We come to bury ACORN, not to praise it.
Whatever chances the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now had of somehow pulling out of its current nosedive, it now looks like the national non-profit will hit the mountain and explode on impact, and sooner rather than later. The group’s only chances of survival were to get out in front of the negative publicity before it expanded to crushing proportions, or, failing that, to do a house cleaning that would have Martha Stewart apoplectic with envy.
They didn’t, and now it’s too late. ACORN is done.
Let us be clear on one point from the outset: A number of ACORN employees and, by extension, entire chapters of the group are utterly, irretrievably incompetent. In many respects, ACORN is deserving of much of the trouble it has faced, and all of what is shortly to come. ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis and her organization may be the victims of a few bad apples spoiling the barrel, but they picked the apples, and they own the barrel. ACORN is to blame for ACORN’s fall.
Let us be very clear on another point: The conservative histrionics over ACORN, present and past, predate any evidence to support such outrage. This is demonstrated by (a) the fact that the “pimp and ho” videos produced by BigGovernment.com, which have sparked the latest round of criticism, would qualify as entrapment if any law enforcement agency attempted the same experiment, and (b) the same faction that decries the federal tax dollars that have gone into ACORN’s coffers (and right back out as community service) has remained utterly silent on the billions of dollars wasted by Halliburton in Iraq, or the use of federal monies to pay Blackwater mercenaries who murdered Iraqi civilians.
Simply put, gutter conservatives dislike ACORN because it is (er, was) a powerful, working and lower class, minority organization.
Furthermore, on the balance, ACORN’s implosing will hurt a lot of innocent people. The group does good work for hundreds of thousands who need it. There is a big-heartedness there, a genuine understanding of the plight of the underclasses, that is not extant in many other non-profit organizations, even those with similar missions. For nearly four decades, ACORN has been an ally of the oppressed, a voice for the voiceless and a change actor in the most conservative of times.
However, it is 2009, the year of socially-acceptable racism, right-wing conspiracy theories and the Great Recession. This was the year that ACORN had to finally grow into the mighty oak of its promise, or be justly consumed by the ravenous mutant squirrel that is the conservative PR machine.
It is supremely ironic that after years of successfully fending off rightist attacks, ACORN is collapsing just as it should be at the pinnacle of its influence. The by-and-large African-American organization, which has chapters in 75 cities throughout 40 states, declares itself committed to help “those who have historically been locked out become powerful players in our democratic system.” Lo and behold, the current occupant of the White House, who is also by-and-large African-American, not only falls into the category of people who have been “historically locked out,” but cut his political teeth as a community organizer working alongside ACORN. The group turned out its share of voters for the Obama electoral juggernaut, helping to make sure that he didn’t just carry predominantly black districts but ran the table with them, and even if no link existed between Obama and ACORN prior to his election, they are such natural allies that it would frankly be weird if one hadn’t developed since he assumed office.
Yet now, with as strong a champion as it could possibly hope for and at a moment when economic factors could bring more people into its fold than ever before, ACORN finds itself at the nadir of its popular image and efficacy.
The U.S. Census Bureau, which had contracted ACORN to help the agency finally provide an accurate accounting of the Republic’s non-white, non-middle-class citizenry, has unceremoniously dumped the group. The Senate voted to slash ACORN’s federal funding, followed swiftly by a concurring House vote, and at least one state attorney general is calling for an investigation into its practices – along with several other public and private inquiries already underway.
The latest blow is today’s announcement that Inspector General Glenn Fine of the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a “limited investigation” of any funds the USDOJ may have spent with ACORN, and whether they were properly accounted for. This is well short of the full criminal investigation Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), ranking Republican on the House Judicial Committee, is pushing for, but when the Obama administration itself is scrutinizing ACORN’s practices, the writing is on the wall.
In short, ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, who once held a position of privilege among the Obama “in-crowd,” now finds herself in the same Christmas card category as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.
The National Razor has firsthand knowledge of the ACORN operations in several offices across the country, including the Brooklyn location, where one of ACORN’s tax advisors proved to be very competent – by Mob accountant standards. Anyone who watched that video knows which non-profit to visit for free tips on money laundering, tax fraud and how best to improve your backyard landscaping with the cash earned from underaged Salvadoran sex slaves. It is, sadly, not hard for TNR to imagine how this situation occurred in the Brooklyn office, which drips with dysfunction even before one actually enters the office. Waiting five minutes in order to ride the world’s slowest elevator, which takes three minutes to travel as many floors, is a good indicator of the way the place operates.
However, it is also horribly underfunded for the volume of work it does. Whenever ten or twenty people are asked to carry the workload of fifty, with resources stretched tighter than Joan Rivers’s face, mistakes will be made. ACORN also makes a special effort to hire out of the communities it serves, which, while noble, guarantees that employees will usually have poor educations and underdeveloped critical thinking skills. That is not a function of race, but Socio-Economic Status, and it is undeniable.
Still and all, most of the offices visited by the hidden camera crew showed the pair the door. Most of the work being conducted nationwide is to keep poor people in their homes, help the barely-literate navigate the bureaucracy of the government that has failed them, and generally improve the lives of America’s miserables. Most of the staff is dedicated and driven, and all are underpaid. By a big margin, the positive impact of ACORN outweighs the failings of a few of its people.
That looks like it is shortly to be a thing of the past. ACORN may continue to exist if the furor dies down, and may again, someday, rise back to prominence – hopefully under new management. At the moment, though, as a result of an unremitting opposition and its own egregious missteps, ACORN is dead.
And to once again paraphrase The Bard:
The evil an organization does lives after it, while the good is oft interred with its bones. So let it be with ACORN.