Year End Meeting Says, “What Pandemic?”

ACORN International Community Organizing Ideas and Issues

January 30, 2022

            Pearl River     Every year, rain or shine, sleet or snow, our ACORN family of organizations for the last almost fifty years has assembled at the beginning of a new year.  For almost the last forty years we have met in the New Orleans area for what we call a Year End / Year Beginning meeting.   The purpose is transparent in the title.  Each unit of the organization reports on its progress and challenges over the last year from membership to campaigns, hits the highlights, and outlines its clear goals and objectives for the coming year.

In 2021, we held a hybrid meeting with some around a dining room table in the Lake Oaks area of the city and others on zoom in a big screen projected on the wall.  It wasn’t easy, but somehow it worked.  We said, confidently, “never again!”  How could the pandemic possibly still be a problem for the 2022 meeting?  We had successfully met in the fall of 2021, convening 45 leaders and organizers outside of Paris for several days.  The world had opened up, and we were over the hump.  I was able to travel not only to France, but to Scotland, England, Honduras, and Canada for meetings.  Then came the fast-spreading omicron variant, and Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada’s head organizer and I said we would make a decision early in January, go big or stay home.  Came the date for decision, and we were afraid that our key crew from Canada, a regular at these meetings, would be barred from travel, as rumors of a new shutdown swirled around that country.  Darned it, we had to go zoom, the app we love to hate and hate to love.  The one silver lining would be that all of our international affiliates would also have the opportunity to fully participate and attend.

The reports came pouring in before the meeting and as one presenter after another detailed their progress over this second year of virus chaos, it was hard not to come to a central conclusion as we all listened and nodded over zoom.  For ACORN, the question had become:  “What pandemic?”  Don’t get me wrong.  The pandemic was a through line in every single report, not necessarily as an obstacle, but more as an adaptation addressing a critical organizing problem.

The numbers told the story.  ACORN Canada had crested 160,000 members, $40,000 per month in bank draft dues, and almost 10,000 members who had participated in actions over the year with a budget of over $1.5 million Canadian.  In England and Wales, ACORN UK was now at 6200 full-dues-paying members with 13 branches, 10 chapters, and over 50 potential local organizations waiting in the wings for us to catch up with additional staff capacity.  We now had 36 staff to boot.  In Scotland, we had expanded throughout the country and had a solid 2500 dues-payers.  In France, we were now over 21,000 members.  In Nairobi, over 1300.  In Honduras, over 1200.  In India, we had added 10 organizers in the country, thousands of members, and created barriers against the pandemic for informal workers.  In the USA, we had raised over a half-million, been a bulwark in election protection, assisted in applying for seven noncommercial radio stations, investigated rural electric cooperatives and hospital pricing, and were poised for even more.

At the end of the meeting, after hearing all of the reports, plans, and debates about new campaigns and a global organizer training program, I was left not with the question of “What pandemic,” but a new question: “What will we be able to do, once the pandemic is not in our way?”