ACORN Forever

ACORN International

Leeds       The setting for the second national conference of ACORN in the United Kingdom was part of the thrill.  The meeting was being held in the Holbeck Working Men’s Club, founded in 1871, and likely the oldest such club in England, still operating continuously.  Only meters away had been the famous confrontation between the English fascists that was overwhelmed by 30,000 local Holbeck and Leeds community members with everything from rocks to rolling pins.  Amazingly, ACORN’s Leeds offices had moved into the building, ranging across several floors over the last year, so in a first of another kind, 200 ACORN delegates from more than 30 formations around England and Wales were also coming together to meet in the same building in a giant assembly area as well with banners and placards seemingly everywhere the members looked.

There were two main tracks to the conference.

One was governance, where over a three-hour meeting the elected delegates from the main branches heard reports from Chelsea Phillips, the national chair, and Nick Ballard, the head organizer.  In summary, it had been a very good year, highlighted by a recent national action where four hundred members had beaten a bank over requirements for mandatory rent increases in a matter of days.  The treasurer’s report was a rarity where the discussion of one-million pounds of expenditures was overshaded by his argument that more of the 150,000 pounds of reserves needed to be spent to grow the organization, likely a first for any ACORN affiliate over more than fifty years.  A host of resolutions were on the agenda for their consideration for organizational policy going forward.

The other main track involved all the members in a series of workshops on everything from understanding the basics of the organization to communication skills.  I sat in one workshop that was an exercise in how to handle landlord confrontations.  It was well done with explicit roles described, allowing members to role-play these difficult situations that are often so personal.

Of course this was a conference, so there were speakers in the plenaries as well.  Guest speakers from the GMB labor federation described the gas strike and took questions about climate infrastructure.  Eddie Dempsey of the RMT railway workers gave a rip-roaring address ranging from union history to contemporary politics, after which he got a standing ovation from the crowd.

Nick and Chelsea had opened the meeting to good spirits, laying out their visions for the future and the discipline and hard work that would be required to continue to grow and win.  The organization was clearly in good hands with many shoulders at the wheel.  After a PowerPoint describing ACORN’s work around the world, Chelsea closed the conference on a high note.  Her final words will long be remembered and cherished as she shouted, “ACORN Forever,” and the members replied in kind with cheers and enthusiasm.