Bristol When ACORN began in London more than six years ago, our first foray was in Brixton. I learned about zebra crossings there, and we won some. Next, we expanded around Enfield, where we had an office in a local community center. London is one of the major cities in the world, but we were just nicking at it and looked forward to making a more determined effort, and now we’re doing so, making it a pleasure to get off the plane after the slog across the water and make my way to the Finsbury Park area, where we now have a small office and three newly minted organizers for ACORN were waiting for me there.
The organizers were in the middle of the first community-wide ACORN organizing drive in the Borough of Haringey in north London. There were preparing for their 3rd organizing committee meeting. They had mapped out a large drive of about 4000 households, big even for our standards, and were still getting their arms around the issues with their first fifty members signed up.
Of course, I asked about the issues. It was the usual assortment from housing to the lack of youth recreation, but there was one that was unusual. It wasn’t loose dogs, but foxes! Yes, foxes! It is supposedly against the law in the United Kingdom now to hunt foxes, and reportedly there are not too many in the countryside still, but many of them have found city life suits them fine. The neighbors don’t agree. Seems the cries of foxes in the middle of the night are a murderous shriek of sorts. I’m going to stay in touch with developments here for sure. Foxes!
The neighborhood is an interesting mix of people. ACORN flyers were translated into Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish for example, because significant populations lived there. Organizing meetings had been held in a Kurdish community center. Several members had been signed up in what an organizer described as his rudimentary Spanish as well. None of the groups seemed large enough to require full translation equipment at the first launch meeting scheduled for the end of the month, but certainly some kind of preparation was going to have to be made to welcome and accommodate such a diverse membership.
Housing was of course an issue, but it was one on a long list. The organizers themselves were a case study in the crisis over affordable rents. One was traveling to work from a northern suburb in a long-haul schlep costing 25 pounds per day. Another was sharing a flat with five or six others, each having a room in a place costing over 3000 pounds. The third also lived at a distance, but I missed the exact location. This had been the unique obstacle that we had faced several years ago. Our organizers were being priced out of the city that they were organizing, making the operation unsustainable then at organizer’s wages. It’s a full-on assault now with an expanding team now that we have more than twenty branches around the country. In London, we’ll expand our base past tenants, take on the foxes, and see what we can build more deeply.
It was nice to be back visiting organizers in the field in our international operation. It was too easy to confuse our London Ontario chapter with our ACORN London branch before, but now, back on the road, I won’t make that mistake again even if Google Alerts try to trick me.