Living on the Details

ACORN International Canada Organizing

           Toronto           At the ACORN Canada head organizers’ meeting there were deep dives into issues, campaigns, staff development, training methodology, grant prospects, and more.  All of this was exciting.  Reports on meetings the federal government’s housing and justice ministers and their staffs requested with us, when usually it has been the other way around, often with a high degree of difficulty, all of which was a testament to the power we have built on these issues.  There were wins on housing issues in Hamilton and British Columbia.  There have been indications that we are close to victory nationally on overdraft fees.  In short, there was a lot of good news the managers had to share, but perhaps the deepest plunge was into the numbers and the stories and questions that the data asked that the organizers needed to hear and answer.

Chart after chart showed line graphs on the annual progress of each office in the twenty-year history of ACORN in Canada on growth, on membership dues, including donors and bank drafts.  A separate report focused on the sustainability of each office, underlining how much came from internally driven sources and the shortfall need to erase to achieve permanence.

It’s fascinating to hear the managers dissect the number of programs they purchase from various vendors and what it takes to manage them well.  Anyone who thinks building a big, mass organization like ACORN in Canada is just a matter of engineering…put enough organizers on the ground and members into action, stir frequently, and win power…has never really thought through what it takes to ride the wild horses of over 100,000 members of one sort or another.

We looked at the website and discovered some of the major campaigns were showing archived pages, not the current campaigns, so sent out an alert to fix that.  There was an all-hands intensive discussion on why the email service on open source Civi was marking some accounts as blocked on an automatic basis without a human prompt or request and how to get our arms around this and fix it.  There was an office-by-office conversation on the utilization of the texting program and whether to continue or cancel the contract.

All of those discussions were preludes to the harder excavation of the bank draft system and what it took to get reports, how to characterize the status of various members, the perils and potential of fixing credit card payment issues, and more.  Some of this is true in unions as well.  If no one is comparing the checkoff lists received from the employers with their checks or transfers from the members who have requested their dues being remitted, then money will always come up missing.  Admittedly, those problems come more from malice and mischief than machines, data, and systems breakdown, but the results are the same in less resources, confused members, and the steady and exasperating whack-a-mole struggle to oil the organizing machine and make it hum.

I can almost hear the huff and puff of some listeners and the scoffing under the breath about boredom and bureaucracy, but these are the nuts-and-bolts discussions that are vitally important in building the infrastructure that makes dreams come true and power possible.  It was an honor and pleasure to be there every minute and listen to every word.