ACORN Tenants Taking Charge, Running for Seats on the Board in France

Grenoble         Every four years social housing tenants in France have the opportunity to run for seats on the board of their city’s housing authority.  Admittedly, the seats allotted for tenant representation are a minority of the board positions, because in France, as elsewhere, a voice for tenants is preferable to allowing real power for tenants.  From conversations with organizers, leaders, and members of ACORN’s French affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne, in Grenoble and the Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers, that may be about to change.  Members of the Alliance have put forth slates of candidates in three different housing districts, two in Grenoble and one in Paris and have begun to campaign in earnest.

In various meetings throughout the week the plan has shaped up.  In Grenoble where the voting pool is 17000 families, we have been wrestling with the mechanics of the election.  There is a voting period of roughly two weeks in which tenants have to return mail ballots to be counted in the election.  A list of tenants is available as well as a map of all buildings in the system, but the exact time of their availability is still uncertain, making it difficult to make a comprehensive week-by-week plan.  Nonetheless, Alliance candidates have an advantage simply because they are running as a team, backed by the organization, and in some cases partnered with a local union as well, but that advantage only works if we are all able to come to consensus on a plan and then do the hard work of campaigning for the almost eight weeks until the voting closes in December.

After conference calls throughout the week, I attended a meeting of the candidates, organizers, and key organizing committee members in a common space meeting room in one of the housing projects of Grenoble Habitat, where over potato chips and apple juice the plans were being hashed out.  Like all campaigns and organizing the focus was first on lists and building an organizing committee.  Regardless of when – or if – a list is supplied by the housing authority, the key first topic on the agenda of the meeting was how to use the list we have and how to build it larger in advance of the election.  In the smaller election, we have 800 names and in the larger one we have closer to 1500.  There was agreement that the committee would divide up the list, report on daily progress, and commit individually to spending 10 hours on the phones to contact all 2300 names in order to reach 800 to 1000.  The objective was to use the calls to identify building representatives as organizing committee members in as many buildings as possible.  Those campaign representatives would commit to circulating the literature, building a list of building tenants, joining the candidates in doorknocking in their building, and organizing a building wide meeting to meet the candidates between now and the election.

The literature drop would be in the following week, and staff and the planning committee committed to developing a week-by-week plan until the election to be discussed and decided on at the regular weekly meeting.  There was agreement that the concentration would first be on identifying and turning out our base to vote before trying to expand to buildings in the suburbs and elsewhere that we had not previously organized.  These elections are decided by only one or two thousand votes, so the GOTV and multiple “touches” to make sure the ballots are filled our correctly and mailed is central to victory.

This is the first time the organization has embarked on an election campaign of any kind, so it’s exciting and heady stuff.  The one thing that is certain is that the leadership and organization will be stronger once the votes are counted, win, lose or draw.  The other thing that is clear will be that if the Alliance/ACORN members are elected, change is coming to housing authorities in Grenoble and Aubervilliers as tenants join their voices together to create power on the boards that will not be denied.

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Please enjoy Southern State of Mine by Sugarcane Jane.

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles’ Get as Gone Can Get.

Thanks to KABF.

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Action Wins in Grenoble

Grenoble   On my whistle stop tour of almost all of our offices in France and the United Kingdom, of course my first stop had to be in Grenoble.  It seemed like I was in store for a heat wave as the temperature was predicted at over freezing for my first time in over a week.  Instead as I left to catch a tram and bus to be part of an action by ACORN’s affiliate, the Alliance Citoyenne, it felt even colder, as I trudged through freezing rain in the most miserable weather to date.

Adrien Roux, the head organizer of the Alliance, shrugged as we all gathered across the street under an overhang to assemble, saying the horrid weather made the point, since our demand was for new windows to replace the old wooden sashes in this public housing project which let the wind into the units in freezing gusts.  Many of the members had wrapped blankets from home over their winter coats to make the point, and they were glad to have them in this weather.  One of the organizers had brought a fox stole which various leaders tried out.  Telling the story to an organizer in the States, she said, “how French!”  Repeating her line to all of the French organizers later, they said, “we thought it was so American!”

on our way

The action was at the regional housing authority office that was responsible for social housing in that district.  We had won on this issue the year before at another housing project, but still when we hit the door and all 25 of the members crowded around the front counter, the staff of the agency seemed surprised and couldn’t control their outrage, just adding fuel to the fire.  One man at the counter, egged on by the staff, started yelling at the members, and when Adrien moved to calm him, he briefly shoved Adrien, and the members surged forward in a wave of their own anger.  Managers finally regained their composure briefly, allowing almost everyone to go to a conference room to hear them out.  I stayed in the waiting room with half-dozen of the leaders from other projects, and for over an hour there was a constant tag-team argument and shouting match between the counter staff and our leaders, as they continued to rail in displeasure at our tactics.

the target

Inside it was much the same in the beginning, but I could see clapping finally through a space in the window, and a bit later the door opened after more than an hour of negotiations and I could see many of our members moving to leave.  Much of the press had remained waiting to hear the results, and no matter the agency’s shouting, we walked away with a victory when they committed to inspecting each of the apartments immediately, and then moving to replace the windows in any that were not blocking out the cold.

up the stairs

all inside

brief melee

breaking up the negotiations

out the door

At noon suddenly, metal gates came down all around the housing authority building blocking any entrances as the agency shut down for an hour-and-a-half for lunch, barring all tenants from entry.   How French!

leader does press briefing

Our debriefing was quick, even though the rain had stopped and the sky was partially clearing.  People were excited, and there were plans for an evening meeting of the Grenoble board to discuss the victory and plan for next steps.  How ACORN!

debriefing with key leaders after the action by Adrien Roux

celebration with Grenoble board later that evening…”let them eat cake,” so we eat cake!

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