Category Archives: ACORN

Puerto Rico Two Years After Hurricane Maria

San Juan         Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico a little over two years ago on September 17, 2017, with more force as a Cat-5 storm than any in the recorded history of the island.  In San Juan, the damage seemed slight and hardly noticeable.  Once on the highways crisscrossing the island to Ponce, the second largest city, and up the coast to Guanica, and later to the smaller island of Culebra, it was harder to ignore.  Major highway toll roads would go from smooth to pocked within miles.  Blue tarps still dotted the neighborhoods with some houses abandoned.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans fifteen years ago and, in the aftermath, I wrote a book, published in 2011, The Battle for the Ninth Ward:  ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster.  I was curious whether or not we had really learned lessons and how they were implemented.  The news from Puerto Rico had not been encouraging.  On the two-year anniversary, the New York Times had reported,

With Puerto Rico still in the throes of a debt crisis and hurting from a 12-year economic recession, there is no money set aside for a study to identify the estimated 2,975 people who died as a result of the hurricane, [Wanda] Vázquez, Puerto Rico’s governor, told local reporters. Federal funds have yet to come in for a single permanent road reconstruction project, reported El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper. The island municipality of Vieques still does not have a hospital. Up to 30,000 homes remain covered by blue roof tarps that were supposed to be temporary — about half the number of houses under tarps at the time of the one-year anniversary a year ago.

The clearest lesson of Katrina had been that the money had to get on the ground quickly.  The grade on that lesson in Puerto Rico is a big, fat F.

I talked to Willie Cosme frequently after the storm, at least as frequently as was possible, since the entire island was without electricity and internet for many months.  We sat in the back of the Poetry Passage in Old San Juan on Wade’s World to get his reactions.  Willie lived and worked in Arkansas for thirty-seven years and brought Spanish language programming and his great show, Salsa from A to Z, to KABF thirty years ago and continues to be a volunteer engineer for AM/FM remotely from the center of the island.  He said that people were hopeful the recovery money was coming soon, and that it appeared their federal monitor would release it finally.  Puerto Ricans were “resilient,” he said, and population was increasing again after so many had been forced to flee to the United States without recovery.  There were plans to rebuild the electricity grid in regions rather than the one-grid system that had plunged the island into darkness, but some wanted to privatize the system.  No infrastructure money had made it difficult to rebuild roads, hospitals, schools.

People may have been resilient, but they weren’t happy, particularly at the government and the governor.  Two weeks of protests had forced his resignation.  The island’s attorney general, Wanda Vasquez, had been the last one standing.  Willie thought she had done a good job, partially because, not having been elected, she was forced to work with both major parties, not just her own, the Progressives, the traditional statehood party.  Elections are in November 2020, and though Vasquez had said she would not run, the new support and the public’s growing intolerance for corruption and ineffective government, might change her mind.

It seems trivial to say that Puerto Rico’s recovery is a work-in-progress, especially since much of the work has not even begun to progress, but my companero, Willie Cosme, is cautiously optimistic.  Few lessons have been learned, but once again people prove that we all live the words of the old Donna Summers song, and “we will survive.”


A New Year, A New Decade

San Juan     2020, nice round numbers with a good solid sound. A new year.  A new decade.  We always hope for the best and settle for the rest.

Living in the United States, after three years of Trump-time, we’re just glad to have made it in one piece, though much the worse for wear.  No wars really ended, but, thankfully, despite all of the bluffs, threats, and tweets, no new ones started, at least so far, except for the tariff wars, whatever that might have wrought.

For many in America, this is the year they have been waiting for, because it’s election year.  On both sides, it’s a time of decision and for settling scores.  Will the resistance prevail, and once again out poll Trump with the surging power of their forces?  Or, will Trump and his band erase their embarrassment of illegitimacy, having lost the popular vote despite winning the election, and succeed in turning back the clock in this rerun and emerging victorious once again despite the odds?  There is fear and loathing around the election on all sides, as gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson would term it.

The round numbers of 2020 also mark a time of anniversaries

ACORN in June will pass fifty years as an organization from its beginning as an idea of building a multi-issued, multi-racial, direct action community organization in Little Rock, Arkansas to its present formation as a multi-national federation of community and labor organizations in more than fifteen countries with several hundred thousand members around the world.  I always said I wanted to make it with ACORN fifty years.  What now?  Sixty? More? Or, less?  What have we learned?  Where are we going?  What new dreams will integrate with the old mission to shape the future?

The quarterly journal that we edit and publish, Social Policy, in each issue of 2020 will celebrate fifty years as well with more than fifteen under our stewardship.  How will we mark these decades in each of the coming issues?

Local 100 will have forty years under its belt, twenty-five as a affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, and four on the front end and eleven on the backend, adding up to fifteen as an independent part of the United Labor Unions in a time that has been hard for working people.  If it’s appropriate to celebrate survival, we will so with vigor.

On a personal note that seems both wonderful, and, frankly, miraculous, mi companera, the love of my life, and I will have lived together for forty years when the calendar hits March of this year.  We just passed thirty years in the same house.  We plan on many more!

We can make lots of resolutions each year and note how many of them are the same as last year, but the truth is that each year if we work as hard as we’re able, love each other as much as possible, and breathe in every minute as fully as it ticks off the time, then it will be another good year.