Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is the largest community organization of low and moderate-income families in the United States. ACORN has an active membership of over 160,000 families, organized into more than 750 neighborhood chapters in more than 60 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Peru. As a community group, ACORN is non-profit, non-violent, and non-partisan. The organization was born out of the civil rights movement. ACORN was founded by Wade Rathke, a community and labor organizer, in 1970. The current president of ACORN is Maude Hurd .
ACORN groups win reform through direct actions, negotiations, working with the media, and, sometimes, by getting involved in electoral politics.
Issues and actions
ACORN has fought predatory lending by targeting the national companies that practice it, working for stronger state laws against predatory practices, organizing against local financial scams, and steering individuals toward loan counseling.
Following a three-year campaign to reform the lending practices of Household Finance , one of the largest subprime lenders in the country, on November 25, 2003, ACORN and Household (now owned by HSBC Holdings) announced a proposed settlement of a national class-action lawsuit that ACORN brought against the company in 2002. The centerpiece of the settlement is a $72 million Foreclosure Avoidance Program which will provide relief to Household borrowers who are behind on their payments and at risk of losing their homes. This settlement came on the heels of an earlier $484 million settlement between Household, attorney generals, and bank regulators from all 50 US states.
In early 2003, ACORN began efforts to seek similar reforms from Wells Fargo. At ACORN's national convention in 2004, three thousand ACORN members presented Wells Fargo with a lawsuit.
Living Wage ordinances require private businesses that benefit from taxpayer money to pay their workers a wage that allows them to afford basic necessities. ACORN is a leader in the national living wage movement and has passed local living wage laws in 15 cities including Chicago, Oakland, Denver, and New York City. ACORN maintains the Living Wage Resource Center, which provides strategy and logistical assistance to organization nationwide.
ACORN pushes education reform usually in the form of organizing neighborhood groups and "community" or "ACORN schools" but frequently combats charter school and for-profit schooling initiatives (most notably the proposed Edison Schools takeover of the New York City public schools in 2001).
By organizing tenant unions, pushing for inclusionary zoning, and ensuring fair and increased access to low-interest home loans, ACORN has sought to extend the possibility of homeownership to all people.
In the 1980s, ACORN members fought banks to that were refusing to give home loans to people living in low income and minority neighborhoods. The practice is called redlining, and is now illegal as a result of campaigns by ACORN and other organizations.
Additionally, ACORN created a loan counseling program called ACORN Housing. ACORN Housing is distinct organization from ACORN, though the two work closely together to increase home ownership.
Along with establishing laws requiring and laws promoting childhood lead poisoning prevention, ACORN has won clean-up of work sites and housing units contaminated by lead, asbestos, and mold. Around the country, thousands of ACORN members participate in ACORN National Clean Up Day, clearing abandoned lots, restoring neighborhood parks, and turning illegal dumping areas into community space. Once these sites are cleaned and reclaimed, the local government or owner of the site commits to ensuring that the area is properly maintained.
Additonally, ACORN has won emissions monitoring from factories near neighborhoods and schools, and closures of industrial plants that caused public health problems.
ACORN has fought for the rights of undocumented immigrants. ACORN has promoted amnesty for such workers, most notably at a rally in Chicago in 2000 and as a major sponsor of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition.
ACORN has engaged in massive voter registration projects in several states, most notably Florida, where the minority vote has been under-represented. In 2004, ACORN has registered over 1 million voters nationally.
1970-1975: Founding and early growth
ACORN was founded by Wade Rathke when he was sent to Little Rock, Arkansas by the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) in 1970 as an organizer. Rathke's first campaign was aimed at helping welfare recipients attain their basic needs, such as clothing and furniture. This drive, inspired by a clause in the Arkansas welfare laws, began the effort to create and sustain a movement that would grow to become the Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now – the original ACORN.
ACORN's goal was to unite welfare recipients with needy working people around issues of free school lunches, unemployment issues, Vietnam veterans' rights, and emergency room care. The broad range of issues did not stop there as the organization grew throughout Arkansas. ACORN organized farmers to take on environmental issues concerning sulfur emmissions.
Meanwhile, in 1972 back in Little Rock, ACORN was holding neighborhood rallies on a variety of issues, endorsing candidates for local office and eventually had members running for office themselves in 1974.
1975-1980: Growth of the movement
In 1975, ACORN became a multi-state organization with new branches in Texas and South Dakota. On December 13, sixty leaders from the three ACORN states elected the first associate Executive Board and the first ACORN president, Steve McDonald, to deal with matters beyond the scope of the individual city and state boards. Each year thereafter saw three or more states join ACORN with a total of twenty states in 1980.
The great expansion of the organization led to multi-state campaigns beginning with a mass meeting of 1,000 members in Memphis in 1978. At the end of the conference, ACORN convention delegates marched on the Democratic Party conference with the outline of a nine-point “People’s Platform" which would go on to become the foundation of the organization's platform when it was ratified in 1979.
ACORN was heavily involved in the 1980 Election with the "People's Platform" serving as its standard bearer. Demonstrations aimed at both major party candidates including demands to meet with President Jimmy Carter, marching on the president's campaign finance committee chair's home, and presenting the platform to the GOP platform committee.
1980-1988: Reagan Era
ACORN’S staff was stretched thin by the demands of meeting the goal of expanding to twenty states by 1980. Much of its resources and energy had been dedicated to participating in the presidential primaries and national conventions of the Republican and Democratic Parties. ACORN launched a campaign to obtain affordable housing which resulted in squatting campaigns. ACORN took the concept a step further though by encouraging people to move into a vacant, usually poorly kept house and to refit it for comfortable living. It also involved the risk of arrest for breaking and entering and trespassing.
In June of 1982 ACORN sponsored "Reagan Ranches" in over 35 cities believing the president's focus to be on military as opposed to social spending. "Reagan Ranches" were tent cities erected nationally for two days and met with serious resistance from the National Parks Service who tried repeatedly to evict ACORN tenters. The protesters remained and then marched on the White House and testified before a Congressional committee about what they described as the housing crisis in America. The Republican Convention in Dallas, Texas in 1984 was the culminating "Reagan Ranch".
In addition to protesting ACORN also developed and strengthened its political action committees and encouraged its members to run for office. For the 1984 Election ACORN wanted to endorse a candidate, setting a 75% support in polls among members as its requirement. No candidate reached that level, though there was strong support for Jesse Jackson. A legislative office was also established in Washington, DC.
During this period ACORN also focused on local election reform in a number of cities, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Columbia, South Carolina, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota encouraging the change of at-large legislative bodies to district representation.
During the 1988 Election ACORN held its National Convention in the same city as the Democratic Convention -- Atlanta, Georgia. During the preceding four years ACORN had strengthened its ties with Jesse Jackson and accounted for thirty Jackson delegates. They also sponsored a march at the convention.
ACORN's membership grew to 70,000 plus in twenty-eight states during this time. The organization increased its legislative lobbying efforts in Washington and strengthened its PACs. It also developed what it called the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM). Starting with station KNON in Dallas, AM/FM moved on to establish radio stations, UHF television and cable television programming. It also sought and received appointments to the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) which was formed to dissolve the assets of failed Savings and Loans resulting from the Savings and Loan crisis.
1988-1998: Focus on housing
While some of ACORN’s most notable efforts were in the area of housing, it has counted health, public safety, education, representation, work and workers’ rights and communications concerns among its victories.
The 1990 ACORN convention in Chicago focused on the fast-breaking housing campaign. It featured a squatting demonstration at an RTC house which was reclaimed for use in an ACORN neighborhood. Later, ACORN members demanded cooperation from banks about providing loan data on low- and moderate-income communities and compliance with 1977's Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).
ACORN fought weakening of the CRA in 1991, when ACORN staged a two-day takeover of the House Banking Committee hearing room to be sure their voices were heard by Congress. It also established ACORN Housing Corporation to service people moving into homes under the housing campaign, rehabilitated hundreds of houses addressed by CRA.
The ACORN convention in New York in 1992, the “ACORN-Bank Summit,” was organized to hammer out deals with giant banks. When Citibank, the nation’s largest bank, did not participate conventioneers protested at Citibank’s downtown Manhattan headquarters, and won a meeting to negotiate for similar programs.
ACORN supported and lobbied for the “Motor Voter” Act. After its passage, ACORN members attended President Clinton’s signing ceremony. ACORN then pursued new registration laws in Arkansas and Massachusetts and filed suit in Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as a result of the act.
In 1993, ACORN also began a national campaign to fight insurance redlining, a practice that put the gains made in other housing campaigns at risk. The campaign targeted Allstate, hitting sales offices in fourteen cities and a stockholders meeting . Allstate agreed to negotiate and signed an agreement in 1994 for a $10 million partnership with ACORN and NationsBank for below-market mortgages to low-income homebuyers. Travelers Insurance came on board with a Neighborhood and Home Safety Program, linking access to insurance and lower rates to public safety programs.
1998-2004: Building progressive capacity
ACORN's recent activities have included its "Living Wage" programs, voter registration, and grassroots political organization. In 1998 ACORN helped form the Working Families Party in New York which counts increasing the minimum wage as its centerpiece issue. ACORN has also strengthened its ties with the Service Employees International Union often working collaboratively on issues (including health insurance costs and the minimum wage) and even sharing office space.
The organization continues its multi-issue focus however, pursuing a wide range of issues while building grassroots strength and progressive capacity.
In 2003, ACORN opened operations in 20 new cities, including 5 state capitals.
A March 27, 2003 decision of the National Labor Relations Board found (in 338 NRLB No. 129) ACORN attempted to thwart union organizing efforts within its own organization by laying off workers who were attempting to organize. The workers, all "field organizers" with ACORN, began discussions with the Service Employees International Union and later sought to organize under Industrial Workers of the World in response to their $16,000 annual salary for a 54-hour work week. The NLRB ordered the employees be reinstated in their former jobs and ACORN cease from interrogating employees about organizing activity.
Additionally, ACORN filed a lawsuit in California seeking to exempt itself from the state's minimum wage of $4.25 per hour in 1996, the same year it won a victory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to raise the minimum wage for custodial workers to $6.25 per hour.
Voter registration misconduct
In June 2004 ACORN stated it fired a worker who had turned in several dozen voter registration forms to Franklin County, Ohio officials with duplicate and/or false information.
On September 7, 2004 a Columbus, Ohio grand jury indicted ACORN employee and felony Parolee Kevin Eugene Dooley for election fraud. The indictment charges Dooley forged a signature to a voter registration form.
In August 2004 a lawsuit was filed in Albuquerque, New Mexico alleging that the policies of the New Mexico Secretary of State, Rebecca Vigil-Giron , improperly exempted individuals who registered to vote through canvassers from requirements that some new registrants submit ID at poling places. During testimony in the case ACORN director Matt Henderson invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions as to whether ACORN had copied voter registration cards before turning them in while being questioned about fraudulent registrations allegedly turned in by ACORN.
ACORN has previously denied any wrongdoing but fired one worker involved in New Mexico registrations, including two alleged registrations of minors without the minor's knowledge. ACORN states that this firing was due to a separate incident. An investigation into the allegedly fraudulent registrations by the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico has been launched.
In September 2004 investigations were underway in several Michigan counties regarding ACORN related fraudulent registrations.
In all these cases ACORN paid the workers a varying fee based upon the number of voters registered.
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