Tag Archives: digital divide

Real Community Organizations with a Base Step Up in a Crisis

Pearl River     There are so many things about the response to the coronavirus crisis that remind me of the response to Hurricane Katrina and its devastation of New Orleans and parts of the Gulf Coast.  Mostly, that’s not a good thing, because the governmental response was horrifically bad.  It was the nadir of George W. Bush’s presidency, just as it has already become the lowest point, despite stiff competition, of Donald J. Trump’s presidency.   An organizing colleague for years has had a watchword expression: “you gotta learn!”  It doesn’t seem like we have.

  Almost a decade ago, I wrote a book about ACORN’s experience in responding to Katrina as a cataclysmic event, The Battle for the Ninth Ward: ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster.  One of the lessons is that a membership-based organization has an inviolate obligation to serve and support that membership and its community.  ACORN’s response to Katrina proved that over and over.

Even in these early days of the coronavirus nightmare, we’re seeing that in ACORN’s response once again.

ACORN United Kingdom immediately launched a petition to stop evictions for tenants and within days gained 25,000 signatures pressuring the government to finally act.  ACORN Coronavirus Community Support was launched almost simultaneously.  More than one-hundred volunteers were recruited within days to assist members in the community most susceptible to the virus with grocery shopping, pharmacy stops, and other tasks.  Volunteers and members mobilized to leaflet ACORN communities in order to bridge the digital divide in Bristol, Sheffield, Manchester, and other branches so that people could reach out.  ACORN members were solicited to help other organizations who were overwhelmed not only in those cities but in chapters in Liverpool, Leeds, Brighton, Lancaster, and Nottingham as well.   Other chapters in places like Cambridge and Birmingham stepped up their effort to stop evictions.  As ACORN said in the call, “ACORN is dedicated to the protection of our communities. Members around the country have begun referring to us as the fourth emergency service!”

They weren’t alone of course.  A Community Voice, the former Louisiana ACORN, and an ACORN affiliate in the United States, had led the fight after Katrina in supporting our members in first protecting their neighborhoods, then winning the right to return to them, and still in the process of rebuilding.  Now they are mobilizing to assist members in applying for unemployment, food stamps, and any new enrollment period for health care as well as mobilizing volunteers once again.  ACORN Canada moved forward quickly with a petition as well to block evictions.

One of the greatest membership surges in ACORN’s history occurred in New Orleans in response to ACORN’s work after Katrina with thousands of new members joining because they finally understood what it meant to be part of a real, fighting membership organization.  It was not surprising to hear reports from the United Kingdom that even with people homebound, membership is rising.

There’s nothing good about this tragedy.  Unlike Katrina, it won’t wash over quickly.  We haven’t hit the bottom yet.  Nonetheless, ACORN as a membership organization of low- and moderate-income families knows that this is when our members need us most and expect us to be up for the fight.

ACORN members do what needs to be done in this fight, like every other.


Please enjoy Gerry & The Pacemakers – You’ll Never Walk Alone (Stereo)

Thanks to WAMF.


Internet as a Weapon at Home and Abroad

Houston   Silicon Valley and its fans argue that tech is a tool enabled by the wonderful world of the internet.  They aren’t totally wrong, though like all tools, tech and the internet, have to be used correctly of course.  We all know that, right?  We also are finding out more and more that these tools in the wrong hands for the wrong purpose, quickly become weapons.

When India went after its Muslim state and citizens in Kashmir, what did it do quickly?  Turn off the internet.  Zimbabwe dealing with civil strife and unhappiness with the economy responded to its people by doing what?  Turning off the internet.  We’ve seen turning the internet off and on frequently as a weapon used by countries to contain and coerce their citizens around the world.

In another way, we see the internet used as a weapon by big telecoms against the populations that need and depend on the service.  An investigation by the Dallas Morning News found that AT&T, whose headquarters is in the Dallas area ironically, had weaponized access to the internet for profit.  More than that, they had targeted lower income families and census tracts using access to the internet and its affordability as blunt instruments against the poor.

The paper found that AT&T determined where to establish faster internet by property values.  Higher values, indicating higher incomes, got faster internet first.  Lower property values got faster internet either later or not at all.  There’s more though.  AT&T also charged lower income customers in those areas more for the slower service than they charged those with higher valued locations.

Local 100 and ACORN in the US, Canada, and elsewhere have campaigned aggressively under the banner “Internet for All” to lower the digital divide.  Amazingly, AT&T in Dallas, and likely other cities once these investigations spread, is not only profiting from the digital divide, it is building a digital wall with the rich on one side and the poor on the other.

Reading the Dallas Morning News article was not exactly a surprise to us.   Several years ago (BT, before Trump) when the FCC had required Comcast to offer $10 per month internet access in acquiring Times-Warner, they touted this program on a voluntary basis to other companies.  Our Dallas office was never able to get AT&T to respond or meet with us to join a similar program.  Now, (AT, after Trump), there’s no mention of a voluntary or mandatory program.

AT&T is likely using a similar geo-placement strategy throughout the country.  They are unlikely to be the only company practicing this scam on their customers and larceny against the poor.  Will the FCC act?  Unlikely.  Will local public service regulators step into the breach?  Let’s hope so.

This is outrageous!