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Local ACORN Offices Not Deterred

So says the headlines of two local newspapers today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Oregonian.

From St. Louis:

The local ACORN office is funded largely through membership dues, said head organizer Glenn Burleigh. He declined to reveal exactly how many St. Louis members ACORN has, saying it was in the "thousands," though not all can afford the $10 monthly dues.

ACORN St. Louis has advocated for greater investment in low-income communities, pushed for reforms in the payday lending industry and fought utility companies seeking to raise their rates.

The local ACORN office offers mortgage loan counseling and tax preparation services. It has organized events in favor of health care reform. Last week, ACORN hosted a rally against possible rate increases by AmerenUE.

"Folks talk about ACORN like it’s a giant, faceless corporation," Burleigh said. "It’s not like somebody in D.C. called us and said, ‘You need to oppose Ameren’s rate hike.’"

The St. Louis offices are in a run-down storefront on Manchester Avenue in the the Grove neighborhood. The street level offices sit vacant. On the second floor, the rooms are filled with mismatched office furniture and boxes of files.

Fans are wedged in the windows to circulate air through the stuffy building. The fax machine doesn’t work, and the carpet is worn. Hanging on the walls are maps of city wards and signs from previous protests.

And from Portland:

ACORN’s leader in Oregon says the help that the nonprofit agency gives lower-income residents trying to stay in their homes or fight bad landlords is getting overlooked in the national argument over the group’s voter-registration and counseling efforts.

"We’ve had a number of people call and say silly things like, ‘I’d like to open a crack house,’ or, ‘I have a prostitution ring, I’d like to get a loan,’ " Aimee Olin said. "But we have an equal number of people calling in and lending us their support."

ACORN came to Portland in 2000 and settled in a small shopping center inside the triangle of Southeast Powell Boulevard, Foster Road and 52nd Avenue. The office covers Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties and counts about 2,600 people as local members.

Olin arrived in 2004 from Rhode Island to lead the Oregon chapter, which has an annual budget of about $150,000. Its emphasis, she said, has been on helping lower-income families avoid foreclosure on their homes.

ACORN helps those people in communities across this country who need it most, and they do it by building deep roots in communities where they work. The bit of DC-centric, right-wing, racist flak they’ve been receiving doesn’t really undermine that.

While the "scandal" might not hit at ACORN’s core operations, it does say a lot about where the right wing is at these days. Attacking an organization that exists expressly to help the poor is quite a statement.

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Jason Rosenbaum

Jason Rosenbaum

Writer, musician, activist. Currently consulting for Bill Halter for U.S. Senate and a fellow at the New Organizing Institute.

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