April 7, 2021
New Orleans ACORN is an inclusive organization, and as a membership-led and supported organization, our mandate is to support and represent our members. The Alliance Citoyenne is our affiliate in France and has been over the last number of years as it has grown from its original base in Grenoble to organize thousands across the country in the Paris suburbs, Lyon, and elsewhere.
Our membership includes families of all religious faiths in France, as it does in globally wherever we organize. Predictably, that includes Muslims of course. One action after another in the polarized politics of France around secularism and cultural traditions that mandate homogeneity have been designed to particularly discriminate against Muslim women, especially those whose religious practice includes wearing a veil. Initially, veiled Muslim women were restricted from any direct public employment. President Macron and his party controlling the government have now also extended that ban to block their employment in any company or enterprise that receives any government money as well. Their access to public venues including sports, swimming pools, bowling alleys, and other facilities like training centers, public health and daycare centers is also restricted. It goes without saying that all of this is a huge denial of their human rights.
Muslim women members of ACORN have pushed back. In the summer of 2019, actions where ACORN members sought to use public swimming pools wearing what were called burkinis attracted national and international attention. In some cases, pools were closed. The Alliance was attacked for its stance, but the governing bodies of all of our chapters, debated the issue fully, and stood strong. In fact, women throughout France approached us about organizing a separate women’s sports league that would allow Muslim women to participate.
Answering a call from the European Commission, the Alliance applied for support in its efforts to organize a union of Muslim women within the organization. The proposal was successfully awarded a multi-year grant. Since November, the final papers have not been signed though because of political interference by the French Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin, who claims the grant would be a “political project of rupture under the guise of anti-racism”. His opposition has ignited a firestorm of publicity and debate in Paris and throughout the country, including vicious and public attacks against the Alliance. We were almost evicted from our offices in Lyon for example. The EU is also caught up in this maelstrom between its stated convictions and political pressure.
In a press statement, the Alliance Citoyenne responded factually to the government attack:
This is a lie when the demands of the Citizen Alliance are aimed at inclusion, diversity and tolerance. As the Observatory of Associative Freedoms has shown in many other cases, discretionary intervention, disinformation, disqualification and amalgamation are all processes used by the executive power to delegitimize and hinder citizens who hold critical voices. Despite the deceptive attacks by Mr. Darmanin, the Alliance Citoyenne and its members will continue to defend the rights of minorities, the freedom of Muslim women, the rights of poorly housed families, people with disabilities and all citizens affected by injustices. It calls on the European Commission to resist the pressure exerted by the Minister of the Interior and to have confidence in its teams and its procedures for selecting projects against racism and discrimination.
The French government, like so many others, including perhaps the European Union, is going to be forced to learn that this is ACORN, and ACORN members don’t back down in fights against injustice.