Organizing in the Year of the Plague

by Wade Rathke

January 28, 2021

New Orleans    The Year End / Year Begin meeting is a tradition and vital piece of planning, reflection, and celebration with our ACORN family of organizations. This one was different and more subdued, given the pandemic. Some people were around the table in one of our organizing centers while a projector pointed to the wall and displayed even more people on Zoom or connecting from Bristol, Grenoble, and Delhi to offer reports from our far-flung world.

The meeting may have been different in almost every way imaginable, but when we weighed organizing in the year of the plague with the actual performance despite the obstacles, a lot of the work was amazing. Looking at just the plain and simple numbers of full-year dues paying members in some of our countries gives a good picture. Canada hit almost 800 full new members for a solid year, France was pushing 600 for its best year ever, and England-Wales blew the ceiling off. Their membership more than doubled, besting 5000 full dues payers by the end of the year and 30,000 pounds per month in dues income. It wasn’t just the members either. The number of branch chapters also more than doubled across England particularly with another more than fifteen groups still in development by the end of the year. Remember this was in a year when our primary recruiting tool, home visits, was taken away from us in one lockdown after another in almost every country where we worked. Even at the year end many of our organizers were still not able to work from our offices.

The core organizing work stayed solid, while the organization was also front-and-center in responding to the pandemic itself for our members. Local 100 reported on tens of thousands of pieces of PPE delivered to our worksites. India was providing food packets and meals at the height of the crisis in spring to more than 7000 people per day. In the United Kingdom, almost 1000 volunteers came forward with ACORN to pick up groceries and prescriptions for other members and neighbors. Local 100 won pandemic pay increases for healthcare and sanitation workers. Sure, our expansion plans were postponed, but still Ireland came on board, and we moved forward with KOCH-FM in Nairobi and applied for a station in Uganda, and launched the work in Atlanta for the ACORN Tenants Union.

Campaigns showed real progress as well including fighting voter suppression in the United States, winning eviction stops and rent control provisions in Canada and the UK, retrofits in France, progress on internet-for-all, lead poisoning, and more. It was a hella-year to be organizing during a global plague, but this was the year we found new meaning to the expression, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.

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