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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Celebrating ACORN’s 46th Birthday

DSCN1298Quito    At the annual Americas’ meeting of many of ACORN’s organizers in Quito, after a lengthy conversation about implementing our plans for an internet radio station to kick off in mid-August with shows from all of the offices interspersed with music replayed from our existing stations, a cake came out and by popular request we did our best trying to sing a recent organizing song along the lines of Drake’s “Hot Line Bling.” The meeting had been good, spirits were high, plans were in place, but at the same time the discussions had been serious and sober, and we were humble to the task.

The challenge for senior staff, including myself, can be the wide view from the front windshield of opportunity, compared to the vast and expansive accomplishments in the rear view mirror. ACORN Canada has become a powerhouse with huge victories and campaigns protecting and advancing the interests of tenants and consumers. Work in France, the United Kingdom, and India is encouraging and exciting, and opportunities seem to increasingly abound for ACORN in Europe, if we can get our arms around them. We may have our first meeting ever of all of our organizers in Africa this fall, which would allow us to potentially turn a corner there for the future. Consolidating and tightening our program in Latin America may allow us to finally solidify the work and victories there over the last dozen years. Reports are starting to emerge that auger for real impact and deep alliances around rural electric cooperatives in the southern United States and accountability for charity care in nonprofit hospitals, lending and financial discrimination in the United Kingdom, and threats to remittances globally. Partnerships with colleges and universities are extending the organization’s reach and resources. Plans for upgrading training tools with better technology and investment could be significant. It was exciting to sit around this table!

At the same time it was a small table, compared to the giant halls where ACORN annual organizers’ meetings were held in the past. 150,000 members globally is not the same as almost a half-million concentrated in one country, like the United States. Frequently, we’re involved in throwback situations to the early and mid-1970s where we’re trying to put twenty pounds to work into a one-pound bag and a stuff a thousand people into a clown car.

But, the key is to keep moving and moving forward, which is part of what emerges at every birthday celebration. The alternatives are devastating, embracing the next day, and the opportunities of life and work are everything.

At 46 years the main celebration is the excitement that the organization and the work continues, and is important and winning. It’s a milestone, but just another day. Next year on the 47th anniversary, we will be at the biennial convention of ACORN Canada in Ottawa.

There’s a lot to be done. Time to think about where we will be when we gather for the 50th!

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