Vivian Lewis’ Proposal: Rebuild ACORN Using Social Media

New Orleans   With the rise of social media, Facebook estimates that everyone in the world is linked and now connected through less than three people, half of the six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon. In the same curious way, I met Kenya Lewis when she and several radio aficionados popped into the KABF studios in Little Rock for a quick visit on the their way to an alternative radio conference last year in Hot Springs. Fast forward to recent weeks and a post appears on my Facebook page, highlighted by Kenya, mentioning that her aunt, Vivian, had written a book and one of the main takeaways was her advocacy of the need to rebuild ACORN and to do so using social media. This I had to see, and now, thanks again to Kenya, I’ve had the chance to read the book and get a better sense of what Vivian Lewis is recommending as a path forward.

Let me step back a minute though. Vivian Lewis’ book has a mouthful of a title, My Perspective: How the Urban and Rural Black American Can Beat the Odds with the Help of the Black Middle Class and Social Media. As the title says, this is Lewis perspective on dealing with an array of issues from education to health to jobs and criminal justice that face our communities, especially black communities. She explains that she wrote the book as a Californian with Texas roots who ended up in Virginia, and didn’t like the cold there, so in a head fake to the reader, she decided to shut the doors tightly and write this book. Reading her monogram, it is inescapable that her perspective on a host of critical issues had been developing for quite a time making winter an excuse to step forward. The issues may be standard fare, but Lewis parses them uniquely from her point of view and determinedly focuses, as her title makes abundantly clear, on how to move black Americans forward.

Those chapters are worth the read, but it was the last chapter on “Where Do We Go From Here?”, that caught my attention, because that was where her plan to revive ACORN came front-and-center. Lewis is neither a romantic not nostalgic for ACORN’s golden years. She argues flatly:

Because ACORN is no longer with us, let’s talk about a replacement. Today, with no money for such an organization, the only hope that I see is creating something that resembles ACORN by using social media to get the word out. Social media is cheap and easy and young Black people use social media more than any group, so let’s put it to work for us.”

She then advocates what she says are “goals that were once ACORN’s: registering voters…legal advice; financial advice; mentoring parents, and more.” She’s realistic about the cost of the effort once again underlining that, “Our organizers/volunteers must be willing to work for little or no salary but for the good of the community.” This is where she hopes to get the middle class to step up. She tackles membership in the new enterprise as well, arguing that “We will register all those who would like to become members…[who] will come from the community that we will serve, that is, those that are classified as on or near poverty level and live in a particular community.” In Lewis organizing plan, the primary communication is social media. Training and leadership development will be on YouTube, podcasts, or visual/audit easily available to one and all through the internet. If I were talking to Vivian Lewis, rather than writing about her book, I would mention that ACORN in the United Kingdom is conducting many experiments with social media and different membership thresholds, much like she is advocating.

Her perspective and her book also speak to the huge hole in American public life at the community grassroots level where ACORN was so present and powerful, that still has not been filled. Lewis has an idea about where to start in the process to rebuild and replicate ACORN, and it’s a good one.

I’ll continue to do my part for sure, but I am encouraged by Vivian Lewis to hope that a thousand more flowers will bloom so that we can walk this path with purpose and power again.

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