Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, October 13, 2008


A major piece of the newest offensive of lies by the McCain campaign is an effort to demonize the organization ACORN as a criminal enterprise bent on committing voter fraud and stealing the election in key states. They are actually trying to explain away their pending defeat on November 4 as the product of fraud by this massive criminal syndicate. Of course, as I'm sure you know, there has never been a single incident of fraudulent voting connected with ACORN's voter registration campaign, nor is there likely to be. If Mickey Mouse shows up to vote, he's going to have to produce ID, obviously.

ACORN has registered more than a million new voters, and in the process, a few bogus registrations -- whether because of pranksters, or voter registration workers trying to exaggerate their productivity -- have slipped through. ACORN flags these for election officials when it catches them, but is required by law to submit them anyway. That's all there is to it. A completely fraudulent story. But that's not what I want to talk about today.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I was an ACORN organizer in Philadelphia. That meant knocking on doors in poor neighborhoods and asking people to become active in fighting for the interests of their own neighborhoods and, ultimately, low and moderate income people everywhere. I wrote about my experiences in Radical Teacher magazine, January 1988, "Taking it from the streets: an organizer goes back to school." (I leave it off my CV.)

I started working in Fishtown, a poor white neighborhood on the Delaware. The people in Fishtown were nearly incapacitated politically by their racism. To quote YT:

We had a hard time finding a place for the first neighborhood meeting. None of the churches would give us space -- the Civic Association got to all the preachers. The local Methodist minister didn't mince words: "People here don't want to see more benefits coming into the neighborhood, no more federal money, no more services. That would just end up upsetting the traditional ethnic balance here."

Finally we arranged to meet in the Fishtown Civic Center. Our legal services lawyer had to threaten to sue the city before we got permission. . . . Six or seven of the fifty people in the room were boys from the Civic Association, come to make it even hotter than a Philadelphia August ought to be.

One of them stood up after John and Charlie had made their speeches. "Okay. We've all heard how long you guys have lived here. . . I'm gonna be honest with you. I haven't lived here all my life. I moved here ten years ago from the other side of Front St., and you know why too." He slapped his bare forearm with two fingers, indicating the color of his skin. "Before I moved to Kensington, I lived in North Phillie near the park, and now that's darkest Africa. I moved here because Fishtown is white and I figure it's staying white. But now I'm not so sure."

On the doors, we'd ask people what issues concerned them the most, and number one, most of the time, was "the niggers." They didn't like to work, they were all on welfare, and they were taking all the jobs. Also, they were going to push us into the river. I had much better experiences organizing in Black neighborhoods, where I never felt the least unwelcome, by pigmentation didn't matter, and there was a tradition of social protest that it was easy to tap into. We worked with the leadership in Fishtown that was willing to look past race to get things done, even if they did have a distance to travel in confronting their own attitudes, and over time we built a multiracial organization in Philadelphia that won some small victories in the neighborhoods and, I'd like to think, contributed to a gradual transformation of the political culture from the straight up racism of the Rizzo years to the more issue-based politics of today.

Working for ACORN taught me that the biggest obstacle to effective class based politics in this country is racism. That's why we have never had a labor party or a true party of the left as in every European country. That's why we have had predominantly Republican rule since Nixon. ACORN organizes poor people and working class people across the racial divide, and it confronts race baiting as the principle establishment strategy against it everywhere it goes. Now the Republicans have elevated their attack on ACORN to the national level, and once again, the subtext is racial: they're trying to set up a whole lot of darkies to cast fraudulent votes for their dusky radical black nationalist candidate.

Well, to ACORN I say congratulations: there's no such thing as bad publicity. It's the same old evil crap you're confronting, but now you've made the big time.

The people united will never be defeated.

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