From BooMan Tribune

My Experience With ACORN
by BooMan
Fri Sep 18th, 2009 at 12:41:52 PM EST

When I started working for ACORN in 2004, I was one of only four white people employed in their North Philadelphia office. The office was in a very run-down tenement on North Broad Street, abutted by an abandoned lot on one side and a black baptist church on the other. The furniture could only described as ratty and unsuitable for anyone’s home. Most of the day-to-day work going on was in counseling. The main area of counseling was for people who had been suckered into predatory mortgages that they quickly discovered they couldn’t afford. Every day desperate people filed into the office begging for help in avoiding foreclosure.

I worked on the political side. At first, I was assigned Delaware County. Later on, I took over the Montgomery County operation, which I led right through election day. My job was to identify areas of Montgomery County that had at least 65% Democratic registration. Then I hired kids off the streets of North Philly and trained them in voter registration and get out the vote strategies. Each day I would dispatch a bunch of vans to the designated areas of Montgomery County to register voters. We never asked people to vote for Kerry or to register as Democrats, and we turned in every card (after vetting them for fraud) even when the cards were for Republicans. We relied on my research to make sure we were registering more Democrats than Republicans. The goal was to achieve a 7:3 ratio, so that we’d net four votes for every 10 registrants. This was all compliant with election law.

Three of my co-workers (people with the same job description) were fresh out of prison. They were relatively young black men from North Philly who had done their time and were happy to have full employment and to give something back to their community. Mainly, they acted as very effective mentors to the at-risk kids that were coming in in response to the jobs we were offering.

I don’t think it’s possible for most white, suburban people to really understand the culture that ACORN operates in. Just the idea that freshly released felons might be some of the most valuable role models in a neighborhood is too foreign for a lot of people to relate to. These kids didn’t have prior job experience. They didn’t have other jobs in retail or a union available to them. There were no local banks or available credit. Most of them had no picture ID, and even fewer had a government ID. Just getting their paperwork in order so that I could hire them was a nightmare. When their paychecks were late (as they often were), their heat got shut off.

The entire economy that was sustaining this community was totally off-the-grid. The people who were staying clean (meaning, out of gangs and drugs) were the ones that had worked out some kind of hustle. Some were selling bootleg movies. Others were selling t-shirts that fell off some truck somewhere. Others were selling phony docs for car registration and inspection. The successful ones were some of the most effective and energetic self-starting entrepreneurs I’ve ever encountered. They got up early and worked long hours. There is no doubt in my mind that they could succeed in legitimate small business if they had the tools and access to credit to give it a whirl.

You can call this a permanent underclass if you want, but they are not without their ambitious merchants and remarkably intelligent and (especially) resourceful people. Organizations like ACORN don’t just employ people in these neighborhoods, they fight for them. They educate them about the few legitimate opportunities that exist. They assist them when they are preyed upon.

If you walk into this scene out of the lily-white suburbs, you’re likely to be shocked at first by what you see. Things are turned upside down. The role models are felons, the clean kids are working the black market. But, spend some time there and you’ll quickly adapt and begin to see how there is dignity and fight and pride and ambition and resourcefulness and tremendous faith that sustains these communities in the face of enormous odds. Anyone who had ever seen what I have seen would never, ever, cut off all funding for ACORN or use them as a symbol of black dependency and corruption.

Come down out of your Ivory Towers and stop trying to cover your ass. Most of us got into politics to help people. ACORN is doing that every day as well as they know how.

Thank you, BooMan.

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