Category Archives: ACORN International

Old and New Social Movements

Pearl River     Every month in the 50th anniversary year of ACORN, I’ve been talking on the radio to veteran organizers and others with unique perspectives on the organization, its history, and contributions. Recently, I spoke to Bob Fisher, Professor of Community Organization at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work on Wade’s World.  Fisher for many years has been one of the foremost scholars and students of community organization, dating certainly to his now classic work, Let the People Decide.   He was also the editor of the 2009 book, The People Shall Rule:  ACORN, Community Organizing, and the Struggle for Economic Justice. 

            Fisher made a number of interesting observations in the course of our discussion.  The first involved the emerging differences between old and new social movements.  These differences are often stark with newer social movements having structures that are more fluid and network-based, than firmly organizational with membership and internal accountability arising from the base.   Leadership and leadership styles also tend to be looser.  Some would say that leadership is flatter and less hierarchical, but in many ways that is not the chief characteristic as much as newer movements, having less structure, allow for greater decentralization and a variety of voices to speak for the movement.  This practice contains both strengths and weaknesses that Bob and I didn’t explore in our discussion.  Social media has also emerged as a demarcation line in new and old movements, where these great communications tools often substitute for organizing itself, allowing quicker response to issues, but not necessarily the sustainability to see the issues through to win change or see victory.

Fisher was kind enough to see ACORN as a bridge between the old and new in many ways, especially ACORN’s ongoing work in Britain, France, and other countries where the classic door-to-door model is being enhanced with social media tools.  Referring to ACORN, he spoke of these tendencies as post-Alinsky, referring to Saul Alinsky, whose work from the 1950s to early 1970s, is often credited with founding modern community organizing.  In making this case, he argued that ACORN’s use of mobilization tactics, political action, ideology, and anti-racism were all elements of a post-Alinsky development in organizing, as well as the organizations flexibility in responding to issues and campaigns.

Fisher also noted that ACORN’s ability to combine models, strategies, and tactics in merging community organizing methodology with direct union work and utilization of service as a membership-building tool, rather than a raison d’etre was distinguishing.  Bob was fascinated by our increasing ability to advance the concept of ACORN as a “union in the community,” citing the fact that in Britain ACORN is called the ACORN Union, our Irish affiliate calls itself CATU, the Community and Tenants’ Union, and the ACORN union in India claims more than 50,000 members.

As part of the 50th anniversary commemoration, it was exciting to talk with Professor Fisher about the next fifty years, and not just the last fifty.


Disarm All Protestors in Public Spaces

Pearl River      I’m enrolled in the lifetime learning program for organizers.  The sessions are usually not online, but they happen there, too.  Most of the classes are in real-time on the streets and with lots of people involved.

I know how to count.  I’ve counted crowds.  I’ve worked out a formula for counting marches based on the average number of people in a line, lines per block, and blocks per mile.  Rough counts of course, but I don’t have helicopters and spotters for this work.  Certainly, I count arrests.

I’m drawing a line now.  I don’t want to count deaths at a protest.

Yes, that is common in other countries.  I make a mental note, but that’s as far as I have been willing to go.  Working in the United States as an organizer for decades, I didn’t think I needed to count protest deaths here.  In recent weeks, I’m finding myself wrong.  A protestor was shot and killed by a 17-year old boy in Kenosah, Wisconsin, who was part of a right-wing militia group.  A 48-year old armed right-wing militia member was shot and killed in Portland.  Local and federal police have now shot and killed another 42-year old, who self-identified as a part of the loose antifa grouping, and who police allege was the killer in the earlier protest.

Why is this happening?  There’s an easy answer.  Somehow, guns are now being allowed at protests.

Every study from every side of the question has established that proximity to guns is a killer.  Guns in the home kill spouses and children, on purpose and by accident.  Guns abet suicides.  Guns kill period.

Some state legislatures are making protests around personal residences illegal.  Maybe that will stand up in court and maybe not, but why are cities and states not outlawing guns around protests by all sides?  A recent article in The New Yorker about the range and variety of Michigan and nationally based armed militia groups from Boogaloo to how-who was spine chilling.  As organizers in America, do we need to now not only warn our members that there is always a chance of arrests, but to kiss their families before they leave home, because they could be killed by some trigger-happy fool with a gun?

With or without ordinances and legislation, why are the police not moving to disarm protestors on all sides?  If not for our safety, how about for their own?  The police are not passive observers as all of us who have ever been part of a demonstration know.  They are participant-observers, as the sociologists would hate for them to be called.  Sometimes they are watching, and sometimes they are in the stuff all the way.  Who wants to guess how long it will be before some hothead in this current climate takes a potshot at them?

Police and politicians seem to recoil at the notion of defunding the police, but are they willing to demand that they do their jobs?  How about that for a change, while insisting that they curtail their own brutality and racism, and not put their fingers on the scale in favor of the militias either?  They need to be stopped.

For our part, we need to operate with some common sense and political savvy, especially right now, and insist that anyone armed or looking for a fight, go somewhere else to find it.  We can’t allow friends or enemies to claim that they are protecting us.

If they are armed, they are by definition dangerous.


Please enjoy “Grit and Grace” From Balsam Range

Thanks to WAMF.