Plotting the Future, Drowning in Opportunity

Cardiff     Whether the leadership of ACORN International, led by President Marva Burnett from Canada, meeting under the shade, appropriately of an oak tree, or the organizers from around the world, joining the leaders, in talking about our directions for the future sitting in a circle on floor-seats in a yurt, it was clear we had grown by leaps and bounds during the past year.  Membership and dues were up everywhere.  Campaigns and victories were stirring and significant from Delhi to Tegucigalpa, from Lima to Newcastle, from Toronto to Paris to Bristol to Glasgow to even Detroit and Cleveland.  It was exciting to be part of the discussion.

We were not only growing in the cities where we had staff, but everywhere we were facing a challenge:  we were drowning in opportunity.  On one hand we had new cities where we had committed to building organization like Montreal in Canada and Montpelier in France, but we also had three new groups in Tunis where we needed to tighten down our supply lines.  We had affiliated our partners in Liberia but were trying to see if we could expand by uniting noncommercial radio and direct organizing in Kampala and other cities in Uganda.  We had added new groups in Manchester and Brighton successfully and seen our chapters in Birmingham begin a revival, but had twenty or more invitations from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and throughout cities large and small in England and Scotland asking for assistance and wanting to join ACORN.  We were training and developing initial plans to expand in Belgium and Bulgaria and trying to figure out how to support our allies in Greece and Slovakia, but everywhere we faced critical need and urgent requests, but we’re stretched to breaking in our ability to respond robustly.

Over and over again the discussions would hit ceilings and walls.  Common themes continued to emerge.  Every project, large and small, needed more staff and more money.  The leadership had discussed how to start to create a procedure for evaluation affiliations and facilitating expansion.  The staff started to grab the bull by the horns to discuss not only how each national affiliate could train staff and resource its program by how we could develop training centers and pool our more limited resources to raise the money to expand and answer the demands from so many other communities and countries.

Nothing sounded simple.  We had to smooth out the structure.  We had to keep the doors open.  We needed to figure out how to standardize our training programs in Canada, France, and England for new organizers and operations.  We were unsure how we could finance even the efforts to bootstrap to hire a development person to raise more money.

Nonetheless by the end of the meeting there was an emerging consensus on what needed to be done to stop the “moaning” and embrace the future.


Please enjoy Kinky Friedman’s Autographs in the Rain.

Thanks to KABF.


Tenant Organizing Tactics

Outside of Frome, England      We were all organizers.  We adapted and made the best of it, and then got to work.  And, the work went amazingly well!  The combination of video and oral reports the night before meant that the day’s business could get right to the meat of the matter of sharing organizational and experience and knowledge with each other, country-to-country and, as importantly, debate and discuss critical issues of direction, planning, and program for all of ACORN.  I’ll admit I was skeptical.  We were sitting around on legless chairs on the floor in a huge yurt, but, shoulders to the wheel, and let the magic happen.  And, indeed, once everyone wrapped their arms around the agenda and got about the business, the meeting was excellent.

Here’s a good example, tenant organizing tactics.  Virtually everyone around the room had a suggestion with a story to go along with it.

The French talked about a “move in” they did at the city’s housing authority’s office in Grenoble.  The issue was electricity not working, so the move-in involved major appliances.  The members showed up with a television, refrigerator, microwaves, and whatever they needed to plug in and make the point.  The authority got the message that the wiring had to be fixed, so victory achieved.

We heard about an action that folks from Bristol called a “thunderclap” where everyone was posted a message on Facebook at the same time in order to pressure a target on social media.

The organizers from Ottawa and Toronto regaled the team with stories of cockroach circuses and rallies.

In the United Kingdom an action at a landlord’s house organizers’ referred to a “doorstopping” when they showed up to rally at the house.  A riff on that tactic other organizers mentioned involved flyering on the block where a targeted landlord lived where the leaflets shamed an unnamed neighbor as a slumlord asking them to guess who it might be.  Not surprisingly, they heard pretty quickly from the landlord that he would fix the problems at his property.

John Anderson told a great story about an action in Burnaby in British Columbia.  The tenant resolution office there had long lines and extensive waits for service as complaint cases came up on the docket.  There were no washrooms, so this became a source of constant complaint.  ACORN built a fake-porta-potty out of cardboard and erected it in the middle of the office.  It didn’t take long to win a commitment for the washroom to be constructed.