Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nuts: ACORN Cracks Under Pressure

Mother Jones:

News of the group's demise—premature or not—will be guzzled by conservatives like so much godly nectar. It's a fair time to ask exactly what it was that got their goat about ACORN, whose most controversial work consisted of often-messy voter-registration drives. The ire, much of it incoherent, that was heaped on ACORN was something akin to the two minutes' hate, an Orwellian orgy of dribbling fury lubricated by lies and craziness.

That craziness, of course, reached its apex with the antics of failed plumber phone technician James O'Keefe, who made some money posing as a pimp and filming himself asking ACORN volunteers strange questions about the pimp business—which, it has been said, ain't easy. O'Keefe's stunt got traction in the media—and even the federal government—and played a disturbingly large part in today's developments, even though Media Matters exposed his deceptive film-editing practices just last week.


Right. I've been avoiding the whole ACORN scandal for many months now because, by and large, I don't really understand it. Whenever I hear the latest on the ongoing story, I'm like, "huh? what?" I'm still not even quite sure what ACORN actually does. So I was cruising around the net a little while ago looking for something blogworthy, came upon this short Mother Jones piece, and saw the phrase that told me, for the first time, exactly why I don't get the the controversy: "The ire, much of it incoherent, that was heaped on ACORN..."

"Incoherent." Okay. I don't understand because the story's fucking incoherent. That is, there's nothing really there to understand in the first place. And that's quite a good starting place for trying to make some sense of it all.

From Wikipedia:

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. ACORN has over 400,000 members and more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in over 100 cities across the U.S., as well as in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, and Peru. ACORN was founded in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado. Maude Hurd has been National President since 1990; Bertha Lewis was appointed CEO in 2008.

ACORN's priorities have included: better housing and wages for the poor, more community development investment from banks and governments, better public schools, and other social justice issues. ACORN pursues these goals through demonstration, negotiation, lobbying for legislation, and voter participation. ACORN comprises a number of legally distinct non-profit entities including a nationwide umbrella organization established as a 501(c)(4) that performs lobbying; local chapters established as 501(c)(3) nonpartisan charities; and the ACORN Housing Corporation. These entities support labor-oriented causes.

Since the 2006 mid-term elections, ACORN has been the subject of public controversy over voter registration fraud by employees and embezzlement by management.
More here.

Well okay, that sounds benign enough. ACORN is an umbrella organization of smaller groups that serve and advocate for the poor and working classes. That, in itself, is the most likely reason that right-wing zealots have the group in their cross hairs--I'll never forget the deep disgust on my conservative older brother's face when he first saw my copy of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States; conservatives hate all those 60s terms like "the people" or "community organizing," and ACORN appears to come right out of that cultural strain. Knowledge that such organizations still exist, especially on such a large scale, probably make conservatives sick to their stomachs. Seriously. ACORN makes them want to vomit.

But what about the scandals? Didn't they throw the election that gave Obama the White House? Don't they give mortgage assistance to pimps? Aren't they using federal tax dollars to get liberals elected? Aren't their leaders embezzling millions?

Well, no, no, no, and kind of, but not really. If you click through, you can read about the "scandals" in more detail, but here's the short version. As far as voter registration fraud goes, ACORN was duped by people they hired to register voters. Because these contract workers were paid by the number of registrations they turned in, many of them took the easy money route, filling out the forms themselves as "Micky Mouse" and whatnot. But ACORN weeded out the obviously bogus registrations before handing them over to the government, so while there were fraudulent forms, none of them actually became fraudulent votes. In short, ACORN was the victim here, not President McCain and Vice President Palin; the community organizing group paid unscrupulous workers for worthless bullshit.

Conservative loons turned ACORN's victimization into vote fraud and went wild with it, which is ironic in light of the
actual election tampering that gave Bush the White House back in 2000.

As for the infamous pimp video controversy, it now turns out that the tapes were heavily doctored, and the "filmmaker,"
now awaiting trial for another attempted sting operation here in New Orleans, is being sued by ACORN and some of its employees. And tax dollars are legally separate from donations: ACORN never uses federal or state grants to pay for the activities pursued by its political arm. The embezzlement, however, was real, apparently the only real controversy involving the organization, but it was just one guy, not several leaders, and it wasn't for millions. That is, rather than bilking contributors, ACORN was victimized by one of its own.

As far as I can tell, all ACORN is guilty of is some bad business decisions. But it is clearly not some sort of malevolent liberal force preying upon the poor, tax payers, and donors. Indeed, that notion has been totally fabricated by the right-wing noise machine. And the offensive has been so successful that its target, under attack across the nation, now appears to be literally falling apart.

Really, this is pretty fucking disturbing. The right wing can just make shit up, freak out about it, and win. To call the situation unjust is an understatement. If this is how America works these days, I wonder why anybody even tries anymore.