Category Archives: ACORN

Voting on the Working Family Party Ballot Line

New Orleans      New Yorkers are lucky.  Not only do they get to vote with relatively little hassle, but they get to send important messages to politicians about where they stand by voting on unique ballot lines that identify their politics not in broad strokes, but along sharp edges.  Why? Because New York State remains one of the handful in the United States that allows multi-party fusion, even if the established party duopoly hates the practice.

This isn’t hard.  Multi-party fusion means that different political parties, with the concurrence of the candidates, can support the same candidates on their ballot line in an election.  The term “fusion” has become somewhat archaic, as the major parties have pulled their wagons in a circle over the last 125 years to exclude other parties, but simply put to fuse means they come together in agreement.  A dictionary perfectly explains that the synonyms of the verb “fuse” are “associate, coalesce, combine, conjoin, conjugate, connect, join, link, marry, unify, unite…” and so forth.  How wonderful for us to be able to fuse, and how frightening we have found it is for others.

Certainly, ACORN thought it was a great idea and along with the Communication Workers of America and New York Citizen Action joined with Dan Cantor as executive director to form the Working Families Party in New York in 1998.  The WFP has since then hewn to a progressive path in local races and in political positions with grit and conviction, meaning that the party has attracted steadfast friends and supporters and determined enemies, including Governor Andrew Cuomo.  They had the temerity to take a principled stand about the governor’s détente and tacit support for the Republicans controlling the legislature and endorsed his opponent in the last race.  He paid them back by winking and nodding to Democratic party officials and their friends in a hand-picked commission to make it harder to maintain a ballot line, hoping to knock them off the list, and be rid of this avenue for pesky progressives to pressure him to move his program forward.

The test they face this November is straightforward.  The WFP must get 2% or 130,000 votes, whichever is higher, polled on its ballot line for Biden and Harris or we lose our automatic ballot line for the next several years.  As I said, New Yorkers are lucky.  They can have their cake and eat it, too.  They can have their vote counted for Biden-Harris, and at the same time wave their progressive colors.  A lot of us will be pulling the Democratic lever this fall wishing we weren’t offering carte blanche to some uncomfortable positions, but not New Yorkers.

Sadly, the WFP is having to spend time and money and call in chits from Senator Chuck Schumer, Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, and other candidates where its line and energy has made a difference to make itself the issue, rather than its positions, so that the party can protect its line.  In this troubled time, New Yorkers are fortunate to have this chance to send a message on where they stand on the political spectrum.  It’s a contest, but I’m betting on the WFP once again to be able to take this threat and turn it into an opportunity to build its base and electorate.   Now is the time for New Yorkers, near and far, to run up the score for the Working Families Party!


Please enjoy No Justice by Blake Havard.

Thanks to WAMF.


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.