A lesson from ACORN’s demise

April 1, 2010

SO THE Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is no more. Founded in 1970, with branches across the country and even around the world, this poor peoples' community organizing powerhouse has closed its doors.

After being smeared six months ago on Fox News by right-wing activist James O'Keefe, who posed as a pimp while secretly filming ACORN staffers, the Democrat-controlled Congress unconstitutionally cut off ACORN's funding for voter registration and other services. Private foundations followed. While remnants of the group may survive under different names, the collapse is enormous.

While reminiscent of McCarthyism's destruction of leftist unions in the early 1950s, the success of this attack is harder to understand. ACORN was not politically left of liberal- before supporting Obama, they had inclined toward Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

And while the right is growing more extreme and vocal, they are today a declining force with nothing like their McCarthy-era strength. But then as now, the Democrats' complicity was key.

This improbable right-wing victory is spawning imitators--witness the similar attempt to interview/smear leftist Professor Frances Fox Piven--and will spawn more.

What can be done?

One thing not to do is buy into the lies of the witch-hunters. Responding to the ACORN videos, Bill Fletcher, on BlackCommentator.com, wrote that they revealed a lack of "ethics," "training," and "common sense" at ACORN.

Actually, one of the employees filmed in the videos, Juan Carlos Vera, called the police on O'Keefe after the "filmmaker" left his office, a fact which received little attention. He and the other victim were fired anyway.

It can be tempting to react defensively during a witch-hunt. But making judgments based on tapes subject to manipulation by the likes of O'Keefe is a bad idea.

Another bad idea is running for cover. In San Diego, a coalition called People United for Social Justice held a rally against budget cuts shortly after the exposure of the videos.

Some of us proposed that we invite ACORN to speak at the rally, and use signs and chants to promote solidarity with them through slogans like "ACORN sí, Glenn Beck no" and "We stand with ACORN."

A staffer with the Service Employees International Union in the coalition argued that, though ACORN were SEIU's "friends," the rally should have nothing to do with them since they were having "PR issues." A speaker from Planned Parenthood threatened to pull out of the rally upon learning that ACORN would speak.

Fortunately, these voices did not win out. The rally offered moral support to several grateful ACORN members and a small example of a response to neo-McCarthyism based on solidarity from below. More could have been done afterwards, but ACORN itself chose to lay low at the height of the hysteria.

ACORN's galling end should spur the left to discuss ways to respond with street mobilization and political vigor to the next attack.
Avery Wear, San Diego

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