Defending Bertha Lewis and the ACORN organization.

The organization known as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is around forty years old. It emerged from the 1960s era, when battles over civil rights issues were waged on the frontlines everyday. It’s an offshoot from the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), which by 1966 had around 170 member-groups in at least 60 cities all over the USA. The objectives here were to protect, edify, organize and empower the poor and working class people of this country; amongst other things.

By 1972, ACORN was already up and running for a couple years, while getting itself involved in the politics of Little Rock, Arkansas. Who can forget Little Rock as it relates to civil rights history? Today, ACORN still fights for poor people and the working class. They do a decent job in this regard.

For full disclosure sake, let me say that I first joined ACORN many many moons ago; but I haven’t paid membership dues in years, so I don’t really consider myself a member anymore. Activism has taken me in different directions over the years, but my spirit is down with their struggles. Occasionally I still get e-mails from the organization, and on and off I get invites to political events. I have always maintained civil and cordial relations with Brooklyn’s Bertha Lewis and Gloria Waldron -who are high officials of the organization. I totally respect them. I also respect what their organization stands for, since it does so much good: especially in the areas of community development, political education, consumer-protection, housing and landlord/tenant issues.

As an organization, ACORN was on the battlefront in the recent fight to keep Brooklyn’s Starrett City, affordable for middle and working-class folks. I have worked ACORN on many a political campaign over the years, and I have been able to observe their operation in other areas too. Politically speaking; they do multi-task.   

I didn’t agree with Bertha’s position on the Atlantic Yards development project; nor did I care to see her sucking face with Mike Bloomberg (lol) a few years ago. But then she is human, and we all do make mistakes. Backing Bruce Ratner’s project -the way it was shaped then- was not Bertha’s shining moment. She probably knows this by now. And of course I didn’t agree with her support for the “out of control” senator (Kevin Parker) from Flatbush, last September.  And yet I am forced to defend her from these nonsensical attacks from the Republicans, as it relates to Acorn’s recent voter registration initiatives in certain parts of the country. 

You see, there is no election fraud here. That’s a misnomer. There is a big difference between voter-registration fraud and election fraud. When Acorn hires people to work on voter registration drives for them, sometimes they get lowlife types to do the grunt work. Often enough, some of these people arrive without integrity and pride. So it is easy to see how some will fill out “Mickey Mouse” on the voter registration card, since the incentive is usually to turn in as many registration forms as you could: and collect. Many times, some of these low-life types inadvertently get paid for shoddy work. Sometimes the forms are unfinished and/or erroneously filled out. Other times, they are sloppily written, indiscernible, mistake-laden, and the like. There is no overarching conspiracy in all this; contrary to Republican talking heads.

Whenever ACORN spots these and other patterns of registration-irregularities, they usually report the culprits to the authorities for punishment. This has been documented and proven over the years. By law, ACORN has to turn in voter registration forms. Some people have gone to jail for doing illegal stuff during registration drives. This is a fact; go check it.

Beyond some quality-control issues for which the organization must take responsibility, ACORN should not be vilified for human weaknesses. It diminishes a very good organization; albeit an imperfect one. Obtaining contracts (and money) to do voter registration projects is one way in which ACORN survives; there is nothing wrong with this. Of course there will be times when clients are dissatisfied with some of these projects; this happens everyday in the business world; far less in the world of ACORN. You see this organization deals with many of the downtrodden folks that mainstream society has given up on; so is it any wonder that every now and again things don’t work out as well as they should? 

Election-fraud and/or Election Day fraud are totally different beasts, when compared to the errors and mistakes of a registration drive. Once someone votes more than one time, or votes under another name, or votes from different addresses, with similar or different names, and the like: all or any of these constitute election-fraud. Also, if someone who is ineligible to vote (like an illegal alien; or a citizen who is convicted of a felony and is still serving out a sentence), manages to cast a ballot: that too is election fraud. Voting in different states on the same day will also come under this heading. I am sure that there are other technical ways of discerning election-fraud, but I am also certain that you catch my drift: there is a difference between voter-fraud and voter registration mistakes. There is also a difference between election-fraud and the many shenanigans that take place throughout an election cycle. None should be taken lightly, but it’s par for the course; it’s just that some are more serious violations than others. There is no discernible proof that ACORN has been involved in voter fraud.

There isn’t a sliver of proof that ACORN has conspired to rig this upcoming election. There is no sliver of proof that ACORN has ever indulged in fixing the outcome of any election before; so why cast the aspersions on their good name? ACORN has been involved in thousands of election events over their many years in activism. Trying to get more people participating in the democratic process is good work. ACORN should be commended not condemned. They are doing what educators failed to do in the public and private schools: inculcate a deeper sense of civic awareness in the polity. The failure to re-introduce “civics” on a higher level -within the educational system of this country -has cost us dearly, in terms of civic, social, cultural and political participation.  These costs are immeasurable. ACORN is to be applauded for its work(s) over the years; it is time to stop casting aspersions on a decent organization.   

Stay tuned-in folks.