The Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) was an organization that was meant to die. The eulogy could have been written back in 1970, the year the group was founded. By choosing to represent the interests of poor people and minorities in a capitalist democracy, the forces of eco-political nature were sure to guarantee its destruction.
Fighting for the poor in America is a job that is ultimately a bottomless pit of disappointment: your work is never complete, no one wants to help and people have conditioned their minds not to care. Soldiers like Cornel West and others who’ve made this into their life’s work are sent by God, for only a spirit of extraordinary benevolence can lead a man or woman to fight a war that will never be won. Forgive me for sounding pessimistic, but fighting for the poor is like fighting gravity, since the forces of capitalism always sink millions to the bottom.
Their will to stand up for the down-trodden was what saddened me about the death of ACORN, which had become one of the most powerful civil rights organizations in America. They were in trouble from the start, not just because they were advocating for the poor, but because they were also unwilling to do the things necessary to defend against their own vulnerabilities. When you are in the business of wrestling power from big places, you’d better make sure you wear your body armor.
ACORN went to battle without its political body armor and Fox News took advantage. Before the election of Barack Obama, the destruction of ACORN was not a high priority of the right wing. It was only after ACORN played an instrumental role in electing the first black president that the conservative white male started to feel like the underdog. The perceived disenfranchisement of the right wing via the election of Obama led them to begin the attacks on ACORN and organizations like them. When Fox News attacks, they strike their targets hard (I am not sure how I personally survived O’Reilly’s attacks on me). The Van Jones/Color of Change scandal was another case to prove that people don’t take lightly to those who seize either money or power away from them. By getting Obama elected, ACORN was claiming both.
In late 2009, Public Policy Polling stated that 26 percent of Americans think that ACORN stole the election for Obama. The majority of Republicans agreed with this assertion as well. So, not only was ACORN perceived to be a group that had taken power from those who felt entitled to possess it, they were also believed to have actually stolen that power. As such a large target with so many weaknesses, ACORN was surely going to be taken out. They’d become a serious threat to the electoral process, implying that even unethical measures would be used to undermine the organization’s influence.
The warning signs for ACORN should have been when Dale Rathke, the brother of the founder, Wade Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million dollars from the organization. This embarrassment was added to the allegations of fraud during voter registration drives. But even after experiencing such dramatic shocks to its system, ACORN still neglected to take the necessary steps to properly train its people. So, by the time the fake pimp rolled into town and fooled ACORN employees into helping them defraud the government, their death certificate was already sealed.
What’s next? Well, ACORN is making the intelligent move of dismantling and rebranding itself. Their spirit is not going to disappear, and the best way to disarm your enemies is to pretend that you are dead. Also, many of us can learn lessons from ACORN on how to run successful and effective non-profit organizations, as well as how to avoid particular pitfalls. The battle for the poor and downtrodden may never be won, but it is a battle that must be fought. ACORN taught us what is possible when it comes to giving a voice to the voiceless and having an impact on the world around us. For that, they should be applauded.
In China, they have a saying: “The fattest pig always gets slaughtered.” Not only was ACORN a fat political pig, but they were a sloppy one. As much as I hate saying it, Obama’s rise put the nail in their political coffin.