Retreat and then Attack from 42 Acres

ACORN International Community Organizing Labor Organizing Organizing

Outside of Frome, England      Once a year we try to bring as many of ACORN International’s organizing staff together as we can muster given the costs in time and travel.  For years we would meet in Latin America somewhere:  Mexico City, Quito, Lima, Tegucigalpa, and San Pedro Sula.  As we have expanded in Europe, the last several years we slept and met in Paris thanks to the one of the militant farmers’ unions in France.  This year, courtesy of our friends at the Bertha Foundation, we took up their offer to meet at 42 Acres in Somerset in the southwestern part of England, some 20 minutes out of Frome, which is a little like saying somewhere on the other side of the moon from all any of us knew about the place or the geography.

A few more than twenty organizers were able to make it, and it was quite an adventure mastering the train schedules.  Somehow it took some of us eight hours to make it from Heathrow Airport in London to Frome in what should have been just a couple of hours drive or a three-hour train ride.  In an announcement in the Reading and Bath train stations that would embarrass even the New York City subway managers the disembodied voice said they apologized for the delays and cancellations – we had one connection from Reading to Bath simply disappear on us – because in their words, “more than the usual number of trains broke down today.”  That’s what passes for an “I’m sorry” from the Great Western Railway.

Somehow, we made it by seven in the evening in time for dinner with great relief which quickly turned into pleasure at seeing everyone from around England, Scotland, Canada, France, and the United States that had been able to make the journey.  Usually, the other countries Skype in their reports.   In the beginning in Latin America, it was more often that we lost connections than we had them, and then when we had a connection, we couldn’t hear.  It was painful and would last for hours.  Every year it got better, but never perfect.  Going into this meeting in a surprise we learned there was going to be no internet.  Hello, 20th century, we’re back!  ACORN adapts though.  We asked everyone to take their phones and do brief video reports ahead of time so that everyone could see and hear their reports regardless of lacking the internet.

Would this possibly work?  Well, it was amazing!  Organizers from everywhere embraced the opportunity.  Rather than just limit themselves to a couple of minutes, the reports from Peru and Libera were almost a half hour!  The team from Kenya gave a brilliant report going from one organizer to another.  The report from Cameroon was lengthy and in French with English subtitles.  It was like a small movie with action scenes and commentary.  The report from the AKORN cooperative in Prague included scenes of their construction work with dry wall and hammering as sound effects.

We may be in a rural retreat of bare feet, vegetarian food, yoga mats, and no internet, but from the techie edge of video reports and the PowerPoints from France, the United States, and the United Kingdom last night, we may be “retreating,” but we’re moving to attack!