina. We visited with Action NC leaders and organizers, telling old stories and hearing new tales. Young organizers from the ACORN days were now seasoned veterans with nearly a decade under their belts. It was all fun and friendly.
Nothing prepared me for the evening though. Somehow what I had noted on my calendar as a meeting with Hector Vaca, Action NC’s Charlotte director, and some local Latino journalists, sharing information on their immigrant organizing work and ACORN International’s work in Latin America, turned out to be something much, much different and very, very special. Brother McCoy may have neglected to fully brief me, but he was as tight on the details for this reception as he has been on the main thrust of his work in Carolina over the last half-dozen years. There were three kinds of tea, including the mandatory sweet tea so many required here, and probably as many different kinds of pizza, though I got to that late in the game. Before it was all said and done we were meeting with more than thirty Action NC leaders, members, and staff, many from the North Carolina ACORN days, and, even more, newly recruited from Action NC campaigns, but all raising their hands with questions about ACORN, ACORN International, citizen wealth, and all the work we were all doing or might even do together in the future. It all felt like a wonderful and warm homecoming, a rare, sweet slice of heaven in the struggle and still a standard measure of community in the South.
That was personal, but the business was even more special and serious. Faced with rebuilding after the attacks on ACORN, Pat and his team in the rebranded Action NC had hunkered down, concentrating in Charlotte, but maintaining important operations in Durham and Raleigh, the state capital. They had strategically repositioned themselves in campaigns that followed their base, especially in dealing with horrendous and exploitative tenant issues, and then listening to many of the tenants from the immigrant community and concentrating Hector’s work in building a base and campaign around immigration rights and the myriad issues of the undocumented. They joined numerous coalitions, whether as senior or junior partners, to build a stronger North Carolina base in the vacuum created by ACORN’s elimination as their national support center. They pushed on housing, education, healthcare, and other classic issues and made progress.
Interviewing Pat on KABF and WAMF’s Wade’s World one campaign stands out as typical. Many of their members from the immigrant rights campaign kept bringing up their forced detachment from their own children and their education because of local school regulations and bureaucracy. In Charlotte, to volunteer to help in a class or enter the school grounds required identification of course, but for some reason Charlotte demanded a Social Security number which for undocumented families was impossible. Ostensibly the schools wanted to do a criminal background check, but no manner of other assurances were acceptable. The campaign was on! School board members were met. Administration officials were buttonholed. Meetings with law enforcement officials showed progress for independent 24-hour records checks. Study committees were assembled as Action NC pressure increased.
Like so much of our work, the story is not quite finished yet and the fight continues. But like the continuum of members, leaders, and organizers that have tirelessly stayed the course in North Carolina from Carolina Action to North Carolina ACORN to Action NC, and just as ACORN International has continued to unwaveringly built ACORN over the last 45 years from Arkansas to Canada, India, Kenya, Honduras and a dozen other countries, standing with the gang in Charlotte, answering questions about ACORN and citizen wealth, signing books for companeros and companeras, laughing and taking pictures with people, there was not one doubt in my mind that as we always chanted, the People United Will Never Be Defeated!