This African proverb has words to live by: “If there is no enemy inside, the enemy outside can do you no harm.” Where the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN, is concerned, those words are close to a cautionary tale.
A few weeks ago, conservative activist and filmmaker James O’Keefe and college student Hannah Giles went to various ACORN offices throughout the country posing as a pimp and a prostitute in need of help with housing. Though not all offices took the bait – the Philadelphia office actually called the police – the two received enough help in Baltimore, Brooklyn, San Bernardino, and Washington, DC to call ACORN’s integrity into question.
O’Keefe provided the covertly taped “gotcha” video to Fox News, and the network proceeded to extend the story beyond ACORN. Rather than report this as a series of isolated incidents, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News said the tapes proved not only that the group is “corrupt,” but also that corruption extends to the Obama Administration. While the broad anti-Obama accusations have fallen flat, the Fox News commentators raised enough of an uproar to lead the U.S. Senate to vote 83-7 to cut off federal funding to ACORN.
Not to be undone, Republican presidential wannabe Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, made a big stink ordering his state to immediately cut off all funding to ACORN. The fact that Louisiana didn’t provide any funding to ACORN this fiscal year was beside the point.
Since the scandal broke, ACORN president Bertha Lewis has gone on record saying that ACORN will hire an auditor to help root out all bad seeds within the organization. This may make an impact, but frankly, had the ACORN workers caught on film acted with integrity, this would all be a moot point.
What they did was indefensible. I know a “jacking” when I see one, and make no mistake about it: where some on the right are concerned, this is bigger than ACORN and even bigger than President Obama. This is about discrediting, devaluing and making political cannon fodder of populist issues. By populist, I am speaking about those collection of issues that seem to confront black, brown and poor people daily.
If Beck, O’Reilly and Fox News cared so much about this country, where were they during Hurricane Katrina? I don’t know where they were, but I do know where ACORN was. ACORN was in New Orleans putting up makeshift street signs, organizing and advocating on behalf of the people who were devastated by Katrina.
Where was their “fair and objective” coverage of the subprime meltdown? Where were their investigative reporters when numerous African-Americans were cajoled into dubious subprime mortgages even when they had credit scores of 780 and higher, scores that easily qualified them for conventional mortgages? Despite these facts, some on the right will scream that if black people spent as much time looking for jobs as they did looking for racism, they wouldn’t have any problems.
Let me be clear, ACORN’s actions deserved to be exposed, and they deserve to be punished. But let me be equally clear, ACORN is not a big American problem. The problems that ACORN attempts to fix – neighborhood safety, health care, living wages and affordable housing – are the systemic American problems we should be addressing. The real danger is the effort to prove that these systemic problems do not exist. This distorts and slows the reaction time to America’s pressing problems. Given the state of the world and the myriads of problems confronting America, I can think of nothing that is more anti-American.