How Did the Media Fail ACORN and Organizing?

Organizing has been under attack for years, but this time around, the media has been directly complicit in severely damaging one of most influential advocates for low- and moderate-income families in the country. How did the media miss the real story behind the assault on ACORN?

Losing ACORN

For the working poor, losing ACORN is tragic. With a Democratic Congress and the election of Obama, ACORN’s really modest operation, run out of well-worn offices, using donated computers and torn furniture, paying low salaries for long hours, should have been flexing its muscles, providing a louder voice for the less powerful. In this hopeful political moment, this effective group had its capacity to give voice to the poor compromised.

People concerned about poverty in the United States can ill afford to lose ACORN. Few organizations recognize how hard it is to build membership-based community organizations among the poor — much less one that has lasted four decades. Its organizing — door-knocking in low-income neighborhoods to identify problems and recruit members — is one of the best training grounds for new young organizers, and ACORN increasingly has recruited its staff from among the ranks of its low-income minority members.

Meanwhile ACORN members like Oakland’s Martha Daniels continue the fight to stop the foreclosures. After securing a job helping young people in an intensive job skills training program, she became a leader of the California Home Defenders. Her husband Eddie remained active at their church, and led bible studies each week. The Daniels family is in the process of purchasing a home through the Oakland Community Land Trust — another ACORN project. According to Urban Strategies chief executive Junius Williams, the trust buys abandoned homes, rehabilitates them, and then sells the houses (but not the land) at low-interest loans to members of the community. By maintaining ownership of the land, the land trust will keep the prices of the homes affordable, and it continually raises money to buy up abandoned properties. “Our community land trust is just one of the strategies that ACORN and Urban Strategies are pursuing,” Williams said. “First we try to keep people from getting into foreclosures.”

With the increased attacks against ACORN, members of ACORN’s California chapter decided to build a new community organization. On January 13, 2010, ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) announced its formation. The organization, though brand new, legally independent, and distinct from ACORN in key ways, seeks to carry on the mission and build upon the best aspects of the ACORN organization in California.

Martha and Eddie Daniels are now active community leaders — they are founding members of ACCE and frequently have meetings of their neighbors at their home to discuss housing jobs, education, and other community concerns.

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