In the Pandemic, People Knew Where to Call

ACORN International Community Organizations International COVID-19 UK

            Brighton          I got a big cheer and laugh talking to ACORN members in the United Kingdom during a Q&A after the screening of The Organizer in Brighton, England, when I said mi companera had responded to a picture that I had posted of the view from their meeting by saying “Bright On!”  Get it? not right on, but bright on!

The more interesting thing to me was how that seemed to have been the same way that tenants and low-and-moderate income families had responded to the organization, especially in the pandemic.  I had been to Brighton once before almost four years ago when the organization was first forming here.  It had been a meeting at a Quaker hall with maybe 20, but certainly less than 30 people, moving to form the organization.  Having a cup of coffee with some of the leaders and organizers under the railroad station after arriving from the standard 24-hour high drama adventure travel, which is flying today, they told me they had crossed 660 dues-paying members, with a huge surge during the pandemic.

Anticipating the issues Covid might cause, one organizer, who I had met in my first visit, told me they had started preparing mutual relief to be ready.  They asked for volunteers and even before the shutdown in Brighton had a bunch, but within the first few weeks when it hit, 600 people had lined up to help others get groceries, go to the pharmacy, or whatever.  More than 100 volunteered to provide transportation and pickups in personal vehicles they could access.

In fact, the whole character of the organization changed.  In the beginning, responding to high rents and housing shortages, most of the members had been students.  The pandemic turned the organization into a diverse working-class, low-and-moderate income membership organization.  People couldn’t call Ghostbusters, so they called ACORN.

The members and leaders in ACORN Brighton don’t have their heads in the clouds over their success, but, as one organizer put it, the pandemic had showed them their potential and the fact that they could really change the city.  A lot of questions and comments in the Q&A and then later as many gathered at an Ethiopian restaurant were about how to protect the organization against attack and hold onto their growing strength.  A specious lawsuit by a landlord in Sheffield in north England had been a wakeup call, and the organization had restructured to be able to meet these challenges in the future, but in Brighton members wanted to be ready for the next crisis, just as they were for the pandemic.