Campaigning in the Time of Covid-19

ACORN ACORN International Organizing

Atlanta     Every six months or so in recent years we have been pulling together community, labor, and political organizers, mostly in Europe and the United Kingdom, to share perspectives and organizing experiences.  Until the pandemic, we had met several times in Amsterdam.  Now we convened on Zoom with fewer people in a more compressed time frame.  None of this building informal relationships and partnerships.  Now it was “just the facts, ma’am.”  These dialogues had tried on various names, but for now we called it The Organizing Factory.

There was discussion of the importance and impact of the Black Lives Matter movement which was engaging.  In a nice surprise some of organizers had backgrounds behind their faces on the Zoom screens congratulating ACORN on its 50th anniversary.  Nick Ballard and Kat Wright reported on their success and growth in the UK during the pandemic where we have won stays of eviction for tenants while adding seven branches in new cities and growing by 6 to 7% over recent months at a faster clip than before the shutdown.  I knew those situations well, so I took the most notes on two campaigns in the Netherlands, one at Schiphol Airport by the union, FNV, and the other designed to block rent increases, engaged by various chapters of the Socialist Party in the Netherlands.

Every year the government and the real estate industry in Holland get together to determine the level of rent increases throughout the country.  Shrewdly, the SP, rather than tackling evictions or rent debt as ACORN has been doing, moved to block any increases in rent in a 0% increase campaign. The large, activist chapter in Groningen in the northeastern part of the country presented their efforts which had helped lead the campaign.  There had been extensive social media and contact work in the effort during the shutdown, but there had also been actions on the city council.  Everyone appreciated their props in the campaign.  One was a bouncy house for children, common at US big time birthday parties, with SP colors and logo, that they had rolled out in 50 cities.  They hadn’t won yet, but most organizers would judge that in this economy and pandemic time, their odds are good.

Running a campaign to organize airport workers at a time when travel is the exception rather than the rule, airports seem empty, and planes are ghost ships, would seem a hard slog, but the FNV organizers had managed it well.  They had developed a tight plan and realistic metrics allowing them to measure their progress step by step on a timeline.  Sharing the results, they had blown through all the goals except for one meeting.  They had made more than 1000 contacts and gotten information from a high percentage.  They had done a car caravan action at the airport with over 100 cars.  Their membership goal had been 100 new members over the first three months, and, impressively, hey had enrolled 235.

Lot of lessons to learn, but for organizers it isn’t a widget factory but a high-speed laboratory producing power by proving where there is a will, there is always a way.