ACORN Is the New Dirty Word

New America Media, Commentary, Rinku Sen Posted: Oct 01, 2009

Editor's Note: The assault on the community group ACORN is a larger attack on community organizing and threatens all communities, argues Rinku Sen, the executive director of the Applied Research Center and the author of "The Accidental American."

Over the last 18 months, conservatives have launched a nationwide assault on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which is now peaking with widespread media coverage and Congressional action. This isn’t the first time that the 37-year-old organization has been under attack. With chapters in more than half the 50 states, it is arguably the largest national network that consistently organizes truly poor people, the vast majority being immigrants and people of color. In that time, ACORN has helped communities organize for desperately needed changes, from living wage ordinances to policies that protect every child’s right to a high quality education. In this time, ACORN has angered many a local politician and multinational corporation, and these folks would be perfectly happy not only to see ACORN go down, but also to deal a blow to poor people organizing for power.

There are three major accusations against the group. First, that there is widespread financial corruption; second that they engage in massive voter fraud; and finally that they have too many different entities hiding their relationship to each other to get around legal limitations. As a natural outgrowth of its organizing, ACORN has provided critical services, including mortgage counseling, voter registration and tax preparation. These services were sometimes funded through federal government contracts, and it is those contracts that Congress is now threatening to end.

The only hard fact is that there was embezzlement. Though problematic, it was addressed both within and outside of the organization. The rest is a mash-up of misinformation with a lot of red-baiting and race-baiting, as Peter Dreier, the Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and others have reported.

These fabrications are designed to arouse distrust of collective action. The campaign against ACORN serves as an attack on organizing as a whole, which no community of color can afford not to do. We can see it from the denunciation of President Obama’s background in community organizing to Glenn Beck’s attacks on environmental leader Van Jones, cultural leader Yosi Sergeant and FCC Diversity Chief Mark Lloyd. This attack, like those, is a warning to anyone who adopts organizing as a social change strategy.

Does ACORN need tighter internal controls? Certainly, and so do most community organizations, which are perpetually cash-strapped, in part because funders are never interested in funding “overhead” and “administration.” If the search for “corruption” among community-based organizations gathers steam, I guarantee that any number of groups will be tied up in investigative hell for years. It’s dangerous to imagine that once they’re done with ACORN, the right won’t come looking for that one mistake you made years ago that can be attached to a bunch of lies to discredit and take down your organization. Obviously, we should pay attention to our inner workings, whether someone is paying for that or not, but even the most rigorous internal scrutiny won’t save us from a well-funded opposition that is willing to lie.

The attack on ACORN isn’t about fighting corruption. If it was, then dozens of corporations with federal contracts far larger than ACORN’s would be under investigation now, or would already have been cut off. The anti-ACORN Senate bill implicates any government contractor that has fraudulent paperwork, or is accused of violating lobbying or campaign finance laws. That list includes Blackwater, the private security contractor that has been implicated in civilian deaths during the Iraq war. Florida Congressman Alan Grayson is collecting a list of such contractors.

Of course, Congress could make ACORN obsolete by passing and enforcing laws that protect poor people from being pushed to the margins of society. Instead of paying ACORN to register voters, the federal government could actually punish voter suppression, which is largely directed at people of color and immigrants. It could adopt automatic voter registration systems that would be triggered by an 18th birthday or driver’s license being issued. It could pass predatory lending laws that protect us from insane interest rates, and then ACORN wouldn’t have to counsel its members about avoiding foreclosure.

The assault on ACORN is an assault on community organizing. Organizing is essential to building the power of poor people, immigrants and people of color to protect their interests. This is the time to stand up for ACORN, not just to keep this vital part of our national infrastructure, but also to prevent the hate from tying up all of us. That’s why we must demand that our election officials and media outlets stop this unwarranted campaign against the poor and people of color.



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orlando johnson on Oct 05, 2009 at 11:26:30 said:

Orlando Johnson I'm from Oakland Ca, and a member of Oakland Community Action Network

and are City symbol is the Oak tree which The seed for the Oak tree is called an acorn.

WE ARE NOT apart of the Acorn Organization that you read or see on the media news, or affiliated

sorry if there is a misunderstanding, if you want information on our organization feel free to email me at ojocan@gmail.com, peace and may GOD bless you on your success (smile) and that's a Good Piece


orlando johnson on Oct 05, 2009 at 11:22:21 said:

"Money consists only of an agreement within a community to use something as a medium of exchange" Alternative Currency For Oakland Residents And Neighbors

I think that Oakland can fashion a card that would be of great benefit to all the residents of Oakland. Only a narrow slice of the resident population uses the zoo, the libraries, and other local services that are in the control of City government. It is not the cost that keeps most Oakland residents away from these services; it is the degree of interest and the availability of alternative activities that residents can also afford. In addition, only a slice of the low-income residents have or will use discount cards or prepaid credit cards. My suggestion is that we address the roots of one of Oakland’s most intractable problems (money does not turn over hardly at all)with a new system.

One way to address this problem is the creation of a local currency. This is a “merchant credit system.” The ID card becomes the carrier for a local, virtual, Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors (ACORN). In other words, we would call that local currency the “ACORN.” This captures a local prosperity/growth concept for the currency. The United States has a rich history of local currencies. [If you are not aware of this, check out - for example - the following web site: . There are local


currencies in Ithaca (N.Y.), Berkshire (Mass.), Humboldt (CA.), Lawrence (Kansas), Floyd (Virginia), Calgary (Canada), and many more places in this country and around the world. There are more references at the end of this piece.]

The “big boys” use currency trading not only to hedge against inflation and trade fluctuations but also to amass assets; a local currency would make some of those options available to the City of Oakland and the “little guy.” An additional important benefit is to keep more resources within the micro-economy of the City. Currently Oakland has the lowest “multiplier rate” of any city in the Bay Area; that means that the money that flows into Oakland “turns over” very few times before it flows out into other communities. Local currency significantly increases the “multiplier rate.”

Past attempts to address this problem included attempting to have more City employees live in Oakland, thus expecting them to spend the public dollars from their paychecks in Oakland. [The State constitution does not allow Oakland - unlike some cities in eastern states - to require employees to live in the boundaries of the City.] Oakland has discussed using incentives to achieve this local residency of City employees. The City also instituted various weak “hire Oakland” programs. We have made major efforts to attract major retail outlets hoping to capture more of the retail dollar that leaks outside of our community; for many reasons this has not worked well enough either. [Part of this problem is the lack of resources and attention that is paid to small local businesses: the business sector that has proven the most capable of benefiting and benefiting from local prosperity.] A $100 bill spent at a chain store like Borders will generate $13 for the local economy; that same $100 bill spent at a local independent book store will generate $45 for the local economy. Local merchants’ groups struggle with the City to promote Oakland businesses with buy-local advertising programs. Some local merchants are currently considering a pre-paid VISA card to promote the Oakland “brand.” The ACORN ID-currency card has many advantages over this credit card idea.

Oakland’s attempts at attracting meeting/convention business and tourism has also had limited benefits because tourists simply take BART over to San Francisco to spend their money. If Oakland does not correct for this problem, no amount of convention business, housing development, or office development will improve our local economic situation very much over all. I think that the development of a local currency will be of immediate help. In the tourist business for example, the City, hotels, or visitor sites, as a promotion, could give tourists ACORNs to stimulate their expenditures in Oakland.

In addition, one of the largely unspoken criticisms of the “undocumented” is the millions of dollars that they send to their home country (remittances) that are taken out of the economies of local communities. [This criticism does not take into account the money immigrants spend in the community that might not happen if they were not present to do the work at the compensation levels that are offered.] If the work of employees in Oakland were compensated - at least in part - in ACORNs (and ACORNs were accepted for goods and services by Oakland restaurants, retail stores, etc.), this would be a huge boost to Oakland's economy - producing more local jobs and allowing higher salaries in the local services economy. More of the income earned in Oakland would stay in Oakland. This would tremendously increase the “multiplier effect.”

Oakland could engage a larger number of activities than is contemplated in San Francisco by making the ID card function as local currency. Dr. Raul Hinojosa of UCLA estimates a huge multibillion dollar development potential by working more justly with immigrant residents. If just 10% of City employees’ pay were paid in equivalent ACORNs, approximately $30 million dollars would be injected into Oakland’s local economy, guaranteed. This would add significantly to the increased economic participation by those now in the shadows, the “undocumented.” If School District employees are also partially paid in ACORNs and the College District and the School District worked with students and parents so that youth in Oakland got and used the card with the local currency, the benefits would be maximized. No longer would our youth need to walk around with cash in their pockets and their purchases could be monitored.

If the City accepts ACORNs for the payment of parking fees, fines, business licenses, development fees, etc., this will facilitate the circulation of the ACORN in Oakland. The City could encourage the hiring of Oakland residents and many other things by encouraging businesses and others to accept ACORNs and by giving them a cut in costs if they pay by ACORNs. The City would lose little since the greatest economic problem in Oakland is the loss of the economic “multiplier effect” that will be corrected using the ACORN cards.

With the participation of a local bank or financial institution, a magnetic-strip card that could be used in the current card reader technology could be easily implemented. This bank or financial institution would also be able to provide currency exchange services from US dollars to ACORNs as well as exchanges with the currency of other cities and other countries. This includes exchanges with the Native American reservations associated with the significant population of people from indigenous tribes that live in Oakland; Oakland has one of the highest concentrations of indigenous people west of the Mississippi. Most of the accounts (checking and savings) of the previously undocumented would probably be placed at this institution in addition to the processing of their remittances. City and School District employees would likely want to open up other accounts in the financial institution that also has their ACORN account. The People’s Community Partnership Federal Credit Union has shown interest and is researching regulatory restrictions. This program is in agreement with their corporate mission.

In addition, local currency would encourage intra-Oakland business-to-business commerce. This would benefit the small and people-of-color businesses in Oakland more than the chains, thus stimulating more local ownership success. Businesses, which “got on board” with this early, would have “a leg up” on lagging businesses in competing for these resources.

The Hass School of Business, the Goldman School, and business schools and economic departments from Stanford, Mills College and other nearby education institutions could constitute an Oakland ACORN “Reserve Board” to monitor and control the ACORN currency for the benefit of Oakland residents. The “Reserve Board” would also be responsible for the financial education of resident adults and youth. The study of the workings of the local currency could be beneficial to our youth to learn and understand economics at a deeper level. The participation of the School District in this educational effort would give a huge boost to the long-term success and prosperity of the community. Oakland could truly become a “model city” in every way, including through its economic system and its education about economics.
There may even be uses for the local currency to benefit Oakland’s international trade position, as the fifth largest port in the U.S. Traders may - at times - want the option to denominate their trade to the U.S. in a currency other than the U.S. dollar. In addition, because of the hugely diverse international resident population in Oakland, establishing currency exchange rates with other countries would facilitate more small businesses and local residents getting involved in the international trade business. Making true what I think Oakland’s permanent slogan ought to be, Oakland, Home to the World"Money consists only of an agreement within a community to use something as a medium of exchange" Alternative Currency For Oakland Residents And Neighbors

I think that Oakland can fashion a card that would be of great benefit to all the residents of Oakland. Only a narrow slice of the resident population uses the zoo, the libraries, and other local services that are in the control of City government. It is not the cost that keeps most Oakland residents away from these services; it is the degree of interest and the availability of alternative activities that residents can also afford. In addition, only a slice of the low-income residents have or will use discount cards or prepaid credit cards. My suggestion is that we address the roots of one of Oakland’s most intractable problems (money does not turn over hardly at all)with a new system.

One way to address this problem is the creation of a local currency. This is a “merchant credit system.” The ID card becomes the carrier for a local, virtual, Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors (ACORN). In other words, we would call that local currency the “ACORN.” This captures a local prosperity/growth concept for the currency. The United States has a rich history of local currencies. [If you are not aware of this, check out - for example - the following web site: There are local


currencies in Ithaca (N.Y.), Berkshire (Mass.), Humboldt (CA.), Lawrence (Kansas), Floyd (Virginia), Calgary (Canada), and many more places in this country and around the world. There are more references at the end of this piece.]

The “big boys” use currency trading not only to hedge against inflation and trade fluctuations but also to amass assets; a local currency would make some of those options available to the City of Oakland and the “little guy.” An additional important benefit is to keep more resources within the micro-economy of the City. Currently Oakland has the lowest “multiplier rate” of any city in the Bay Area; that means that the money that flows into Oakland “turns over” very few times before it flows out into other communities. Local currency significantly increases the “multiplier rate.”

Past attempts to address this problem included attempting to have more City employees live in Oakland, thus expecting them to spend the public dollars from their paychecks in Oakland. [The State constitution does not allow Oakland - unlike some cities in eastern states - to require employees to live in the boundaries of the City.] Oakland has discussed using incentives to achieve this local residency of City employees. The City also instituted various weak “hire Oakland” programs. We have made major efforts to attract major retail outlets hoping to capture more of the retail dollar that leaks outside of our community; for many reasons this has not worked well enough either. [Part of this problem is the lack of resources and attention that is paid to small local businesses: the business sector that has proven the most capable of benefiting and benefiting from local prosperity.] A $100 bill spent at a chain store like Borders will generate $13 for the local economy; that same $100 bill spent at a local independent book store will generate $45 for the local economy. Local merchants’ groups struggle with the City to promote Oakland businesses with buy-local advertising programs. Some local merchants are currently considering a pre-paid VISA card to promote the Oakland “brand.” The ACORN ID-currency card has many advantages over this credit card idea.

Oakland’s attempts at attracting meeting/convention business and tourism has also had limited benefits because tourists simply take BART over to San Francisco to spend their money. If Oakland does not correct for this problem, no amount of convention business, housing development, or office development will improve our local economic situation very much over all. I think that the development of a local currency will be of immediate help. In the tourist business for example, the City, hotels, or visitor sites, as a promotion, could give tourists ACORNs to stimulate their expenditures in Oakland.

In addition, one of the largely unspoken criticisms of the “undocumented” is the millions of dollars that they send to their home country (remittances) that are taken out of the economies of local communities. [This criticism does not take into account the money immigrants spend in the community that might not happen if they were not present to do the work at the compensation levels that are offered.] If the work of employees in Oakland were compensated - at least in part - in ACORNs (and ACORNs were accepted for goods and services by Oakland restaurants, retail stores, etc.), this would be a huge boost to Oakland's economy - producing more local jobs and allowing higher salaries in the local services economy. More of the income earned in Oakland would stay in Oakland. This would tremendously increase the “multiplier effect.”

Oakland could engage a larger number of activities than is contemplated in San Francisco by making the ID card function as local currency. Dr. Raul Hinojosa of UCLA estimates a huge multibillion dollar development potential by working more justly with immigrant residents. If just 10% of City employees’ pay were paid in equivalent ACORNs, approximately $30 million dollars would be injected into Oakland’s local economy, guaranteed. This would add significantly to the increased economic participation by those now in the shadows, the “undocumented.” If School District employees are also partially paid in ACORNs and the College District and the School District worked with students and parents so that youth in Oakland got and used the card with the local currency, the benefits would be maximized. No longer would our youth need to walk around with cash in their pockets and their purchases could be monitored.

If the City accepts ACORNs for the payment of parking fees, fines, business licenses, development fees, etc., this will facilitate the circulation of the ACORN in Oakland. The City could encourage the hiring of Oakland residents and many other things by encouraging businesses and others to accept ACORNs and by giving them a cut in costs if they pay by ACORNs. The City would lose little since the greatest economic problem in Oakland is the loss of the economic “multiplier effect” that will be corrected using the ACORN cards.

With the participation of a local bank or financial institution, a magnetic-strip card that could be used in the current card reader technology could be easily implemented. This bank or financial institution would also be able to provide currency exchange services from US dollars to ACORNs as well as exchanges with the currency of other cities and other countries. This includes exchanges with the Native American reservations associated with the significant population of people from indigenous tribes that live in Oakland; Oakland has one of the highest concentrations of indigenous people west of the Mississippi. Most of the accounts (checking and savings) of the previously undocumented would probably be placed at this institution in addition to the processing of their remittances. City and School District employees would likely want to open up other accounts in the financial institution that also has their ACORN account. The People’s Community Partnership Federal Credit Union has shown interest and is researching regulatory restrictions. This program is in agreement with their corporate mission.

In addition, local currency would encourage intra-Oakland business-to-business commerce. This would benefit the small and people-of-color businesses in Oakland more than the chains, thus stimulating more local ownership success. Businesses, which “got on board” with this early, would have “a leg up” on lagging businesses in competing for these resources.

The Hass School of Business, the Goldman School, and business schools and economic departments from Stanford, Mills College and other nearby education institutions could constitute an Oakland ACORN “Reserve Board” to monitor and control the ACORN currency for the benefit of Oakland residents. The “Reserve Board” would also be responsible for the financial education of resident adults and youth. The study of the workings of the local currency could be beneficial to our youth to learn and understand economics at a deeper level. The participation of the School District in this educational effort would give a huge boost to the long-term success and prosperity of the community. Oakland could truly become a “model city” in every way, including through its economic system and its education about economics.
There may even be uses for the local currency to benefit Oakland’s international trade position, as the fifth largest port in the U.S. Traders may - at times - want the option to denominate their trade to the U.S. in a currency other than the U.S. dollar. In addition, because of the hugely diverse international resident population in Oakland, establishing currency exchange rates with other countries would facilitate more small businesses and local residents getting involved in the international trade business. Making true what I think Oakland’s permanent slogan ought to be, Oakland, Home to the World


orlando johnson on Oct 05, 2009 at 11:16:44 said:

Orlando Johnson im from Oakland Ca, and a memeber of Oakland Community Action Network and are City symbol is the Oak tree which The seed for the Oak tree is called an acorn. WE ARE NOT apart of the Acorn Organization that you read or see on the media news, sorry if there is a misunderstanding, if you want information on our organization feel free to email me at ojocan@gmail.com, peace and may GOD bless you on your success (smile)


Wade Rathke on Oct 02, 2009 at 19:23:56 said:

Rinku, as always thanks for looking through the fog of war now to clarify the reality of these attacks for people. Silencing the voice of lower income people and crippling their capacity to act through their own organizations, like ACORN, has to be opposed by all of us!


Blue on Oct 02, 2009 at 11:01:41 said:

Rinku, did you research this article -- at all before you posted this? ACORN has been convicted of voter fraud in multiple states. It was so bad that the state of Nevada launched a huge felony investigation -- Nevada, the state that was built up by mobsters. You know it's bad when the casino capital of the country is morally outraged. What's worse is even uber liberal John Stewart from the Daily Show reeled publically over ACORN's corruption.

This has nothing to do with community organizations. The tea parties were all put together by community organizing. Liberals are being exposed for who they are and for what their agendas are. And they don't like the light.


Jenny Bucks on Oct 01, 2009 at 15:43:56 said:

Um -- ACORN is riffe with corruption. They'd find it a lot easier to defend themselves if they weren't. And ObamAyres is joined at the hip with APORN.


JupiterSuite on Oct 01, 2009 at 15:26:13 said:

Going Nuts

ACORN: Alien Children Offered Regularly Nationwide
ACORN: Authorities Caught One Registering “Napoleon”
ACORN: Assembly of the Complacent: Organized, Registered & Non-productive!
ACORN: Association of Criminals Obama Represented in the Nineties
ACORN: Assorted Crazies, Oddballs, Reprobates, and Nincompoops
ACORN: “Audacity” and “Change” that Obama Represents Nationally
ACORN: A Crooked, Offensive, Repulsive Nut
ACORN: Agitators, Cheats, Offenders, and Repugnant Nonentities
ACORN: Association of Crooks O’Keefe Revealed in a Nanosecond
ACORN: Advising Criminals, Organizing Radical Nutjobs
ACORN: Assisting Call-girls, Obama, Reid & Nancy
ACORN: Advancing Collectivism, Obamamania, Reparations Now!
ACORN: After Clinton, Obama Retards a Nation
ACORN: Alike Carter, Obama is Regretful and Negative
ACORN: America, Could Obama Resign Now??
ACORN: Against Conservatives, Order, Republicans, and the Nation
ACORN: American Cash Outflows to Rathke’s “Nonprofits”
ACORN: Apparently “Community Organizing” Really is Nefarious
ACORN: Awarding Capital to Objectionable Rent-seeking Noncontributors
ACORN: Apathetic, Crybaby, Odiferous, Rejected Nothings
ACORN: Andrew Clearly Outplayed the Resentful NYT
ACORN: Anyone Can Observe that this is Rank Nonsense
ACORN: Ascent by Creepy Operation / Resented in the Nation
ACORN: Almost as Commendable as an Outflow of Rectal Necrosis
ACORN: Associated Congressmen Ought to be Replaced in November 2010
ACORN: Always Cheating, Often Ruining Neighborhoods
ACORN: Addled Crack-heads and Obnoxious Race-baiting Neurotics
ACORN: Appalling Cesspool; Obscene Revolting Nightmare
ACORN: A Clan of Odious, Ridiculed Nitwits
ACORN: Another Corrupt Obama Run Network

Others? Please suggest!


Susan Starr on Oct 01, 2009 at 14:18:00 said:

Reminds me of the truism that a woman\'s work has to be twice as good as a man\'s in order to be perceived as equal. People who are both poor and of color in the USA have to be perfect in order not to be seen as inferior to flawed whites. There is no excuse for the media and congressional responses to some ACORN staffers being \"caught on tape,\" but there is a reason, as Sen points out so clearly.


Rob on Oct 01, 2009 at 03:57:35 said:

You have it wrong.. OBAMA is the dirty word. ACORN is just a euphemism.

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