Hello, Landlords and Your Bankers, Meet ACORN!

New Orleans      Landing in New Orleans at 1:30 AM, the calendar alert said it was ACORN’s anniversary, our 49th birthday.  The real celebration though had already happened the day before in Hamilton, Ontario, as ACORN Canada’s Convention had featured a final day of marches and multiple actions on a gorgeous day in every way.

The crowd shook off their early morning wakeup and packing and rocked the halls of McMaster University as the leaders led the chants before the buses loaded up to take everyone to the rally site at a local park near downtown Hamilton.  This was going to be a day of not one-two punches against landlord renovictions in the city, but almost a one-two-three-four swing of roundhouses for tenant rights and against rapacious gentrification not only in Hamilton but across the country.  As the members were assembling to march, an advance team of several dozen was already at work putting banners on various Malleum properties along the downtown corridor.  Malleum has been a Hamilton-based property owner that has exploited rising rents and evictions on the pretense of renovations to evict tenants.

The first stop on the march of course was the headquarters of Malleum itself which was on lockdown as members streamed up the steps and accessible entry points.  Others hung protest banners over the balcony as members let their voices roar about the “war on the poor.”  The next stop as the march snaked through the streets towards the center of town was yet another Malleum property in development.  A second punch delivered.

Most days this would be a good day’s work by the hundreds of members from around Canada who assembled to make their points heard across the county.  Not today!  The march stretched several blocks in length now and had attracted an extensive police escort as we took the street and left the sidewalk behind.  It should not have been a surprise to bystanders or our escorts once the chants changed to RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, as a predatory lender, that another upper cut was coming in hard as a haymaker.  When we hit the building, organizers opened the doors and all of the members came streaming into the mall entry at the ground level, then down the stairs and around the bend, as building security grabbed their radios and hit call buttons, the ACORN members marched into the bank itself, filling up the space.  The demand was straightforward:  stop lending to predatory landlords evicting tenants in rent gouging schemes!  There’s no more hiding the hand, while the Malleum’s throw the rocks at tenants the banks are enabling.

Not through yet, the march ended in a rally in front of City Hall demanding more protection from city bylaws for tenants in these ongoing battles.  The previous day members had door knocked in three wards initiating phone calls to city councilors and generating hundreds of signatures on petitions for support of rent limits and tenant protections.  One of the councilors came down from city hall to address the members briefly in response.

ACORN at 49, still kicking and swinging at the enemies of low-and-moderate income families.  That’s the way to celebrate any birthday.  For icing on the cake, the busloads of members from Ottawa detoured through Toronto to the headquarters of Timbercreek, a REIT that has resisted our demands, winning a meeting.

How sweet it is!

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Workshop Practices Radio Interviews

teams practicing doing interviews for ACORN Radio

Hamilton         Conventions are not just action actions and rallies, speeches and cheers.  One of the vital components is the workshops that members do with each other to share information and skills.

The ACORN Canada convention offerings ran the gamut from detailed presentations around tenant issues and evictions to disability and welfare payments to basic skills like how to run a meeting or in my case, how members could conduct interviews for ACORN Radio.

The ten people in the workshop had been greeted by Geri Stevens, a leader from Ottawa who had done countless interviews during times she had hosted a show on local radio there.  She had introduced the basics with an emphasis on preparation and making people feel at ease.  She recommended a list of questions and letting the guests take a look at some of the questions in advance so they were prepared and the interview went smoothly.  I was a bit late to the session, but briefed the members on the history of ACORN’s involvement with radio and our continued commitment to radio as an opportunity to create “voice of the people” content that would join members to other members around the world, sharing information, tips and tools in confronting issues and building power.

We had a good group with members not only from Ottawa, but also Toronto, British Columbia, and Hamilton.  I fired up my computer so that they could listen to ACORN Radio streaming online as we talked.  None had room keys yet, so we didn’t have the wireless access for McMaster University where we were meeting, but three or four of the members were able to connect on their own plans or hotspots.  There was something of a eureka moment that I could see on their faces as they heard acornradio on their phones, surprised that this had missed them.

The members paired off in teams to try to conduct the interviews themselves beginning with a simple introduction and focusing on asking their partners in the exercise how they had first become involved in ACORN.  Three, two, one, and away they went, as the room was humming with three sets of simultaneous interviews.  Ten minutes flew by, and when I asked if they felt they could take this home, more than half were confident and excited about creating their own show from their city for acorn radio.

The proof is in the pudding, and several had sent me messages for more details about how to go forward before the day was over.  It’s always an exciting miracle of organizing when people find a skill and discover they can use it to create a voice and make change.

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