Mighty Oaks from little Acorns grow.
The first law of thermodynamics is: energy can neither be created nor destroyed. I have discovered the same thing is true about political energy; if it is dissipated in one place, it collects in another. Perhaps that is why history is replete with examples of politicians who kill their rivals. Jail won’t do it. Look at Mandela. Or Pussy Riot.
The eradication of Acorn is legendary in conservative circles: the faux pimp followed by the faux FOX outrage about the faux pimp, that took down one of the country’s most effective community organizing groups since the Beatles. At its peak, ACORN, the Association of Community Organizing for Reform Now, had over half a million members and 1,200 neighborhood chapters in over 100 cities across the U.S.
Come on, give the Conservatives their due; they deserve credit for sheer audacity. They slayed quite a large dragon with nothing but a lie and a pair of oversize sunglasses.
Acorn closed its doors in 2010 when the funding dried up post-pimp, but the people of that fine organization lived to fight another day. Their political energy collected elsewhere and then it grew. It has already changed a city.
In New York City, where Acorn was headquartered, you will find ex-Acorners spearheading a group called New York Communities for Change, (NYCC), and they have been busy. Since Acorn was disbanded, the former Acorn players have elected a liberal Mayor, installed a liberal City Council President, ignited an education war, began a campaign to increase the minimum wage, and another to unionize fast food workers and airport baggage handlers. They began with a budget of $200,000. Now its more than $2,000,000 thanks to generous union donations. It’s hard to tell how much more. NYCC is a 501(c)(4) – a nonprofit that can participate in political activities without revealing its donors,
Oh, and as an extra added bonus, NYCC not only has the ear of Mayor de Blasio, and council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, they have their unabashed support.
Their detractors call NYCC a “rebranding” of Acorn, but there were significant changes. Acorn’s chief executive Bertha Lewis fell on her sword and moved on, at least on paper, and a skilled political operative named Jon Kest, assumed the helm. Kest was one of the founders of another populist advocacy group, the Working Families Party, so since its first days, NYCC and Working Families Party have been symbiotically joined at the brain stem. Even now, the two organizations are headquartered on different floors of the same Nevins Street building and Jonathan Westin, the Occupy Wall Street trained successor to Kest, who died in 2012, sits on the Working Families Party’s executive board. And their political goals are almost identical.
But what is important to history is that Jon Kest, the man who gave the ex-Acorners their new direction, was a personal friend of New York City’s public advocate Bill de Blasio – a man with dreams for higher office.
The NYCC backed Bill de Blasio during the primary, when few people knew his name, much less would show up at a campaign event. It was Acorn turned NYCC that helped him gain traction. The NYCC would stage a fast food workers walk out, or an affordable housing protest, and once the crowd and the press were in place, de Blasio would show up and speak in favor of the cause-of-the-day. Meanwhile political activist volunteers would stand behind a bright orange NYCC banner cheering his name.
Jon Kest died before he could see his strategy work. But it did work. NYCC gave Mayor de Blasio his huge numbers in central Brooklyn, and Queens – the very places FOX News complained Mayor de Blasio sent the snowplows instead of the upper eastside. And Mayor de Blasio has shown his appreciation in other ways, including raising money for the group. At a recent NYCC fundraiser Mayor de Blasio attested:
“I am so appreciative of not just the support I received and my campaign received, I’m appreciative of all the people who were given hope by New York Communities for Change, who were shown their own power.”
Many unhappy New York City Republicans are looking back at Acorn and wondering if they made a mistake. They credit the Working Families Party and the NYCC get-out-the-vote efforts not just with the new mayor’s landslide victory, but with the election of the public advocate, comptroller, council speaker and a number council members last year. Those ex-Acorners also helped Melissa Mark-Viverito win the speakership of the City Council, with an in-house office dedicated to beating back all challengers. After she was elected speaker, Speaker Mark-Viverito hired the ex-Acorner who ran that war room as an adviser.
And Bertha Lewis, the Acorn chief executive who took the blame for pimp-gate? She’s now one of Mayor de Basio’s closest advisers. She may not be part of NYCC on paper, but in every interview she gives, she refers to them as “we”.
The former Acorn hierarchy now has union money, hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers, and the ear of the two most powerful people in New York City government.
Mighty Oaks from little Acorns grow. And NYCC is still growing.
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Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.