Acorn Toronto has been around now for five years. It was founded by Judy Duncan, a Canadian from Manitoba who went to the states and worked for ACORN in various cities there. She came to Toronto about 2004 with a substantial amount of money from ACORN, some say about $200 000, with which to start a branch.
There are now ACORN branches in three other Canadians cities. Since the 'unravelling' of ACORN in the United States, Judy has worked hard to distance herself from her American parent. All the Canadian ACORN groups say they are independent, yet they attended the last ACORN convention in the States where they declared themselves to be proud members of ACORN.
ACORN Toronto's basic 'organizing' methods are like those of the American parent. It does not have the money and clout, and has not been around long enough, to do anything really outrageous.
However, the basic mentality is there. They try to get $120 a year in membership fees out of people living far below the poverty line. Their high pressure methods of signing up members and soliciting donations has led some people to call the police.
They are fighting for position with older, more established cause pimp organizations such as Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, to receive government funds to be a phony voice for voiceless groups. There is plenty of money in working for the fake left/progressive establishment to 'pressure' it into what it already wants to do but needs justification.
For example, ACORN presumes to speak for tenants on the issue of landlord licensing. This would be a hidden tax on tenants, to pay for the city's normal administrative costs of regulating rental housing. Without the political will to expropriate bad landlords, licensing them will be futile. This is not in the tenants interests at all, but the tenants have no voice of their own.
American ACORN is in big trouble right now. It might not survive but there will always be something to replace it. It has been around for a long time, and developed from earlier 'community organizing' groups of the 1960s, which in turn had roots in the great depression.
All 'good causes', unless they have a clear goal, become corrupted and coopted over time. ACORN got its ideas from the 1960s activist Saul Alinsky, who advocated forming connections with organized crime, and from the theorists Piven and Cloward. The latter advocated confrontation and disruption tactics as the way for the poor to apply some pressure on the establishment.
None of these methods go anywhere, and lead to strong counter reactions. ACORN developed into the kind of group the 'progressive' wing of the ruling class, those who prefer to coopt discontent rather than crush it, like. All ACORN's activities are hollow; they channel anger in ways that do nothing to seriously challenge the established order.
ACORN-like groups make it harder to create real community based power. ACORN is notorious in many American cities for muscling in on effective community organizations in poor areas, often started by poor people themselves. They stack the boards with their own people, scoop up its money, and either close them or turn them into an ACORN affiliate.
Much of the recent commotion in the states about ACORN is an indirect attack on President Obama. He is a former 'community organizer' for ACORN. But the spark of it is a revolt by some members of the ACORN board over the corruption they were finding, and the illegal way the core ACORN group drove them from the organization.
The illustrious founder and long time supremo of ACORN is able to afford a large ranch on his income. His brother was found to have embezzled a million dollars from the organization. This was kept quiet and he was allowed to pay it back over thirty years, which is the same as being allowed to keep it.
When some ACORN board members learned of this years after, they began investigating and found more improprieties. Some people have been making a lot of money off ACORN's real estate dealings in many cities. ACORN is guilty of massive tax evasion.
Most of what ACORN is condemned for is dirty work of the establishment. They were using illegal methods to register people to vote. This does not so much favor one party over another as give the entire political system in the states credibility it does not deserve. Refusal of most people, especially in poor areas, to vote, discredits the political system and threatens the establishment.
ACORN helped inflate the housing bubble that triggered financial meltdown. It helped low income people get 'sub prime' mortgages they could not afford. Now the banks have acquired all this housing for no money, but the former owners are stuck with debts they can never pay off.
In many cities, ACORN was able to carry out 'block busting' that no private developer could have got away with. "How dare you criticize ACORN for trying to solve the housing crisis by building low income housing." Never mind that for every low rent apartment created, an owned home in a stable neighborhood was destroyed. This also forced down property values in the neighborhood, much to the benefit of private redevelopers.
Even if ACORN were saints, and every dollar was perfectly accounted for, their philosophy is fundamentally flawed. You do not help anyone by 'organizing' them. This is paternalism, and in the end all it creates is dependancy and resentment.
No one has any right to appoint themselves as spoke people for a particular group of people. In a democracy, a real democracy, every significant interest group, however, poor, uneducated, or stigmatized, is given the resources to organize to articulate their own interests, and direct programs that are intended for their benefit.
ACORN has no real goal. Even the best it does helps nothing in the long run. Most of what it does obstructs powerless people from doing what would really empower them.
That is, to demand an adequate income to start out with, for everyone. Nothing else will ever eliminate poverty. Raising wages will not; creating more jobs will not. Wages and jobs are not an effective way of distributing incomes.
Creating a lot of 'affordable' housing will not help anything. People need appropriate housing. People's incomes will never rise to what private capital can charge for housing. The cost of housing must be brought down to what everyone can afford to own.
These are the tasks of a real democracy. Over the past fifty years one of the techniques by which private capital and the ruling elites have protected themselves from the development of democracy has been to nurture cause pimp groups like ACORN. Their role is to disorganize communities, not to organize them.
That ACORN is starting to run into trouble now, after doing the same thing for forty years, is a sign that this system of control is starting to break down. This speaks poorly for the future of ACORN Toronto. First, the cause pimp field is already fairly crowded here, and second, the social changes that are starting in the states will come here soon.