Capacity in Organizing Counts – Props to Those Who Get It!

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario     In the annual HO/LO meeting of ACORN Canada several hours north of Toronto in the urban-centric area called “cottage country” near the defining geological formation known as the Canadian Shield, the head organizers and lead organizers throughout the Canadian organization were taking the measure of their work thus far during the year.  They were also working out ways that they could move forward on an array of campaigns on predatory lending, affordable housing, childcare payments, internet access, and welfare systems.

In one exercise designed by head organizer Judy Duncan, they broke into smaller groups to hash out ideas for direct actions that might jump the campaigns up a notch.  Listening to the reports from the groups was fascinating.  The suggestions were dramatic and imaginative.  It’s tough to devise creative tactics that walk the knife edge between what exerts pressure, captures attention, and, most importantly, feels comfortable for the membership to do.  A couple of videos later in the day of actions against the pending eviction of more than one-hundred families in a giant Ottawa complex called Herongate, long a campaign and action, target for ACORN there, allowed the HO/LOs to see how that office had faced the task and how local television commentators had reported and responded, very sympathetically in one case.  Those clips and another from the bi-annual ACORN Canada convention held in Hamilton, Ontario also displayed the members’ humor, anger, and handiwork in making the protest signs.  I had some trouble watching the last because my eye always goes to the signs that fail to say ACORN somewhere since the slogans are aimed at the target, but the word “ACORN” is a hardwire signal to supporters and potential recruits that it’s time to join in and act now.

All of this is about building capacity.  In ACORN we know its lifeblood, but its amazing how often people outside the work miss the details that make the work effective because they are lost in the last tweet or the most recent white paper or the hope that some bright new star will point the way to the future.  This makes it more remarkable when it turns out somewhere, somehow, people so often blinded by the glitter, finally recognize the grit, and that leads me to give some props in a surprising direction to some of the rich that “get it” about putting some oil on the gears and flywheels that make it happen and increase the capacity.

I don’t know how it all really works, but the Climate Emergency Fund seems to have stumbled onto something that I would love to see commonplace, and that’s an understanding of funding the things that make stuff happen, even if smaller and harder to suss out behind the headlines.  Props to Trevor Nelson, Rory Kennedy, and Aileen Getty who have been among the primary funders of the Climate Emergency Fund supporting Extinction Rebellion and similar actions.  Its not Gates, Buffet or Bloomberg money, but it’s pennies from heaven that are paying for buses, plane tickets, signs and the grist at the mill of social action and organization building.

Their thing is climate.  Our thing is climate too, with a different constituency and a day-to-day grind on that issue and scores of others.  There’s more than enough money to go around, but we need more “emergency funds” that grease all the wheels that make action and organizing happen, so let’s hope more of the one-percent start to get it and follow their lead.

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Blocking Renovictions: A New Anti-Gentrification Tool

ACORN Canada rally in Burnaby

Frankfurt      New West, a low-and-moderate income family suburb abutting Vancouver, British Columbia, is becoming ground zero for new policies to prevent gentrification and displacement in Canada, and perhaps globally with the passage of its latest city bylaw.  With housing prices averaging over $1 million in Vancouver every city and town within commuting distance is a battleground between developers, landlords, and tenants trying to stay in their homes and close to work and families.

Not surprisingly, New West is also an ACORN redoubt and the longtime location of ACORN Canada’s office in British Columbia.  Several years ago, ACORN, working with the city council had won the first living wage ordinance in Canada.  Indexed to inflation, the hourly wage there is helping sustain working families and is still the standard nationally even as other cities like Toronto have followed suit.

New West, Burnaby, and other Vancouver suburbs has been free-fire zones for what are known as “demovictions.”  In those cases, long term tenants are being evicted when smaller units are demolished and new higher rise apartment and/or condo complexes replace previously affordable housing alternatives for our families.  As families are priced out of Vancouver, the fight with developers over their strategies has been intense.

The New West council, led by longtime ACORN ally, Jamie McEvoy, passed with our support a measure that penalizes “renovictions.”  Renovictions are the process of evicting tenants by jacking up rents past affordability for renovations, rather than demolitions.  The new bylaw would fine landlords $1000 per day if they either evict someone without proper notice or do not give them the right to return to their apartment at the same rent level as they paid before the renovation.  Additionally, New West would vacate the landlord’s license to rent in the city as well, if they are using renovictions to cast off tenants.  This action in New West would be a powerful tool to prevent displacement with real teeth.

Landlords and their friends are obviously crying like stuck pigs and claiming this will mean that landlords will lose any incentive to improve their apartments.  Many of these renovations are simply long overdue upgrades that tenants have also demanded and what would normally be expected would be a landlord’s responsibility to provide habitable units in return for the rent being paid, making renovictions and minor improvements simply a guise for huge rent increases.

Obviously, the fight is not over to maintain affordability and decent standards in New West, and we have certainly not heard the last from developers and landlords.  In the meantime, ACORN Canada is going into hyperdrive to get information about this new tool on the agenda for city councils in Ottawa, Toronto, and other communities where displacement and gentrification are going full stream.

Go ye and do likewise!

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Please enjoy  Extra-Ordinary by Lost Leaders.  Thanks to KABF.

 

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