ACORN Newcastle Busts Sex-for-Rent Predators

crowd pouring in

Newcastle     My whistle-stop tour of England and Scotland is finally winding down but doing so with a roar.  In Newcastle a great crowd, breaking fifty people, streamed into the “proper” cinema at the Side Gallery, grabbing samosas and drinking box wine before the screening of “The Organizer.”   As a special treat, I got to sit in on a leadership organizing committee meeting before the screening, allowing me to get a sense of what was really happening with Newcastle ACORN and to observe the leaders in action along with ACORN’s organizer, Tom Scott.

Newcastle showing in a proper theater, the Side Gallery

The first item on the agenda was proof positive that I have been traveling too long, because someone it had slipped by me that an action by ACORN Newcastle had been on the BBC just last week as I was coming into the country.  An agenda time entitled “BBC Sex for Rent,” immediately catches your eye!

setting up for signup and ticket checks
report on an upcoming action on a forced eviction …Tom Scott, ACORN organizer standing

The report from one of the leaders, who had acted as a “decoy,” surrounded by Tom and other members in a café, as reported on the video by BBC, indicated that a landlord showed up who had responded to a craigslist posting.  ACORN had been hearing about this problem and had a member post the need for a room in the soaring rental market and the fact that temporarily she was short of money.  There was no artifice in the landlord’s reply, since he had directly responded that he would furnish a room in exchange for “occasional sex.”  No misunderstanding such a reply!  When he realized he was also being filmed, he bolted, and then was convinced to come back, arguing lamely that it wasn’t so much sex, but “companionship” he was seeking, which has to count as one of the lamest lies by a landlord ever.  If he had wanted simply companionship, he could have replied in that vein and willingly offered a spare room to someone in need, rather than stating flatly the exchange for his generosity would be sleeping with him from time to time.

leadership organizing committee before the screening
setting up the food

            Other women at the leadership meeting shared their stories of looking for rent in various cities and being directly or subtly propositioned by landlords in the same way.  ACORN has opened up an issue that is likely a #MeToo moment for many women in our membership and constituency who seem easy prey when they were wishing, as Langston Hughes wrote, “that rent were heaven sent.”

full house with over 50 in Newcastle

I would bet many meetings would find women testifying about similar cases, and once our members started talking about landlords, employers and others would likely be on the list.  If predators with slightly more power can exploit women in big business and Hollywood, it boggles the mind and enrages the soul to thing how often this is part of the daily experience of women with less income and power.

Cheers to ACORN Newcastle for breaking this wide open!


Standing Room Only in Paris and Interesting Question about Free Speech

Paris     What do I know?  The young organizer was worried that the room we had for screening the documentary on ACORN called “The Organizer” in Paris was too small.  More than 40 people had said they were coming on Facebook.  I assured her we would be lucky to break 20 or 25, especially since the movie was virtually all in English except for some short pieces in Spanish in Honduras, Kannada in Bengaluru, and French in Cameroon, and Facebook “likes” have no meaning any more.  Wow, was I wrong!

I knew something was happening when we already had 8 to 10 people 15 minutes before showtime.  When the movie began we had close to 40 and others trickled in during the first 30 minutes.  And, despite the close, warm room and tightly packed with people sitting on tables and standing along the edges, and the breaks for translation every 10 or 15 minutes, the crowd stayed until the bitter end.  Subtitles, S’il vous plaît !!!

At the end of the movie I was able to give the usual thanks to our affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne and our partner ReAct, but the questions were very interesting in some cases, even for me as increasingly a veteran with a number of these screenings under my belt.  I was asked the usual questions of course.  Was Bernie Sanders making a difference and was there hope there?  What were our plans internationally?  Could we organize all over France, to which I answered, you’ve seen the documentary, so you know we believe we have to be truly national to build national power.  How do we organize, to which I was able to answer:  read Nuts & Bolts, and they were able to rejoin, how soon will it be translated into French – when I answered perhaps in a year, there were actually howls of protest.  I love organizing in France!

Where once in New York I was asked what was the chance of ending capitalism, in Paris I got a question from what of the movie organizers, about where ACORN stood on creating the revolution.  Both questions would stump the stars!

One of the most interesting questions I got was about, Fox News, Glenn Beck and Megan Kelley.  In the United States, several asked, aren’t there penalties and recourse for the kind of vicious, public media attack ACORN had experienced in 2009 and 2010?  Usually, when ACORN raises the principle of free speech, it is to defend our right to speak as others are trying to prevent our leaders and members from speaking.  This time I was answering that we have free speech and public discourse, even at the top of our lungs, in the United States so the only recourse is speaking back when attached, even if unable to access the same kinds of major megaphones Fox and others have.

There was head shaking and looks of disbelief.  Several said it would have been different in France, setting me back on my heels as I continued to argue that we had to be able to take a punch and keep fighting.

Walking to the Metro later that night, I found myself continuing to mull over the question, but still convinced that less free speech would hurt organizing and our organizations more than some fig leaf shot at damages in some court after blows have already been landed.  Hearing Trump argue for more protection against “fake news,” even as he mass produces it, finds me surprised at how European he must be without realizing it as he shouts, “America First!”