How could ACORN, a powerful organisation of low-income people and an important ally of the unions, disappear so quickly? Journalist Harold Meyerson blames both ACORN’s strategy and the Democratic Party, which has let down both ACORN and the unions.
Until recently, ACORN had offices in 100 cities and 260,000 members, almost all from inner-city minority communities. The organisation ran a large-scale voter mobilisation operation and was active in many local union campaigns.
In 2008, right-wing media started accusing ACORN of voter fraud and of being willing to assist the creation of a prostitution business. According to Meyerson, way in which ACORN was attacked was similar to the edited tape that made government official Shirley Sherrod look as if she supported racism.
While Sherrod was soon rehabilitated when the accusations turned out to have no ground, but ACORN was let down by the Obama administration. The government withdrew funding and private supporters followed suit. “ACORN still existed on paper, but its membership and money were almost entirely gone.”
When it started in the early 1970s, ACORN made efforts to organise both blacks and working-class whites. Later, its focus on inner-city issues shifted its membership toward the minority poor. According to Meyerson, this partly explains the organisation’s vulnerability: “championing the minority poor, as Shirley Sherrod can attest, is still treacherous terrain in American politics”.
The other part of the explanation is that Democrats did not stand up for ACORN. In so doing, they shot themselves in the foot, Meyerson argues: “in their failure to defend ACORN, as in their failure to defend unions, the Democrats have been complicit in their own decline”.