The views of a rabble-rouser and former stay-at-home dad on protests, politics, parenthood, groupthink, and music.
Monday, October 13, 2008
ACORN Haters Gotta Hate
ACORN is doing another massive voter registration drive this year. They have registered 1.3 million new voters for the 2008 election. And once again, there are a few people who are cheating the system by submitting false registrations. This has happened before, and not just with ACORN. But they're one of the largest organizations doing voter reg work, so of course, they're also going to be one of the biggest targets. That's the way it works. If you're successful, you become a target.
Republican haters are saying that ACORN is basically a voter fraud operation. One even called them a "quasi-criminal" organization and a "threat to public safety." This, to use a technical term, is horseshit.
I've got my beefs with ACORN, as has been well documented. But don't hate on them for registering new voters. They register low-income voters, disenfranchised voters, young voters, people of color. In other words, the people who are most likely to support Obama and progressive candidates. And look who's complaining about ACORN's work. This isn't brain surgery. Republicans hate anyone who empowers the powerless. That means community organizers. That means nonprofit organizations who do any social justice work. And that means groups who register people to vote.
ACORN is doing important work, work that supports and strengthens our democracy. And yeah, a few low-wage workers will find ways to cheat the system. How can ACORN stop it? Maybe they should pay their people more, so cheating isn't such a temptation. Maybe they should do more stringent background checks. There's ways to do it, and ACORN needs to start taking some serious steps to fight fraudulent registrations.
But think about this. Most of these workers have a certain amount of registrations they're supposed to collect. Either they have a quota or they're getting paid per registration. Every time one of these cheaters submits a false registration, ACORN is paying them as if they collected a valid registration. So when ACORN workers submit fraudulent registrations, they are cheating ACORN. ACORN isn't committing fraud - the cheaters are committing fraud against ACORN. (Thanks to Salon writer Alex Koppelmann for spelling this out in his excellent War Room post.) They are also damaging ACORN's public reputation - you think ACORN likes being called names in the media? No. They don't.
So now John McCain and his Republican thugs are trying to draw up a connection between Obama and ACORN. Ooh, scary - Obama spoke to them at a training! Oooh, scary - ACORN might have given Obama money at some point for doing sneaky lawyer stuff! Now they've got a commercial out, trying to make ACORN look like the mafia. "They even endorsed him for president," says the creepy voice. Ooh, scary!
Look, if you work in the progressive world, you're going to run across ACORN at some point. I've met ACORN organizers a bunch of times, as recently as this summer. I saw Wade Rathke speak once in Seattle, a few years ago. They're a player in the social justice world, and unless you're completely isolated, you'll run into them.
Obama is connected with ACORN only because he has connections with the social justice world. ACORN isn't a criminal enterprise - they're an organization dedicated to fighting injustice and poverty. They've got their problems, but that's not Obama's fault. Obama had nothing to do with the embezzlement. He has nothing to do with the mismanagement of the organization.
I want to be absolutely clear, since I've attacked ACORN before for their internal problems. An attack of ACORN's voter registration work is the same as the attack on community organizers. It's an attempt to take good, honest, patriotic work and turn it into something suspicious. Barack Obama has worked throughout his career with the people who make change happens, and that means that at some point, he crossed paths with ACORN. There is no shame in that.
Update: There is truly no shame in working with ACORN, and John McCain knows that. That must explain why he attended an immigration event that ACORN co-hosted back in 2006.