ACORN UK’s First National Conference

ACORN International Organizing UK
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            Sheffield          There were people there from towns that I recognized, but had never been like Oxford, Liverpool, Cornwall, Cambridge, and Haringey. Others were from cities where I had visited our branches before in Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Brighton, Newcastle, and of course Sheffield, which was hosting the conference at St. Mary’s near the center of town.  Cardiff was well represented, and a delegation came down from Scotland.  More than 150 gathered on a mid-Saturday morning to kick off the first ACORN Union conference for the organization in England and Wales.

            Originally on the calendar for 2020, the conference was an opportunity to bring the almost 20 branches together to assess their progress and strengthen their bonds after eight years of organizing and a more than doubling of growth during the pandemic.  This ACORN event was not like the ACORN Canada convention in Montreal weeks before, but a conference that was focused not outside, but inside for our leaders and activists.  There was no set theme, no outside speakers, no announcements of new campaigns, nor an action on any current targets, but there were workshops on organizing, campaign planning, writing press releases, using social media, advancing women leadership, making banners, understanding the international federation, and other nuts and bolts necessary to build a growing organization.

 

            Growing indeed, as many of these sessions were happening the national board and the delegates representing each of the branches were meeting separately and hearing reports about their more than 6300 dues-paying members with four new branches coming on line now, and their finances that came close to raising 900,000 pounds in the last year and should pass a million this year with more than half from dues.   As a fly-on-the-wall guest at the delegates meeting, I observed the reports and the debate on several resolutions that had been submitted by the branches for the delegates to parse and decide.  Though the meeting was closed, none of this was secret, but was being recorded for viewing by any interested members later.

            Rohan Kon, the organization’s chair, managed the delegates’ meeting smoothly and in good humor.  I was fascinated by the procedural rules of order in running the meeting.  The branch sponsors had two minutes to present, questions were heard, and then Rohan would call for one for and one against, giving a minute for speakers, and leaving time for someone or no one to rise, then call for a final for and final against, and finally direct the delegates vote, while the secretary counted the hands.  Having argued against the US-obsession with Roberts’ Rules of Order for more than fifty years, I’m not sure what this was called, but it was more equitable to all and more efficient than the Roberts’ bizarre, privileging eccentricities.  The business was dispatched without rancor, mostly by wide margins, where often the dissident votes were less about substantive disagreements, but were more about whether the existing platform already handled the matter and the new resolutions were simply a pile-on. Trade unions trumped nonprofits.  Direct action was favored over coalition. There were one or two closer votes, including one passing by only 8 to 7 to overturn an Executive Board policy, that revolved not around the politics, but about whether it was outside the scope and what they called “the remit” of the organization, meaning of interest, but more something left to individual members, rather than something that should carry the ACORN banner.

            The members that had made it to Sheffield, all on their own steam, loved the conference.  At every break they were out in the yard in clutches talking, sitting on the grass, and even singing and chanting.  The roar of appreciation after Rohan’s closing remarks and the chants that ended the session before the march to the pub were heartfelt.  In a rare situation, where I was speaking myself right before the ending, the welcome was a surging lovefest, such that opening my mouth at all felt like a letdown.  What a wonderful experience!

            The meeting was a milestone for ACORN in the United Kingdom.  Anyone there will want to come back, remember it well, and tell the story to their local branch and swell the crowd for the next one.  This conference welded Sheffield steel into the organization for the fights to come, and was an honor and a privilege for all of us fortunate enough to attend and bear witness.