Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wade Rathke - This I Pretend to Believe

Did you hear ACORN founder Wade Rathke on NPR this week? What a load of baloney.

"I found out quickly that if I listened — really listened — to what people were telling me about their lives and their problems, then I did know something. I knew what they knew."

Oh, what a pile of excelsior. I was so incensed I wrote NPR with my counterpoint. My response is below. Just for funsies, I also posted it on the "chief organizer's" blog, so he can read it himself.

I was surprised to hear Wade Rathke touting his belief on NPR last week. While I realize that every individual who submits an essay for the This I Believe series has a right to his or her own opinions and beliefs, I was nonetheless disappointed. While it was satisfying to hear a community organizer on Morning Edition - and I am speaking as a former organizer myself - I do not want Mr. Rathke speaking for me or attempting to present himself as a model organizer for others to follow.

Mr. Rathke, the founder and self-appointed "chief organizer" of ACORN, spoke about the power of listening to community members. Yet when ACORN employees in Seattle joined a union and fought for basic labor rights such as a 40-hour work week, a sexual harassment policy, and regular and accurate paychecks, they were forced to go on strike against the tone-deaf ACORN leadership. Workers in Philadelphia and Dallas were fired when they attempted to organize. And as recently as 2006, ACORN was still facing charges of not paying its workers for hours worked, this time in St. Louis.

So Mr. Rathke claims that listening is the way that politics really works. He claims that ACORN works for social justice, workers' rights, and a democracy where "the people shall rule." He can believe whatever he wants, but here's what I believe about Rathke. He is someone who has made a healthy living talking about poverty and community organizing, but when it comes to actually respecting the rights of his own workers, he seems incapable or unwilling to listen to them. His stated beliefs are simply incompatible with his actions and those of the organization he founded.
Now, I hate washing the social justice movement's dirty laundry in public. But I just couldn't let Rathke's feel-good, self-congratulatory snow job go without comment. ACORN's history of abusing its workers is a matter of public record - there's nothing I said that can't be found elsewhere on the web. When ACORN straightens up and starts legitimately acting like a social justice organization that cares about its workers, I'll stop talking smack about them.