Leadership Trial by Fire in Grenoble

ACORN International France International Organizing


Grenoble         When I sat down in the evening to visit with some of the Grenoble leaders of ACORN’s Alliance Citoyenne affiliate, one kidded me about being “on tour.”  Now at the end of this UK-France trip, maybe they had a point.  Counting quickly, I had met with organizers and leaders in eight cities that I had visited and of course the over 40 organizers and leaders at the ACORN International meeting outside of Paris as well.  Enough of it was via train that I could even call it a whistle stop tour, if we had to have a name for it.

My meetings with leaders have been especially rewarding.  Hearing their perspectives on the organization and their commitment to our future was inspiring and encouraging.  Nonetheless, as great as all of these meetings have been, I had to begin the meeting in Grenoble by praising the leaders and telling them how proud I had been of their courage and commitment.

The reaction to our swim-ins and protests supporting the civil and human rights of Muslim women to access public facilities, like swimming pools, had provoked particularly extreme reactions in Grenoble, the founding city of the Alliance.  We had been labeled an “Islamist” organization.  There had been a time in 2019 and 2020 where the city from the mayor on down to the lowliest municipal employee had refused to meet with any member or representative of the Alliance on any subject no matter how small or insignificant because of the attacks against us for our stands to support our membership.  They told me it had gotten slightly better now.  The mayor had even retweeted a picture of our banner waving retrofit action in Grenoble that day.

It had been fierce though.  In the wake of an attack on a teacher in Paris, one of the leaders, also a teacher, had been accused anonymously in his school in Grenoble by an email threatening that he was a Muslim and likely terrorist as well, asking “what are we ready to do about this.”  The attacks had been investigated by the general public attorney and our leader said that the file was being closed soon, because they had not been able to categorically identify the perpetrator of this outrage.  He claimed that things were more or less back to normal for him in the school now.

They had weathered the storm and were still standing tall, but the organization had paid a price for its support of their Muslim Women’s Union in loss of some members, leaders, and momentum, but they were convinced they were moving forward again now.  I argued that the organization would be stronger for having survived these attacks and fought hard for what was right, rather than what was convenient.

It is outrageous that 60 years after seeing swimming pools closed in the USA over racial integration, we are still dealing in another country and context with fear and hate in other swimming pools and similar problems of integration.  How can we all not be proud of ACORN and our leaders for standing against this, and as one leader so well said, being the organization that “took action” to meet the issue?