Riding for the Brand


            New Orleans       People talk about swag as just something to maybe make an extra couple of bucks, if they are lucky.  Or, perhaps to build solidarity in an action where everyone is given a button or a t-shirt to make sure it is unmistakable for the target to ignore who is in the room and up in their face.  All of that is good stuff, both tactically and for organization building, but there’s more to it.

Many years ago, ACORN had a whole array of not only t-shirts, but also polo-type shirts and even button-downs.  We encouraged people to wear them when working to be more recognizable in the neighborhoods, both for effectiveness and safety.  We didn’t care what people wore at home, but at work we argued there was a certain value to having a uniform of sorts.  Many organizers loved it, but some bristled at the idea.  This was one of those things that was strongly encouraged, but not mandatory, though I never really understood the objections.  If it worked, why not wear it?  We wanted people to represent ACORN fully, especially while they were out there on the members’ dime, so if this helped, why wouldn’t it be embraced?  We’d worked hard for decades having our members and their communities recognize ACORN and what it stood for, so why not flaunt it?

When I left ACORN in the United States more than fifteen years ago, and then there was this and that and various attacks on the organization, many friends, supporters, comrades, and former colleagues would regularly ask me, “why didn’t I change the name of the international organization? Why when people are going after ACORN would you continue to embrace the name?”  I would answer simply that after forty years, “I ride for the brand.”  I was channeling my old Wyoming and western roots.  I had no interest in running from a name that I had worked to build for decades since the founding.  Furthermore, I didn’t think I would ever be able to get the ACORN brand off me, if I had wanted to, which I didn’t, so I would just keep on riding.  Recently, at a memorial for an old comrade, someone mentioned he had brought that phrase over to his last job, which I relished, since he had been one of the people who at one point had asked and advocated a name change, and I had told him, “Nope, I ride for the brand.”

I was reminded of all of this sitting in the Philadelphia airport trying to get home.  I was wearing the same red hoodie that I had worn throughout the day’s training session and earlier when meeting with the ACORN Canada head organizers.  I looked up as I was working away and a guy in a nearby chair, shouted out to me, “ACORN?  Is it still going?”  I replied in the affirmative.  We talked off and on for a couple of minutes, and it turned out he was a social movement lawyer living in upstate New York and on his way to Ohio, and of course a big ACORN fan.  In this small world, we knew some folks in common.  Exchanging coordinates, he thought there might the ways he could help us in the future, both domestically and internationally.  Texting Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada’s head organizer about the power of the hoodie, she reminded me that in route to Katmandu, wearing a similar hoodie, she had also met a social movement lawyer who had reached out to her in the same way.

All of this is what we really mean when we say, “Represent!”  It’s not about me, it’s about building the organization.  If we can do it on the doors every day, why not anywhere and everywhere when we’re representing?  That’s what we mean by “riding for the brand,” and it works!