Spreading the ACORN Gospel from Bristol

10659099_851463934906612_4759811263599219174_oBristol              There’s no organizer that doesn’t want things faster, bigger, and better, which is usually why we are both gloriously happy for every day we are allowed to be part of the work and are worrying about the details the rest of the time.  Having now visited our quickly developing ACORN Bristol operation for the third time in the last nine months, there’s still a big grin on my face, because pure and simply, there’s great stuff happening.  Besides the work on the streets and the progress on the nuts and bolts organizing, ACORN Bristol has also fully embraced the evangelical mission of spreading the ACORN gospel throughout England, and it’s catching fire!

I could take a breath and watch more closely on what seemed almost my easiest day on this tour.  A bracing wind and rain in our face hiking briskly to the office from our Easton neighborhood by mid-morning had turned into a cooler, but beautiful day.  If there are farmer’s days, there are organizer’s days:  rain in the morning, sunshine in the afternoon when we are on the doors!  And after helping kick off an all-day training that ACORN Bristol was hosting for 15 community organizers from all over England, I was able to catch up on all of the work that was trailing behind me from various time zones and broken internet connections.  I would zip in every once in and while, and see the organizers circling the tables in a campaign planning exercise one time, practicing doorknocking raps another, and finally debriefing excitedly on their experience on the doors in Easton as well with the shock and awe of finding that the pieces really do come together and by god, it works!

By the final debriefing on the organizers’ return from the neighborhood, the ACORN Bristol circus was in full swing with more than a dozen members from Easton snugly around the table in our small, but practical office excitedly planning an upcoming action with a Halloween theme targeting real estate leasing or “letting” agents that have been part of the major campaign thrust since the group was founded.  I snuck my head in to take a picture as one of the members happened to jump up to demonstrate how a vampire letting agent might dance, and it was a hilarious treat, one of those spontaneous moments that define not just the special beauty of the work, but the joys of life itself.

The trainees in the other room in the final question and answer period were grilling the ACORN Bristol organizer about how they could manage to make this their work too.  How could they raise some money, find a space, and build ACORN in their cities or other cities throughout England?  What could ACORN Bristol do to help?  What could ACORN International add to the mix?  How were they doing the work in London and Edinburgh?  When was Reading starting to build to launch?  Were their plans for Birmingham?  If I could work anywhere, where would I be needed most?

It might not seem like a song to anyone else, but hours later when we walked into the night, a full moon over our shoulder, I thought I could still hear the choir in humming behind me.






Rethinking Training for Teachers, Doctors, and Even Organizers

teachNew Orleans       The old saw that went something like, “those that can, do; and those that can’t, teach,” is getting a beating about the face and arms now, as serious thinkers – and practitioners – in multiple fields are thoroughly beating down both the “nature versus nurture” mythology of the argument, as well as heavily funded disciplines that aren’t producing.

A bunch of healthcare professionals, economists, and others looked recently at the taxpayer funded $15 billion dollar annual investment in intensive clinical training for wannabe doctors’ finishing school, and flatly questioned its effectiveness. Accountability and oversight of medical training is at the heart of the issue.

Teaching seems to be a more and more schizophrenic profession by the day. One minute they are all saints and salvation, and the next they are the problem and the plague. Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works is actually a fascinating book not just about teachers, but about any profession, craft, or trade, including sports and organizing, where the arguable but unexamined bias is too often whether it’s mainly about people being “naturals” or born to the work or whether these are trainable, learned skills that can produced excellent practitioners. Green makes the case, and does a good job doing so, in a fairly undogmatic manner given the cultural and political wars around teaching these days, that it can’t be about the so-called “natural” teachers, but has to be about breaking the pieces down, better student engagement, and good, solid training that makes great teachers and therefore, importantly, produces real learning. She also proves her case in country after country, including the irony of Japanese teachers being systematically trained on American teaching principles and research that the US was ignoring, and then essentially, using what they had learned from us to kick our butts in the classroom over the last couple of decades.

This argument is also age old in organizing. Whether one just looks for the perfect pearls out there who are born to the work or thinks more deeply about how to breakdown the nuts and bolts to develop great organizers through training and practice is right beneath the surface of countless, classic arguments in both community and labor organizing. For decades I have come down on the latter side of the argument, which I think is compelling, especially if we are ever going to get to scale, particularly to meet the global need for mass organization.

The one thing we don’t have to worry about in organizing is whether or not someone, anyone in fact, is going to drop a billion dollars on the task. And, for those of us still working, too often we are so enmeshed in the daily business of moving one foot after the other that we can’t step back and do the research, evaluation, and redesign that’s needed.

Advocates for taking a harder look at doctors, the modern priests for many, and teachers, who secularists think hold the key to our future, may force those of us in the long and honorable tradition of organizing to finally get our arms around these fundamental issues as well.

Ps. Thanks for all of the birthday wishes. Wonderful to be able to keep drawing breath and walking the plant with all of you in my community!