ACORN-Related Organizations Growing Nationally

Monday, 13 Jan 2014 11:12 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Dozens of grass-roots organizing groups are springing up nationwide that do the same work and have some of the same leaders as ACORN, which closed its last offices in 2010 following a series of scandals.

ACORN representatives were recorded giving low-income clients advice on tax evasion, child prostitution, human smuggling and more, reports The Daily Beast.  The effort to close ACORN was blamed on the right wing targeting the organization, which was also responsible for voter registration and other liberal issues.

"These guys created a bunch of organizing Frankensteins around the country," said former ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, who now leads The Black Institute. "I had to dismantle ACORN, but nature abhors a vacuum. What were those former ACORN members to do? They were so angry at what they thought was so bogus and unfair, that they said we are not going to go away. We have to reorganize."

One of the organizations has sprung up in Philadelphia, where the former leader of ACORN Pennsylvania leads a new group, Action United, which works with teachers unions to keep low-performing schools open.

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment in California is headed by an 18-year-old ACORN vet, and occupies foreclosed San Francisco houses while pushing to prevent more foreclosures.

And in Chicago, Action Now is lead by former ACORN organizer Katelyn Johnson, and helped elect another former Chicago ACORN leader, Toni Foulkes, to the Chicago City Council.

"It was hard to see people I cared about go through with that and it was hard to see an organization I was a part of go through that. I was proud of what we did in Chicago," Johnson told The Daily Beast. However, she said issues for low-income people remain the same, but "the demand and the anger and the frustration continue to flow."

Another ACORN spin-off, New York Communities for Change, operates out of ACORN's former New York City office, and played a large role in the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor.

"To be honest, I think because we were still focused here on the city, we were able to push back a lot on the Bloomberg agenda, which really helped create the space for someone like de Blasio to come in," said NYCC Executive Director Jonathan Westin.

The new groups, though, don't do voter registrations or much push on federal legislation, and some former members say the tea party gained power because there was no ACORN to push back on them.

"They certainly did real damage to our country and to low-income people in our country by destroying ACORN," said Kevin Whelan, a former national spokesman for ACORN who now leads a group called The Home Defenders League, which fights foreclosures. "They succeeded in destroying a group that brought people together, but that space gets filled in."

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