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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Future of ACORN

If you want to know what will happen to ACORN as a result of all the scandals and controversies, this story from Connecticut is a microcosm.

Its political allies fled. And with its national organization fighting for its life and unable to give any money, ACORN of Bridgeport is doing what other chapters have been doing across the nation, going independent, sort of.

This month, the group began a campaign to raise money and create two local nonprofits, one to concentrate on social issues, the other on political action. To be clear, the plan is to continue to work with other chapters on national issues through a federation, according to Emeline Bravo-Blackwood, a small business owner who is leading the effort to transform the group in Bridgeport.

So, more and more ACORN chapters are moving away from their current structure which is one organization where all the local chapters answer to a national board to a federation. Where have I heard that term federation in relation to ACORN? Oh yeah, it was in my interview with Wade Rathke. He explained that ACORN is one organization whereas COI, what Rathke now runs, is a federation. Here's how Rathke described the difference.

a federation is a combination of autonomous organizations, like the AFL-CIO as an example, as opposed to being a single operating entity as ACORN is/was and an individual union, like SEIU for example is.

As we speak, more and more local ACORN chapters are becoming autonomous creating their own funding streams, boards, etc. They would only work with the national organization on national issues but be totally autonomous.

That's how COI (Community Organizations International) is structured as well. There are currently 7 different units within COI. Each is autonomous from each other. Now, ACORN itself is moving to structure itself in the same manner.

Now, let's not start any rumors. I am not saying, and certainly Wade Rathke isn't, that the hundred plus local ACORN affiliates are about to orchestrate a coup and suddenly move their newly formed FEDERATION to COI and move under his umbrella. That's not happening. Instead, the locals have realized that the national organization has let them down, tarnished their name, and is no longer a source for creating revenue anyways.

Local chapters like the one in Bridgeport, Ct. are themselves not struggling. There are many like this. They've now realized that answering to the national organization is a growing liability. So, they are moving themselves to structuring themselves as a federation so that they would only need to partner themselves with the national organization when its convenient. Otherwise, they cut ties with them entirely. More than that, the name ACORN will be kept locally if it's still perceived positively.

Now, many conservatives will wonder where the name ACORN can still be positive. Remember, this group is a very effective grassroots organizations. In this local areas where ACORN has maintained a strong local presence for years, like in Bridgeport, Ct., the locals view ACORN very positively. At the same time, if the ACORN name becomes to toxic, all the locals in the new federation will be able to change their own name to whatever they want. That's one of the benefits of being a federation.

What's important to the current debate is that the locals see that the national org's jig is up and they are now jumping ship. By moving to cut ties from their unified structure and move to a federation structure, it also means the locals are cutting away from the stain that the national org has spilled on the group as a whole. The national organization's power over ACORN will be next to nothing. They'll no longer have any operational control over any chapter. They'll work together on "national issues" but the national group can't maintain their own funding, has a toxic brand, and facing a plethora of bad press and lawsuits. How many national campaigns can they fund that way? So, if ever there was proof that the national ACORN is through, it's the growing movement of local chapters to turn themselves into a federation.

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