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ACORNís Seeds Sprout Up Across the Country

 
 
Posted Monday, January 13th 2014 @ 10am  by David Freedlander

In 2010, ACORN, the grassroots organizing group, was reeling from a series of scandals, and with most of its funding pulled, shuttered the last of its remaining offices around the country.

For conservatives, it was a triumph. The newly ascendant right-wing blogosphere caught ACORN reps on tape giving their low-income clients advice on how to engage in tax evasion, human smuggling, and child prostitution (the tapes, it was revealed later were heavily and selectively edited). What’s more, the right shut down an organization that was responsible for one quarter of all new voter registrations around the country, and had pushed for low-income housing and living-wage jobs over the past four decades.

Four years later, it appears as if those shouts of celebration from the likes of Sarah Palin, Andrew Breitbart, and Rush Limbaugh may have been premature. That’s because from Florida to California, dozens of entities have sprung up in the wake of ACORN, many of them with the same leadershipand doing the same work that the group did for 40 years.

“These guys created a bunch of organizing Frankensteins around the country,” said Bertha Lewis, who was the ACORN CEO when the organization folded and who now leads The Black Institute, a think tank dedicated to African-American issues. “I had to dismantle ACORN, but nature abhors a vacuum. What were those former ACORN members to do? They were so angry at what they thought was so bogus and unfair that they said we are not going to go away. We have to reorganize.”

In Philadelphia, the former head of ACORN Pennsylvania leads a group now called Action United, which, together with teachers unions and labor groups fought efforts to shutter low-performing schools, leading direct campaigns that disrupted state board of education meetings. In California, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), lead by an 18-year ACORN vet, is occupying foreclosed homes in San Francisco and pushing the mayor of Richmond to use eminent domain to prevent more foreclosures. In Chicago, a former ACORN organizer leads a group called Action Now, which has battled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over issues like the minimum wage and school reform.  Action Now recently helped elect Toni Foulkes, a former Chicago ACORN leader, to the Chicago City Council.

“It was hard to see people I cared about go through with that and it was hard to see an organization I was a part of go through that. I was proud of what we did in Chicago,” said Katelyn Johnson, head of Action Now. But, she added, “The issues are the same. ACORN was able to do a lot of things for low-income people, but they were stopped. The demand and the anger and the frustration continue to flow. Inequality is as high as it has ever been.”

Perhaps nowhere has an ACORN spin-off been as successful as one has in New York City. There, New York Communities for Change, operating out of the same offices that once housed the local ACORN chapter, has led massive rallies for car wash  and fast food workers, and played an important role in getting Bill de Blasio elected mayor. Last week, the group took partial credit for steering Melissa Mark Viverito, a former labor organizer turned city councilwoman who once got arrested at Occupy Wall Street  into the job of city council speaker, the second-highest ranking elected office in New York City.

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