Members Speak Out

ACORN International Canada Radio

Oshawa           An ACORN Convention would never be confused with some corporate or even big union affair.  There’s an agenda, but nothing is scripted, and that’s especially true of the first night’s “speak out” when each office gives its report of wins and worries over the previous two years.  It’s a zany affair with chants, whoops, shoutouts, and more.  Put the microphone in an ACORN leader’s hands, and it’s Katie bar the door, buckle your seatbelts, and be ready for some fun and excitement along with the facts of the matter.

The post-lasagna program was kicked out by Toronto leader, and now new president of ACORN Canada, Alejandra Ruiz, who has been the master of ceremonies at several of the last conventions and is well-know to the membership.  She injects both deep appreciation for everyone’s contribution, as well as a sense of humor, and a tendency to break out a chant or a call-out at the drop of a hat, while she keeps the program moving.  She has a list in her hands of what comes next on the agenda for the meeting and the order of the cities and regions making reports, but other than that, she works without a net.  If the staff tried to script her about what to say, it would be a fool’s errand.  She puts her own twist and flavor to everything, while imbuing her English with the lingering accents of Columbia still deep in her throat.  It’s always a whirlwind performance.  Alejandra began the program with an appreciation of outgoing ACORN Canada chair, Marva Burnett, and still chair of ACORN International.  Tears were spilled, as the members gave her a standing ovation while chanting, “Marva, Marva, Marva.”

When the reports began that doesn’t mean that any of the other leaders take second fiddle.  Pairs of leaders came up from most cities, sharing the mic and the reporting.  Most of the time, Alejandra had to run up and give leaders the one-minute sign to finish up.  One of the smallest groups from Peel Region was the only one that surprised her by finishing early.  Some would ask for another minute, but most would just take it.  This was their moment, and they seized it.

The reports in substance were great.  Even though landlord licensing and rent controls are under local jurisdictions across the provinces, the advantage of a national organization was obvious to everyone as one city after another would thank another city for having broken the ground and established the victorious precedent for landlord licensing in Toronto, heat bylaws in Hamilton, demovictions in British Columbia cities, and rent caps and controls in the Maritimes.

ACORN preaches incessantly about how the organizing gives members a voice, so it was wonderful to hear these voices.  An earlier workshop on ACORN Radio was another good example, as more than twenty members workshopped how they could produce programs for our radio outlets around the world that would showcase their work.  More than a half-dozen agreed to do interviews during the convention.  I can hardly wait to hear how they did.  Such excitement!

It’s not easy to put these conventions together.  It takes a lot of work by members and staff to put 250 people in one room from all across a country.  It’s not cheap, but when you are sitting in the crowd listening, you join with everyone else in understanding that the effort is worth every dollar and every drop of sweat.