ACORN Organizing

            San Francisco             Some thirty veteran organizers and activists from labor unions, community organizations, philanthropy, and political work gathered in the Mission District of San Francisco to learn something about what ACORN is now at fifty-four in the United States and across the globe, compared to what it was at thirty-eight.  This gathering was convened by three boon comrades Mike Miller, an organizing legend in the Bay Area, Tony Fazio, a direct mail wizard in California and nationally, and Peter Olney, former organizing director of the ILWU and one of the more innovative and articulate advocates for the direction of the labor movement for decades.  They pitched an idea for a gathering that would pass the hat for ACORN to me months ago, and my answer was a quick and hearty, YES!

It was good to see many old friends and veterans of social change work over the last decades, just as it was a great privilege to get some feedback from this kind of gathering on the direction the ACORN family has been moving internationally, as well as increasingly in the United States.  Our team had prepared a PowerPoint for the meeting to paint the picture for folks.  I had made some quick notes before going.  Looking around the room, I had to drop one paragraph quickly which explained ACORN’s history in the United States for those between 34 and 40, who might not have known the organization, because they were still in high school or college, cossetted from the real world of our work.  Looking at this crowd, no one looked under 55.  These were seasoned warriors in the peoples’ army.  They knew ACORN and its history.

As always, what interested and taught me the most, were the comments and questions after the more formal presentation began.  As Garth Brooks sang in a completely different context, “there was a hunger” in their questions.  Though all were respectful of the work being done now by many, some expressed a feeling that there continued to be a vacuum since ACORN was reorganized in the wake of attacks in 2009 and 2010.  The US, in their view, still desperately needed a mass-based, membership organization of low-and-moderate income families pushing the needle forward on many fronts.

This was no wake, though.  A number of speakers pressed me on what they and others could do to assist ACORN’s work, especially in rebuilding in the US.  Some wanted to form a committee to help.  Many underlined their interest in doing whatever they could to see ACORN on the ground in the Bay Area once again.  You have to love and honor the fact that for veterans and comrades, the fire still burns hot for change, perhaps especially in these fraught times.

Organizing in the United States is not “add water and stir.”  Humpty-Dumpty can’t be put together in the same way.  I think a lot of the crowd was surprised about the range and depth of ACORN’s work now, but ACORN 2.0 can’t – and won’t – be the same as ACORN was.  These are different times for the work.  ACORN is now a federation, rather than a unitary, centralized organization.  Pieces have to be cobbled together, and then welded to fit in their own ways in order to move forward collectively.  Some of the work in the streets, apartment blocks, and workplaces is the same, but the puzzle has to be put together in unique ways to build infrastructure and capacity to build power and create change.

We’re hard at, but it was great to have people so committed in the Bay Area to jumpstarting the process, wherever they were able to do so, to bring the organization back into the fight again more strongly than ever.