"Can you help me reach Dallas ACORN?"
"Sure, 214-823-4580. It's been the same number for years and years."
"The recording says it's not a working number..."
Take a drive by 5353 Maple Street, just behind the Medical Center, in Dallas. The Maple Professional Building is still there. The studio for KNON radio is still there. But ACORN is gone. Their office is closed. The big mural celebrating their Dallas victories has disappeared. The signs saying this way for that kind of help and that way for the other, are gone. The union associated with them, SEIU Local 100, has changed its name and moved out.
KNON radio, which formerly advertised ACORN and ACORN activities every few minutes, is still on the air but doesn't mention ACORN at all anymore. ACORN is blacklisted, gone from the airwaves.
The Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now began in Arkansas during the times when it was fairly easy to get government or foundation money for worthwhile community causes. Apparently, they were good at writing proposals, because they grew rapidly throughout the country and even overseas. They always focused on low and moderate income families, and they were a lot of help. They had a formidable voter registration and lobbying effort, both at the national and at local levels. A lot of African American families joined them, and community leaders were elected to top positions. Immigrants from the South could also turn to ACORN for help with their taxes, tenant advice, help in negotiating loans, and other kinds of help.
ACORN probably received a boost when the government's VISTA program petered out. Young college graduates, afire with moral purpose and uncaring of worldly income, would take low-paying ACORN jobs. Most of them ended up canvassing African American neighborhoods for new ACORN members. They received a commission based on how many they signed up. Many a young organizer, including Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO, found their first stepping stone at Dallas ACORN.
Some ACORN employees were totally dedicated to the organization. Some of them believed that they were not just social reformers getting potholes fixed or traffic signs replaced, but were actually revolutionaries. Their underlying theory was that the "most oppressed people," not the working class, would eventually make a revolution in the United States. The "most oppressed" people, those with the lowest incomes, were the most motivated to overthrow capitalism. All they needed was organization, and ACORN was better at that than just about anybody!
Those of us who realize that Marx was right, that the working class is the only class capable of standing up against capitalism, tried to work with ACORN on critical issues. Usually, they were difficult to work with, since they felt that ACORN itself, and its legions of "most oppressed people," was the key to a bright future in America. They didn't make good coalition partners, but they were very effective on their own projects, and they welcomed help from unionists and others, even though they were unlikely to reciprocate.
Over the past year or so, ACORN ran into a little trouble. They caught an embezzler, the lead organizer's brother. Neither brother is with ACORN any more. They took some bad publicity when some of the low-paid organizers they hired to register voters for the 2008 election misbehaved. ACORN caught the errors themselves and turned it in to election officials, but the news reports made it sound as if some deep conspiracy was underfoot. The way that the facts were bent made it clear that big corporatate news agencies were out to get ACORN. The final blow was when undercover agents were able, after failing several times, to convince one of ACORN's barely-trained organizers to look the other way when they made an outrageous plea for help in a ludicrously illegal venture.
The corporate media leapt on ACORN like werewolves. Rupert Murdoch's Fox network led he charge, but all of them participated in ripping the flesh from ACORN and crunching its bones. Politicians, many of whom had been more than glad to accept ACORN's help in earlier campaigns, cut the organization dead. It was shocking to see the amounts of government money that ACORN had been receiving as each grant was listed and taken away!
ACORN fought back legally and won at least one important lawsuit against the witch-hunt. A lot of e-mail appeals for funding came from National ACORN, but Dallas saw no broad civil-liberties defense coalition. Very few other progressive organizations would have rallied to defend ACORN, even if they had been asked. ACORN was grudgingly admired, but not liked.
The witch-hunt prevailed. Dallas ACORN did not call on other progressive groups to defend them, there was no local defense coalition, and Dallas ACORN is gone.