Ever heard of Acorn? Neither had I, until I encountered an article by Stanley Kurtz describing the group. On the surface, Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is one of many activist groups that (from its website) “is the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities.”
Their goals seem innocuous enough until you begin to look at specific policies and tactics. Kurtz, referencing an article on Acorn by Sol Stern in City Journal, notes:
Acorn’s new goals are municipal “living wage” laws targeting “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart, rolling back welfare reform, and regulating banks — efforts styled as combating “predatory lending.” Unfortunately, instead of helping workers, Acorn’s living-wage campaigns drive businesses out of the very neighborhoods where jobs are needed most. Acorn’s opposition to welfare reform only threatens to worsen the self-reinforcing cycle of urban poverty and family breakdown. Perhaps most mischievously, says Stern, Acorn uses banking regulations to pressure financial institutions into massive “donations” that it uses to finance supposedly non-partisan voter turn-out drives.
According to Stern, Acorn’s radical agenda sometimes shifts toward “undisguised authoritarian socialism.” Fully aware of its living-wage campaign’s tendency to drive businesses out of cities, Acorn hopes to force companies that want to move to obtain “exit visas.” “How much longer before Acorn calls for exit visas for wealthy or middle-class individuals before they can leave a city?” asks Stern, adding, “This is the road to serfdom indeed.”
But even that is really nothing new. Many activist groups suggest ideas and programs that, upon close examination, actually hurt the very people they purport to serve. The problem with Acorn is that their tactics can be very confrontational. Again, from Kertz:
Acorn’s tactics are famously “in your face.” Just think of Code Pink’s well-known operations (threatening to occupy congressional offices, interrupting the testimony of General David Petraeus) and you’ll get the idea. Acorn protesters have disrupted Federal Reserve hearings, but mostly deploy their aggressive tactics locally. Chicago is home to one of its strongest chapters, and Acorn has burst into a closed city council meeting there. Acorn protestors in Baltimore disrupted a bankers’ dinner and sent four busloads of profanity-screaming protestors against the mayor’s home, terrifying his wife and kids. Even a Baltimore city council member who generally supports Acorn said their intimidation tactics had crossed the line.
It’s reasonable to ask why my sudden interest in Acorn?
As I’ve mentioned many times, Barack Obama’s limited experience and thin record provide little that allow us to understand the man behind the candidate. Acorn provides still another glimpse at Obama’s true ideology.
Let’s begin with Obama’s pre-law school days as a community organizer in Chicago. Few people have a clear idea of just what a “community organizer” does. A Los Angeles Times piece on Obama’s early Chicago days opens with the touching story of his efforts to build a partnership with Chicago’s “Friends of the Parks,” so that parents in a blighted neighborhood could have an inviting spot for their kids to play. This is the image of Obama’s organizing we’re supposed to hold. It’s far from the whole story, however. As the L. A. Times puts it, “Obama’s task was to help far South Side residents press for improvement” in their communities. Part of Obama’s work, it would appear, was to organize demonstrations, much in the mold of radical groups like Acorn …
Although the L. A. Times piece is generally positive, it does press Obama’s organizing tales on certain points. Some claim that Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father, exaggerates his accomplishments in spearheading an asbestos cleanup at a low-income housing project. Obama, these critics say, denies due credit to Hazel Johnson, an activist who claims she was the one who actually discovered the asbestos problem and led the efforts to resolve it. Read carefully, the L. A. Times story leans toward confirming this complaint against Obama, yet the story’s emphasis is to affirm Obama’s important role in the battle. Speaking up in defense of Obama on the asbestos issue is Madeleine Talbot, who at the time was a leader at Chicago Acorn. Talbot, we learn, was so impressed by Obama’s organizing skills that she invited him to help train her own staff.
And what exactly was Talbot’s work with Acorn? Talbot turns out to have been a key leader of that attempt by Acorn to storm the Chicago City Council (during a living-wage debate). While Sol Stern mentions this story in passing, the details are worth a look: On July 31, 1997, six people were arrested as 200 Acorn protesters tried to storm the Chicago City Council session. According to the Chicago Daily Herald, Acorn demonstrators pushed over the metal detector and table used to screen visitors, backed police against the doors to the council chamber, and blocked late-arriving aldermen and city staff from entering the session.
Reading the Herald article, you might think Acorn’s demonstrators had simply lost patience after being denied entry to the gallery at a packed meeting. Yet the full story points in a different direction. This was not an overreaction by frustrated followers who couldn’t get into a meeting (there were plenty of protestors already in the gallery), but almost certainly a deliberate bit of what radicals call “direct action,” orchestrated by Acorn’s Madeleine Talbot. As Talbot was led away handcuffed, charged with mob action and disorderly conduct, she explicitly justified her actions in storming the meeting. This was the woman who first drew Obama into his alliance with Acorn, and whose staff Obama helped train.
In and of itself, the Obama-ACORN connection wouldn’t mean much at all. But when we consider the confluence of his many connections to far-Left, anti-capitalist groups, it is cause for growing concern. Consider his political mentors, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorn (indicted for Weather Underground bombings), the infamous Rev. Wright (need anyone say more), the ranting of the Rev. Michael Pfleger (a left-leaning Chicago priest and Obama supporter who, according to USA Today, “ridiculed Hillary Rodham Clinton this week in a racially-charged speech from the pulpit of Barack Obama's church”), the list is long indeed, and I submit, it does provide more than a subtle clue about Obama’s true political ideology, even if he has recently distanced himself from each.
Finally, a postscript from Kurtz:
The shame of it is that when the L. A. Times returned to Obama’s stomping grounds, it found the park he’d helped renovate reclaimed by drug dealers and thugs. The community organizer strategy may generate feel-good moments and best-selling books, but I suspect a Wal-Mart as the seed-bed of a larger shopping complex would have done far more to save the neighborhood where Obama worked to organize in the “progressive” fashion. Unfortunately, Obama’s Acorn cronies have blocked that solution.
But to Obama, it seems that activism is an end in itself. No matter that the end result was less than optimal, because he and his many associates “spoke truth to power,” and got what they demanded. No matter that over the long term little good was achieved, it felt good and maybe that’s all that really matters.