The events of the past two weeks have laid bare America’s secret: that poverty abounds in this profoundly unequal nation. As the body count in New Orleans rises, it has become abundantly clear that the plight of America’s poor–who have suffered particularly harsh setbacks in the past three decades–is nothing short of an epidemic. Yet throughout this era of rollbacks and blind-eye politics, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) has tirelessly fought back on behalf of our nation’s other half. This week, we offer a special Sweet Victory tribute to a fearless organization that has long stood on the forefront of the movement for economic justice.
In 1970, Wade Rathke arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas, and organized a drive to help welfare recipients attain clothing and furniture. Months later, the Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now–a broad-based coalition that had grown out of Rathke’s early efforts–was taking on Arkansas Power and Light, one of the state’s largest corporate players. ACORN demanded compensation for local farmers whose livelihoods were endangered by AP&L’s plans for a new power plant. After months of organized pressure from ACORN, AP&L backed down and dropped the plans altogether.
A decade later, ACORN had expanded into twenty different states and was creating national headlines with its nine-point “People’s Platform” and squatting campaign, which hammered the issue of affordable housing into the national discourse. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, ACORN fought vigilantly against insurance redlining–a practice that, thanks largely to ACORN’s efforts, is now illegal–and helped secure housing for thousands of low-income individuals.
In recent years, ACORN has been a critical player in the living wage movement and has battled courageously against the practice of predatory lending, winning a landmark settlement in a nationwide class-action suit against Household Finance (now under HSBC) in 2003. ACORN has also created alternative public schools in several cities, improved health conditions for residents living in toxic environments and worked to tear down barriers to enfranchisement across the country. In 2004 alone, ACORN members registered more than 1.1 million new voters.
Today, ACORN has an active membership of 175,000 member families, with 850 neighborhood chapters in seventy-five cities across America. In 2004, ACORN became an international organization, opening chapters in Canada, the Dominican Republic and Peru. ACORN’s website features more on the organization’s history and a complete list of its astounding accomplishments.
It is a tragic irony that ACORN–an organization that has perhaps done more than any other to support those whom our government has left behind–was among the victims of Katrina’s aftermath. Its national headquarters, which are located New Orleans, have been severely damaged, and now ACORN needs your help. As I’ve suggested in previous weblogs, please consider making a donation so that ACORN can build a temporary headquarters, get back on its feet and continue to do its vital work. In times like these, we need ACORN more than ever.
* * *
Finally, a brief Sweet Victory nod to Representative John Conyers and his fellow Progressive Caucus members Representative Mel Watt, Representative Jerrold Nadler, and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee for their stand against the Bankruptcy Bill. The bill, which is slated to take effect on October 17, will be another devastating blow to the tens of thousands of displaced and debt-ridden New Orleanians. Conyers and others need our help in their effort to exempt the victims of Katrina from this cruel bill that unjustly penalizes the poor. Contact your representatives and urge them to act in the interests of people over corporate interests. If not now, when?