Sheffield It’s not a busman’s tour, because it’s more like train hopping or something. I’m not sure what to call breakfast in Brighton, lunch in Leeds, and dinner in Sheffield? Whatever the name, it couldn’t have been clearer that with organizers, there is nothing that beats face-to-face, person-to-person to really get a grip on what’s happening and where we stand as an organization.
Up early, still jet-lagged on a bright and sunny morning along the sea in Brighton, Naomi Gann, the southeast England regional organizer for ACORN in the United Kingdom, marched out with me to the train station at near 7AM. In the UK, they say half-seven, meaning seven-thirty, but truth to tell, it was more like hardly-seven when we trudged off, good to go, giving us about an hour to visit, go way off the subject from time to time, and try to respond to questions about the work that interested Naomi, making it a fair trade for their home and hospitality. Most interestingly, she wanted to know how new countries came to affiliate with ACORN. We also didn’t miss a chance to spread the news of Starbucks coffee house organizing to a random coffee spot in the train station that was known for its pistachio croissant, which turns out to be a thing.
If Brighton’s tone was serious and shoulder-to-the-wheel of constant growth and progress, meeting Kat Wright, ACORN UK’s field director, and Dave Arwinkle, a national organizer in the north of England, in Leeds was a high-pitched fun festival. I had been to Leeds last November and enjoyed a home visit preventing an eviction with Dave and some of the Leeds leaders, while visiting the office. That was a great experience, but now, listening and watching Dave and Kat, it was clear the office was on fire with staffing gone from 3 or so to maybe 9 now. New branches were forming, the membership was growing almost as quickly as the city itself with a population now third in the country to London and Birmingham. Nothing but good times on the horizon for ACORN here.
Kat and I caught a train for Sheffield, getting to go deep on all of the complexities of her job, the trials and tribulations of management, particularly of organizers, a notoriously rough and ready, hard to harness gang, along with catching her upon the rest of the world of ACORN. Later than afternoon, we ended up at a barbeque that ACORN UK Chair Rohan Kon and her partner, Johnny Butcher, a friend and comrade from ACORN’s earliest days in the UK, were thoughtfully hosting for the UK board members coming in early as well as the Sheffield board. People milled around, talked loudly, ate sausage both real and fake, and built the kind of solidarity that you can only build together.
A wonderful organizing catchup day, but one constant theme that kept coming up was how sick and tired everyone was of working and meeting via Zoom and the like. ACORN may have soared in the pandemic in Britain, but there was no question that people were sick of it, and delirious to be back in the saddle together.