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.


Anonymous said...

ACORN leadership exploits their workers and the very communities they claim they represent...shameful.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!!!! Bravo!!!! Bravo!!!!!

As a former Head Field Director ofACORN, featured in a Wall Street Journal Article: I personally experienced the better than mentality projected towards it's employees, who ACORN management labeled as no more than "Indentured Servants." I applaud you for exposing his hyprocritical deeds. Please contact me via this email address:

BradyDale said...

I worked for ACORN for a while. The public face is so phony. It was a disturbing place to work. It functions more like a cult than an Organization and it exists to serve staff, not members. Members are a means to keep their little island floating.

Sky Bluesky said...

That's what is so disturbing about groups like ACORN (and they're not the only nonprofit that abuses their workers). NPOs are beholden to their members and should be in business, as it were, to serve their needs and improve their lives. With ACORN, the roles are reversed - the members exist only to perpetuate the eternal organization. Issues are simply the latest thing, the latest excuse to hold a press conference and raise money. But the mission of the organization is to perpetuate the organization.

Thanks for writing, Brady and the other posters. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way about the shameful behavior of Rathke and ACORN.

Anonymous said...

I, too, worked briefly for ACORN in Florida in 1977, as a VISTA volunteer. Bradydale has it right - low-level staff were "organized" as much, if not more so, than the members of the groups we were working with. There is a fine line between "organizing" and "manipulation" and in my opinion ACORN consistently was on the wrong side of the line.

Anonymous said...

You're all right. known Wade for almost 30 years. He not only doesn't give a hoot about his staff and members, he also does not give a hoot about the social and public policy issues and the people who live with the results of his failures. It wouldn't bother me so much had Acorn not persistently put so many other leaders and organizations out of business, starting with the Arkansas Welfare Rights Organization (made up almost entirely of welfare mothers) he "stole" in the 1970's. Thanks in large measure to Acorn, welfare recipents haven't been allowed to add their voices to the litany of those (most especially Acorn)who get endless government contracts to "help the poor". Meanwhile the poorest of the poor -- welfare families are in worse condition than at any time since the 1960s.