Rats, Mold, and Entitlements:  A Party Embraces Community Organizing in Netherlands

Heerlen        In the evening thirty party activists assembled at headquarters for the evening’s program.  The introduction was straightforward.  Ron Meyer, chairman of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands, made some remarks, as we sat in the front of the room on high chairs.  I expressed my pleasure and honor at being with them and noted the progress since my visits three years ago.

All well and good.  A thousand meetings have begun and ended exactly this way.  Nothing out of the ordinary.

Then we moved to the back of the room with the others as three activists, one after another, presented a description of the campaigns they were pursing and specific questions they had and were hoping for feedback from me and others.

The first chapter had gotten involved in trying to organize migrant workers, largely Polish.  The agenda was unclear, but the commitment was deep, and the issues profound.  I ended up steering the conversation towards worker centers, and stumbled on the fact, unknown to me despite my earlier experiences, that they ran “service centers” of sorts in perhaps fifty of their 125 or more chapters around the country.  We talked about ACORN Service Centers and an intake model.  We talked about our friends and colleagues at CASA de Maryland.

It became obvious that this was going to be a different political meeting than I had ever attended.

The next campaign had started on one block in a lower income set of housing blocks where 30,000 lived.  After door knocking the issue was clear.  Rats had taken over the units. They swarmed the common garden plot.  They scurried across kitchen floors.  They achieved some success, but quickly realized that the rats simply moved from the block they had organized to the next blocks.  Wrap your mind around this.  They were talking about a rat infestation in the Hague of all places.  The country’s Parliament and seats of government are at the Hague.  All the huge international NGOs have their headquarters in the Hague.  The place is as infested by think tanks, embassies, and the like as it is with rats…well, not quite it turned out, there are even more rats!  I don’t even need to start listing the creative and effective tactics that started flying around the room.  This was a winner.

The final campaign presentation was equally to the heart of classic ACORN community organizing:  building tenant unions in social housing.  I had been hearing about mold all day, and now we were fighting for renovation of the units.  Suddenly, the young man mentioned a division among the campaigners because some were getting 5000 euros of relocation money during the rehab and others were not.  I quickly asked, was this an entitlement?  Yes, was the answer.  Was it a matter of national law or regulation or only in the community under discussion?  Yes, national.  Boom, we were talking then about minimum standards and direct benefit campaigns.  Such a thrill.  What fun?!?

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I had spent five hours with the organizing team earlier in the day.  They had described the adaptation they had made to the basic ACORN organizing model for the purposes of their campaign organization.  They called it the “storm” and there were four phases, beginning with door knocking and outreach and culminating in actions and victory.  Not all of the dots were joined together perfectly, but they had put a significant number of chapters into motion with multiple campaign capacity.

They were doing this work outside of the standard party-based electoral obsession.  They were building a broader base, if they could take the next steps to link these nascent organizations more closely to the party, sort out how structure and membership that might work, and redefine what they meant in describing the SP/N as a different kind of political party, they would have something unique.  Indeed, they would be building something as powerful as rare.  The potential seems endless, if they can continue along this path.  Exciting stuff!


Honduras ACORN Leadership Gets Organized

Siguatepeque, Honduras         The process of legally registering ACORN Honduras has been endless, but earlier this year all of the money was paid, all of the rocks moved out of the road that were full of bad lawyers, miscommunications, and false starts.  Leaders from the San Pedro Sula area, Tegucigalpa, and Marcala were all scheduled to meet to begin formally organizing the governance structure of the organization.  A middle ground location was chosen in Siguatepeque at a large restaurant there.

The old saying about not watching democracy made might have applied to this first stab at real governance by the organization.  The election plans agreed beforehand would have split the officers and board members between the San Pedro Sula area leaders and those from Tegucigalpa with Marcala having one seat.  The board registering the organization legally had been ad hoc and elected solely with San Pedro Sula participation and included one name from Tegucigalpa as a placeholder who was not known to the capital city membership or leaders.  A problem arose in the early discussions once the leaders convened.  It was unclear whether or not new leaders could be elected unless some of the named members on the board resigned, including the Tegucigalpa placeholder.  Despite all of the preparation and prior discussions, suddenly these members of the incorporating board were not willing to step down.  The lawyer was called and she worried that an election without their resignations might not be valid.  In classic ACORN fashion a compromise was agreed where the nominated Tegucigalpa leaders would be formally allowed to meet with the board over the next eighteen months – or until there were resignations that needed to be filled.  They would be able to participate fully in representing their members, but they would not be able to vote.

There was extensive discussion about the ACORN principles of membership and local group accountability.  Any board member had to be a dues paying member, and it was unclear if that was true, until the membership records are produced.  Any board member would need to be active in a local group, and that was also unclear.  The discussion itself though helped clarify bedrock ACORN fundamentals, helping the leaders find their footholds for the future.

There was discussion on whether a group worried about title to their land had made progress in La Lima, outside of San Pedro Sula.  There was a long discussion about the problem of Honduran migrants as part of the march through Mexico towards the US where Trump and troops await them.

More immediately the board was required to formally decide on whether to support a campaign in Honduras around the problem of Temporary Protected Status Hondurans being expelled from the US.  How would this affect Honduras and jobs?  What provisions were being made by the Honduran government and what steps were being taken?  How could a campaign impact the US as well?  The board in this first meeting stumbled on the issue of how to make a motion, record the activity in the minutes, and vote.  There’s no Robert’s Rules in ACORN, but there is an order of business by the boards, and ACORN Honduras was stumbling forward into the future.  Another motion needed to put ACORN Honduras on record in support a campaign with the Gildan workers.  In both cases there was no way for help and support to be requested from ACORN affiliates in the US or Canada, if ACORN Honduras was not campaigning and on record making the request.  The board also approved a national recruitment effort for ACORN, introducing the organization on the radio and television stations of allies.

Nothing about the meeting was easy, but typical of ACORN being rooted in its principles for almost fifty years, the organization is also committed to the future.  The leaders all shared phone numbers and established a WhatsApp group to communicate and make decisions together in the future.