Climate and Politics Take Center Stage in Organizers’ Debates

St. Etienne   As the organizers shook of the aftermath of fellowship-and-solidarity time that had gone on until the wee hours and included robust singing with new verses to all ACORN songs, they hunkered into the discussions of how ACORN was addressing both climate change and politics.

There were two approaches that organizers argued on raising the environmental issues expressed by our membership to a clearer level.  One was to look strategically at precarious areas where low-and-moderate income families lived in our community in order to analyze whether or not we were addressing the issues effectively.  Flooding and sea rise along with fracking and train routes were seen as worth review in the United Kingdom.

The other strategy involved reframing some of our classic and constant campaigns, especially in housing, along a climate axis.  Retrofits in Canada, the US, and France have been ongoing demands, many of which we have won in terms of modernization programs while others are still in contest.  In Ontario we had won huge commitments to insulate and retrofit social and lower-income housing, but new premier Ford had made canceling the program one of his first acts.

As the discussion proceeded, it seemed like a plethora of our issues and campaigns were environmental.  The fights for access to potable water in Cameroon, Kenya, Honduras, and Peru were historic.  Eliminating lead in water fountains in Houston schools and throughout Louisiana and now Milwaukee were all part of our work, as well as pushing for soil contamination remediation in playgrounds, parks, schools, and elsewhere.  Bioswales or rain gardens have become part of the demand of our affiliates in New Orleans in the 9th ward to prevent future flooding in those areas.  It became clear that we need to be clearer in and outside of our membership that environmental issues were part and parcel of all of ACORN’s work.

When it came to politics, the reports were not encouraging at the national level in our countries.  Local politics continued to be the key focus where we could have some impact in the era of Trump, Macron, Ford, and soon to be Boris Johnson.  There was discussion about deepening the political education of our membership through our leadership training program with a continued emphasis on voter engagement, registration, and turnout across the board.  There was consensus that in a divisive time in so many countries we needed to make sure that within ACORN there was unity as the first order of business so that we could prevent political division.

These are difficult times for our work, but the commitment of everyone to ACORN standing tall and stepping up was unanimous.

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Organizers Coming Together

St. Etienne       Most people convened in Lyon, the second largest metropolitan area in France, either flying into its airport or rolling into the train station from all points.  Some shuttled from the Lyon station to the Bas station near St. Etienne and waited for a pickup from the cars driving in from Grenoble, Lyon, Frankfurt, and Paris bringing various delegations to the annual meeting of ACORN International organizers held in Europe or the United Kingdom in recent years since the organization expanded here.

The plans had bounced back and forth.  Originally, it seemed we were welcome at a conference center outside of Paris, but the schedule didn’t work.  Lyon seemed natural as the second choice, since we had met in Somerset in southwest England the previous year.  Our organizers with the Alliance Citoyenne felt confident about the location, since many had roots in the region.  Furthermore, Lyon was a primary area for our expansion.  We had begun organizing an independent union of homecare workers, cleaners, and security workers during the year called UNITI.  The fall would find us launching community organizing drives there as well in low-and-moderate income neighborhoods.  It made sense.

Logistics became more difficult as we added up the numbers.  Estimates kept soaring for the number of organizers on staff who would be able to attend, as we tried to also include some of team from Tunisia, one of our newer projects, and the head organizer of our affiliate in Cameroon as well.  Visa problems in both countries put the kibosh on their attendance for inexplicable reasons.  For a while we had had a huge delegation planning to attend from Ireland, but the cost of the tickets deflated those numbers.  Nonetheless, the numbers of organizers settled at around thirty-five, an explosion over the previous year as our organizations continued to expand, outstripping any house thought to be a possible venue.

We arrived at a large farmhouse in the country that was open to groups such as ours.  Some, mostly those from the US, Canada, and the UK drew the lucky straws to stay in various rooms in the house.  The French and the Germans ended up on a rise above the property camping in tents of many sizes and colors.  After a hot day in Lyon, the countryside was cooler.  The moon was full and stars were out.  People kept arriving throughout the evening.  They sat, had a beer, introduced themselves and visited.  Around 9pm, rice and ratouille, were made by the local team, and organizers wolfed it down.

I was reminded of year end and midyear meetings in state and national parks in Arkansas and Louisiana like Fountainbleau across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans or Camp Aldersgate in Arkansas in our early years in the 1970s.  There were good spirits and good vibes portending an excellent meeting in coming days.

 

Please enjoy Wasted Youth from Jenny Lewis.

Thanks to KABF.

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