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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whither Acorn?

This is an evaluation of the Acorn situation from the left. Rather than simply write off the attack from the right Fletcher freely admits that the revelations of the right plus the question of embezzlement of funds should be a wakeup call. Instead the organisation has often reacted arrogantly. It seems that the leadership has its head in the sand like an ostrich and just refuses to look at itself. Fletcher has some positive suggestions as to how ACORN should move forward. One could add that a first step would be for the president leadership to simply resign.

Whither ACORN?By Bill Fletcher, Jr.BlackCommentator.com
Executive Director
Sometimes an organization is faced with a crisis of such proportionsthat it calls into question its integrity and relationship with thepublic. In the corporate world, one can think of the airline ValuJetwhich, after the disastrous crash into the Everglades of one of itsplanes, so lost the confidence of the public that it had to shut down;remake itself; and brand itself with a new name: AirTran.It is important to separate the attacks on ACORN which it is receivingfrom the political Right from the actual content of the organization’sproblems. Let’s face it: any progressive organization, particularlyone as significant as ACORN, must assume that it will be attacked bythe political Right. In fact, the Right is very clear about that. So,the fact of an attack from the Right should come as no surprise.Something is very wrong in ACORN and, unfortunately, the leadership ofthe organization does not seem to recognize the depth of the problem.The alleged embezzlement of nearly one million dollars by Dale Rathke,the brother of ACORN founder and long-time chief organizer, WadeRathke, sent shockwaves throughout the progressive movement andfoundation community. It was not simply the fact of the alleged theft,but the reported manner in which this had been covered up such thatmuch of the leadership, not to mention the membership, apparently hadno knowledge of the circumstances. The matter was handled much like afamily embarrassment rather than as a legal and ethical challenge.Now we are made witness to one of the most bizarre circumstances I canremember. Right-wingers, with a clear objective of discrediting ACORNlargely due to its voter registration work among people of color,undertook a mission to display ACORN’s alleged corruption to theworld. It does not matter, to a great degree, that in many places thatthese right-wingers showed up that they were thrown out. What mattersis that they captured on camera ACORN employees allegedly offering toassist undercover personnel in the establishment of a BROTHEL!!!Unless those ACORN employees were plants within ACORN, there is anobvious question: what could those employees possibly have beenthinking about? What level of training and supervision, not to mentionethics, were they guided by such that they would think that this waspermissible? On top of all of this, what sort of basic common sensedid they lack that they would not GUESS that this might have been aset up?The response from the ACORN leadership to this latest incident hasbeen to terminate the employees and insist that this isunrepresentative of the work of ACORN. While I know that this is notrepresentative of the work of ACORN, such an answer is insufficient atbest. Leaving aside other allegations targeted at ACORN, the questionis what is going on in the leadership such that such actions canunfold?>From the outside it appears that at least two things are operatingwithin ACORN. The first is arrogance within a part of the leadership.That fact that a clique within the leadership would attempt to shroudan alleged theft and treat it as if it were a personal matter displaysa significant level of lack of accountability. The extent of thealleged embezzlement was such that criminal prosecution should havebeen entertained immediately. Yet this clique kept this silent and didnot discuss the ramifications for the entire organization.The second thing that appears to be operating is that the organizationis not operating, at least in a functional manner. In other words,there is a systemic lack of accountability and training. On the onehand, in the face of the right-wing provocation, some citiesimmediately recognized that something was up, but, for reasonsunknown, this was not communicated to the entire organization. Worse,that some employees when actually confronted with an illegal businessproposition did not have the proper awareness of the consequences ofgiving advice on an illegal matter shows, at a minimum, poor judgment.The subsequent attacks on ACORN by the Right, therefore, have beenentirely predictable. ACORN has opened itself up and invited the enemyin. Yet they now wish for all liberals and progressives to rallyaround them in their defense yet their leadership only offers ananemic explanation of the depths of this crisis.Should ACORN dissolve? Absolutely not. ACORN has been an essentialpart of the progressive movement for nearly forty years. That said,neither should progressives act as if the extent of the crisis inACORN can be ignored. Certainly the attacks on ACORN by the Right areboth politically and racially motivated. But that does not mean thatACORN can afford to act as if nothing is new under the Sun. In manyother countries, in the face of such scandals the entire leadershipwould resign without a moment’s second thought. Yet here, in the faceof repeated, humiliating mistakes, the leadership seems to think thatrelatively minor changes can remedy the extent of the problem.What can ACORN do?1. Bring in a crisis management team to take over the day-to-dayoperations of ACORN: The current managing leadership should be eithersuspended or given other duties while a new management team is broughtinto ACORN to assess the extent of the organization’s problems andINTRODUCE changes in the day-to-day operations of the organization.This should include an evaluation of current staff and supervisors,financial accountability, ethics and other aspects of organization. Anew organization operating system needs to be put into place to ensurestaff accountability, including in the hiring process. Such a teamwould be on temporary assignment to ACORN to assist in the rebuildingof the organization.2. Leadership retreat: One part of the work of the crisis managementteam should be the organizing of a leadership retreat of the currentnational leadership plus any additional key leaders from chaptersaround the country. Such a retreat should aim at evaluating the natureof the current crisis in the organization; what has worked; what hasfailed; and new strategic directions. New leadership elections shouldbe organized.3. An apology to the friends, supporters and members of ACORN: To behonest, I do not want to hear anything more about how the Right isattacking ACORN. What I do want to hear is how sorry and self-criticalthe ACORN leadership is about the current state of affairs and howthey, in fact, let down the members, supporters and friends of theorganization.I know what the objectives of the Right are: they want to eliminateany and all evidence of a progressive movement in the USA. What we donot have to do is make their job any easier.BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a SeniorScholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate pastpresident of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided:The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice(University of California Press), which examines the crisis oforganized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.http://www.blackcommentator.com/343/343_aw_wither_acorn.html

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