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ACORN Dharavi Diwali Party

There is a common saying about how important it is just to “show up” in making things happen. The corollary to that should be “finding it,” which is how I felt trying to navigate a cab through the packed streets and narrow byways of the giant Dharavi slum where we work in Mumbai. The ACORN Diwali party was scheduled for the second year on the top floor of a gym near the T-Junction, and I had been there once, but only once in the dark as a passenger. Somehow as we passed along the roadway with the remains of the old mangrove swamp on our right and tenements on our left, I happened to see a picture of a weightlifter above an alleyway. The cab had flown past to where it hoped we were going, but pulled over so I could run back to determine if we might have stumbled on the location. Indeed we had. From that point it was all easy.

I was the 100th person to sign the attendance list, so I could tell immediately that in every way this year’s event was going to show real progress in the growth of the organization. The seats were already up and filled, where last year I had been part of the setup crew for a smaller gathering. Before I left we had almost 200 on the attendance list.

The ACORN ragpickers and their families had a lot to celebrate. The announcement that Vinod Shetty, ACORN’s director in Mumbai, had sent out was straightforward:

ACORN will be launching the waste matters program in Lonavala and Khandala municipal limits. In Mumbai we have launched the waste matters program in schools (in partnership with CMCA and Lions club, Juhu) ,by the year end our ragpickers will be picking up waste from 22 schools, (this will give our members a source of income and at the same time educate the school students in waste management).

This was a good toehold, now we were getting ready to pick up the pace, it seemed.

The biggest difference this year was the obvious signs that we had moved from an initiative to an organization. The ACORN India membership committee were clearly running this event and were swarming everywhere with their proud badges as they ushered folks to chairs and hustled about. Various committee members acted as the MC’s for the program, handling the microphone like seasoned pros. Last year Vinod had to do all of these pieces, but Anil, our community organizer was everywhere behind the committee, and Vinod was in the back of the room, watchful.

This was also an ACORN program. Kids did dancing exhibitions to Bollywood favorites, and they were good! A guest whistled the tune to three well known pop hits, and the crowd loved it. The committee thanks everyone and the guests.

These are all small steps in building a strong organization in this huge mega-slum, but important steps giving all of us much to celebrate as ACORN India builds its base in Mumbai.

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Wade Rathke is the founder and former Chief Organizer of ACORN. He currently serves as the Chief Organizer of Community Organizations International (Formally Acorn International) and SEIU Local 100, has close to 40 years of experience. He has worked for and founded a series of organizations dedicated to winning social justice, workers rights, and a democracy where “the people shall rule”.

Wade Rathke and his family live in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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