Yesterday, I finished the third part of my interview with Wade Rathke. I felt, correctly, or not that after spending several hours with Rathke, that I was starting to understand Rathke, his vision, and his goals. So, I tried to make these questions as pointed and interesting as possible.
1) What can the local, state, and federal government do right now to help the poor and middle class?
The answer that Rathke gave was both surprising and impressive. I expected him to rattle off several laws that could be implemented, maybe a moratorium on foreclosures, and other policy changes that he believed in. Instead, Rathke was practical and pithy.
He said that all government programs: unemployment insurance, welfare, etc. should be streamlined on the internet so that all citizens would be given access to electronic files. By doing this, the government would cut all sorts of red tape and save those in need all sorts of time and energy in receiving these benefits. For the money the government would spend in implementing these systems, the benefit to the people would come back ten fold.
The answer was impressive both in its practicality and in its non ideology. In fact, Rathke is right. The government's entitlement system is outdated. There's no reason why people still need to show up to apply for benefits, and streamlining the process through the use of technology would benefit all.
2) When someone calls you a radical, do not care, agree, or disagree vociferously?
"I don't care".
Rathke said that he doesn't see himself in those terms. In fact, he sees himself as an organizer first. This is the biggest misconception of most opponents and observers of Wade Rathke. Most people think he is driven by a radical ideology. The only ideology Rathke is driven by is the ideology of organizing. That's not only a way of life for Rathke but it's a way for him to see the world.
Don't get me wrong. He has political thoughts and opinions. (I asked him those later) They don't drive him. Organizing drives him. Organizing is the way that he has been able to influence society and make his mark on the world. Community organizing has been mocked and ridiculed by conservatives, but conservatives don't understand that to be a good organizer means you can do anything. It means you have an army behind you to accomplish any goal. Finally, there's been very few, if any at all, organizers better than Wade Rathke. (as an aside Rathke said he doesn't consider himself a radical and believed that his political views were much more pragmatic than people might think)
3) Do you know George Soros and do you believe in one world government?
I asked this because it's been widely reported that Rathke is on the board of the Tides Foundation and Soros is tied to Tides.
First, Rathke doesn't know George Soros personally. Of course, he knows who he is but has never met him. In fact, he told me that it was news to him that Soros has any ties to Tides. Rathke told me that he's been involved with the Tides Foundation for almost four decades. Conservatives have often used the Tides Foundation as a link between one radical in their view, George Soros, and another, Wade Rathke. The truth is a bit more complicated. Rathke's been with Tides long before Soros ever became involved with them. Furthermore, as a member of the board, that meant attending two the three days of meetings every quarter. In fact, as Rathke later told me, Tides is all a part of a synergy of his vocation as an organizer. (in a previous interview Rathke told me he's also never met Bill Ayers)
As for one world government, that's not something that Wade Rathke thought could practically happen.
4) What's the relationship between Citizen's Consulting Incorporated and ACORN?
For some background, when I first started investigating ACORN, I was told that CCI was a sort of weigh station for all monies that reached not only ACORN but any and all of its multi hundred affiliates. CCI is also the company that Wade's brother Dale used to be the comptroller of back at the beginning of this decade.
Wade Rathke characterized it in a much different manner. He said that CCI was contracted by ACORN for "accounting services". He said they're a separate organization with its own board and its own business.
I pointed out that when Wade Rathke is head of ACORN and Dale Rathke is head of CCI, how separate are two organizations?
Rathke said that by that estimation that means that because Rahm Emanuel is Chief of Staff in the White House and Ari Emanuel (inspiration for Ari Gold in Entourage) is a Hollywood agent that this means there's no separation between the White House and Hollywood.
That's an interesting comparison but not exactly fair. The White House hasn't contracted out all its film work to clients of Ari Emanuel. The problem with one brother running ACORN and the other running CCI is that CCI relied on ACORN for most, if not all, of its business. There's a clear conflict there, and it's unclear that there were any clear firewalls.
He also told me that ACORN is one organization always registered as a "vanilla" non profit. In my first interview, I thought Rathke had made a stunning admission when he said that ACORN is one organization. That's because those members of the board that were concerned about corruption, most later became members of ACORN 8, felt that ACORN AND IT'S AFFILIATES were all one organization. I initially thought that Rathke was admitting to what they were accusing. In fact, Wade Rathke was only talking about ACORN itself. Organizations like ACORN Housing were organizations that, according to Rathke, ACORN "partnered with".
All of this is vital to the story of ACORN and it's also terribly complicated and confusing. Those, like members of ACORN 8, who thought and think that there's malfeasance at ACORN believed that all these affiliates, as they call them, are all part of the same organization. They believe that money, resources, and human capital all transferred freely between them all. In fact, often, ACORN Housing and ACORN share offices. The so called Kingsley memo said this as well. Rathke maintained that everything was separated and all above board. He maintained that ACORN was fully audited each of his years at the helm and they went through the very forensic audit that ACORN 8 has been demanding.
5) What's your vision for the future of Community Organizations International?
First, Rathke wanted to clarify. He changed the name of ACORN International in the United States to Community Organizations International to avoid confusion between ACORN and the now called COI. Internationally, this organization still maintains the ACORN name. So, for instance, it maintains a presence in the Dominican Republic and it's called ACORN Dominican Republic. This name change couldn't really have been butchered any more if the media tried to report it inaccurately. In fact, Rathke says he still gets calls asking why ACORN changed its name. (once again, ACORN didn't change its name.)
He sees COI as an organization that goes into each and every urban area with "significant infrastructure problems" (or every urban area) and organizing the community to be "a positive force for change". He told that his passions are really juiced when he thinks about what kind a force for change COI can be in urban areas that are at the "crossroads of huge populations".
To be frank, the vision he laid out for COI was inspirational. It's hard not to believe when someone puts it as inspirationally as that. I've said that Rathke is not only charming but hypnotic even and when speaking about his vision, he was at his finest.
6) In our last interview, we got into ACORN 8. Rathke believes that ACORN has done plenty wrong and deserves criticism. He also believes that ACORN's faults are being singled out and over emphasized by those with an agenda. So, I asked him, "how you process ACORN 8 making the same criticism as opponents". He essentially boiled it down in the last interview to an internal philosophical dispute. Privately, he told me that his answer wasn't fully developed. So, I asked him to expand.
If Rathke was at his most inspirational in the previous answer, he was at his most cunning in this one. First, he played a bit coy. He told me that much of what happened, happened following his leaving ACORN. So, he wasn't necessarily speaking from first hand experience. Of course, one thing I don't worry about is Wade Rathke knowing about the inner workings of ACORN, even after his departure.
He said that according to his understanding the dispute boiled down to a dispute over power. First, the internal debates that started between those like Marcel Reid and Karen Inman and Maude Hurd (president of ACORN) hardened following his departure. According to his understand, Reid and Inman were part of a thirteen person group set up following disclosure of Dale Rathke's embezzlement to investigate ACORN to root out future problems. This group included three board members Inman, Reid, and Carol Hemingway, and ten employees of ACORN.
In Rathke's view Inman and Reid began to make demands for the entire group. In other words, the two of them started speaking for the board in its entirety. This went outside of protocol. So, Carol Hemingway was there to reign them in. Inman and Reid wanted to get the books of ACORN and they wanted a forensic audit. Rathke said that ACORN had gone through this exact forensic audit a few years earlier. Because there was no calming presence (meaning Wade Rathke) there to make sure cooler heads prevailed the confrontation lead to Inman and Reid being removed. Of course, if he were still around, this wouldn't have happened.
Members of ACORN 8 scoffed at this notion when I spoke with them afterwards. In their minds, it was very clear. They were members of the board of ACORN. They had a right and a duty to see the books. They were never given the books, and instead thrown out of ACORN when they demanded them.
7)Do you believe in single payer health care?
Much like one world government, Wade Rathke doesn't see single payer as any possibility. He believes a robust public option is "very important to providing competition". He believes that every health care system is different. He believes Canada's single payer is good but not as good as some make it out to be.
He also said that the public option wasn't a litmus test for his support. He went back nearly four decades to frame the issue. In the early 1970's, welfare rights groups he had previously been alligned with were fighting for welfare reform. They wanted a bill that would give a family of four earning less than $5,500 welfare benefits of $5500 when unemployed. The bill proposed $1800. So, the groups opposed the plan. By doing so, they actually joined forces with conservative groups who wanted the bill to give zero. The bill was defeated. So, sometimes, it's better to get some of what you want than be an ideological purist and oppose unless you get all.
He said that he sees his role as seeing what passes and then organizing to make it better.
8) Do you believe in free markets and capitalism?
He said he doesn't really know any free markets. With a plethora of bailouts, we no longer have free markets. In fact, China's markets are currently much more free than are ours. Ironically enough, on this issue, Wade Rathke made a very intuitive and correct point, and unfortunately, I must agree. (I say unfortunately because I wholeheartedly support free markets)
He said that his role isn't to see the world through a theoretical prism that he wants. Instead, he works within the framework of the world as it is and organizes to make that framework better.
After the interview, I came to what I initially thought was a stunning revelation. After I thought about it it isn't that stunning. To frame it, let's first play one of my favorite 80's songs.
It's true everybody does want to rule the world. We are all struggling to influence society as much as possible. The reason that people blog, give their opinion, and write about politics is in hope that their point of view influences others. We are all through this media trying to rule the world. So, why should Wade Rathke be any different?
I've come to the conclusion that Wade Rathke's goal is to rule the world. If you think about what community organizing is, the whole thing makes perfect sense. A good organizer will organize a lot of people. A really good organizer will organize even more. How do you measure someone's worth in community organizing? It's by how many people they've organized. It's by how much influence they've had in they issue they organize for. Furthermore, effective organizing means a synergy of media outreach, political outreach, and community outreach. Effective organizing means the ability to reach your tentacles into all levels of society. Make no mistake, the reason that ACORN became a force in our society has everything to do with the organizing genius of Wade Rathke.
Now, think about COI. It's a confederation of international organizations currently in seven countries. It was started about five years ago. In five years, it might be in seventy countries. Wade Rathke started and founded ACORN (then Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now) nearly four decades ago. Then, it was an organization of one. It grew into an organization that had tentacles into nearly all parts of our politically, cultural, and media structure by the time he left. This happened because Wade Rathke is a unique and remarkable organizer. He was so good at it, that he gained enough influence to become embedded into governments of all levels in the U.S. So, what was his goal in ACORN? It was to rule the U.S. If you think that's absurd and provocative, think again about what makes a good community organizer, the biggest community possible. The bigger the community meant bigger influence. That was in the U.S.
COI is a world organization. It knows no borders. It can go anywhere but it's purpose is the same. Remember, Wade Rathke told me himself that he wants to go into every urban neighborhood. He himself told me he wants to rule the world. There's nothing provocative or incorrect in what I'm saying. He's a community organizer. His goal is as big a community as possible. His place of business is the entire world. So, in effect, Wade Rathke wants to rule the world.
What makes Wade Rathke different from everyone else? He can do it. He grew ACORN from one person to a force in politics, culture and life in the U.S. Now, he wants to do something very similar in the world. I've said it before. ACORN is no longer the story. They're a dying organization that's disintegrating in front of us. We're only paying attention for the same reason we pay attention to a trainwreck.
Going forward, Wade Rathke is the story. He's an individual that not only wants to rule the world but he's found the vocation to do it, and he's effective enough to make it happen. An individual with the means, the capability and the resources to rule the world is a story. That's one I want to follow. It's one everyone should follow.
Here's part I and II of my interview series.