The Internet Masses Use GameStop to Mess with Wall Street

January 29, 2021

New Orleans      Sure, I’d seen the headlines on the GameStop stock buying spree and the fact that Wall Street was scrambling at the revolt of the small investors. I’d smiled to myself, but didn’t pay much attention, assuming that it was as likely just some of the superrich whining that they lost a buck or two in the wild casino house of the stock market, which I’ve always viewed as only different than legalized gambling by a few degrees. Then I got a call from my daughter telling me that a someone she knew said they had made $67,000 running with the pack on GameStop. She was excited, so I paid attention. This is getting interesting!

In my jaded view of the stock market as legalized gambling, first we should have some disclosures. I may not be alone. Many economists are unable to parse why, as the economy here and globally is in severe pandemic induced recession, the market has been setting record highs. Secondly, even if the internet was weaponized by small investors, I’m still betting big dogs barked up this tree, too. Remember, the Federal Reserve has found that the top 1% of wealthy Americans control 38% of the value of stock accounts, and the 10% hold 84% of Wall Street’s portfolio’s worth. The little ones may have their day, but it’s a rigged game, and the rich own it year end, and year out. Just saying.

Nonetheless, it was past time for Wall Street to have a takedown. Here’s how it worked. Small investors, using no-fee trading houses like Robinhood, and organized on Reddit and elsewhere, bought into GameStop, AMC and other stocks that had been shorted, driving up the price, roiling Wall Street and one hedge fund that had been betting on the stocks losing value had to borrow $2.7 billion. Trading stopped in the runup angering some small, largely younger, investors who were riding the value. Robinhood had to borrow $1 billion to meet cash-out demands.  That’s the thumbnail. Wall Street is now trying to get control back.

Past GameStop, I’m fascinated by internet-based mass organizing against a target. This isn’t just a Bernie Sanders meme, a Tik-Tok dance, or mayhem making at the Capitol.  There’s some potential here for good and evil, but it’s wild, wooly, unharnessed, dangerous, and exciting. I’ve been reading a novel recently that mixes climate change and economics and maybe sci-fi for all I know, called The Ministry of the Future. Kim Stanley Robinson writes about something called YourLock, that was able to put Facebook, Twitter, and the rest on their knees, because it was an app that allowed you to control your data and block it from the marketplace, so just like this GameStop thing, millions and millions left the other social media apps and rushed to YourLock.

Organized anarchy via the internet is hardly an organizing model that can be easily duplicated, but just as the sun shines on an old dog from time to time, it may have some real potential, if it can be directed at the right targets. Certainly, Wall Street’s gambling emporium is a good one!


Organizing in the Year of the Plague

January 28, 2021

New Orleans  The Year End / Year Begin meeting is a tradition and vital piece of planning, reflection, and celebration with our ACORN family of organizations.         This one was different and more subdued, given the pandemic. Some people were around the table in one of our organizing centers while a projector pointed to the wall and displayed even more people on Zoom or connecting from Bristol, Grenoble, and Delhi to offer reports from our far-flung world.

The meeting may have been different in almost every way imaginable, but when we weighed organizing in the year of the plague with the actual performance despite the obstacles, a lot of the work was amazing.  Looking at just the plain and simple numbers of full-year dues paying members in some of our countries gives a good picture. Canada hit almost 800 full new members for a solid year, France was pushing 600 for its best year ever, and England-Wales blew the ceiling off. Their membership more than doubled, besting 5000 full dues payers by the end of the year and 30,000 pounds per month in dues income. It wasn’t just the members either. The number of branch chapters also more than doubled across England particularly with another more than fifteen groups still in development by the end of the year. Remember this was in a year when our primary recruiting tool, home visits, was taken away from us in one lockdown after another in almost every country where we worked. Even at the year end many of our organizers were still not able to work from our offices.

The core organizing work stayed solid, while the organization was also front-and-center in responding to the pandemic itself for our members. Local 100 reported on tens of thousands of pieces of PPE delivered to our worksites. India was providing food packets and meals at the height of the crisis in spring to more than 7000 people per day. In the United Kingdom, almost 1000 volunteers came forward with ACORN to pick up groceries and prescriptions for other members and neighbors. Local 100 won pandemic pay increases for healthcare and sanitation workers. Sure, our expansion plans were postponed, but still Ireland came on board, and we moved forward with KOCH-FM in Nairobi and applied for a station in Uganda, and launched the work in Atlanta for the ACORN Tenants Union.

Campaigns showed real progress as well including fighting voter suppression in the United States, winning eviction stops and rent control provisions in Canada and the UK, retrofits in France, progress on internet-for-all, lead poisoning, and more. It was a hella-year to be organizing during a global plague, but this was the year we found new meaning to the expression, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”