Carl Horowitz

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, is a network of nonprofit community groups formed nearly 40 years ago on the premise that banks, corporations and insurance companies, immersed in greed, have kept poor and predominantly minority neighborhoods desperate. Within the past couple months, however, its leaders have been engaged in the more mundane task of spinning a scandal that already has claimed its most visible leader. To longtime ACORN critics, it’s a case of belated just deserts.

At the center of this storm are ACORN co-founder and chief organizer Wade Rathke and his brother, Dale. Wade Rathke is an almost legendary figure in progressive Left circles. Beginning in the Sixties as an SDS activist, he would go on to apply his talents to the National Welfare Rights Organization, whose principle legacy during its years of existence was a large expansion of welfare eligibility and dependency. Out of this experience came ACORN in 1970. Initially based in Little Rock and eventually in New Orleans, ACORN has become a giant oak tree. The group’s early agitprop rhetoric, as expressed in its People’s Platform, made clear its intent for the years ahead:

We are the majority, forged from all minorities. We are the masses of many, not the forces of few. Enough is enough. We will wait no longer for the crumbs at America’s door. We will not be meek, but mighty. We will not starve on past promises, but feast on future dreams.

From the start, ACORN has been unapologetically radical in both worldview and tactics. Taking its inspiration from Saul Alinsky-style neighborhood confrontation politics, the organization, now claiming about 1,200 chapters with some 400,000 households in the U.S. and abroad, prides itself in its ability to mobilize local residents into demanding and getting their fair share – regardless of whether the donations are voluntary. Right now, ACORN hopes to mobilize someone into replacing Wade Rathke.

Carl Horowitz

Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Gold Partner organization dedicated to promoting ethics in American public life.
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