Saturday, March 27, 2010

Adios, ACORN

Jesse Walker at Reason has a spot-on autopsy on the soon-to-be-deceased ACORN:
But while ACORN learned from Alinsky's confrontational style, there's an important difference between the Alinsky model and the ACORN model. As the liberal writer Harry Boyte put it in his 2004 book Everyday Politics, Alinsky thought the best way to build political power was to "create an organization of existing community institutions," such as churches and neighborhood associations. ACORN, meanwhile, "avoided organizing through institutions and sought out previously disconnected community residents"; as a result it was "plagued by rapid turnover in leadership and transcience of affiliates." The group's central tactic was door-to-door canvassing—to the point where, in Boyte's view, "the canvass has become the tail that wags the dog. Narrowly scripted issue campaigns come to dominate, while the more complex, vital work of public leadership development and the creation of sustainable local cultures of civic engagement disappears." The canvassers, meanwhile, were overworked and poorly paid, and on at least one occasion went on strike. Until the recent scandals hit, ACORN was best known in some circles for being the group that worked to raise the minimum wage but didn't want to pay the minimum wage to its own employees.
And that's how you end up having ex-cons registering voters.

The whole thing is worth reading. ACRON was a terribly run organization on just about every level and will likely serve as an example of how not to create a "business model" for successful community organizing group. Far from being the urban election fraud boogie-man that they conveniently allowed the right to paint them as, ACORN was more accurately described as the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Above all things, they were incompetent, and Walker does a good job of laying out the institutional issues they doomed they from the get-go. There was fraud alright, but the problem canvassers were more interested in cheating ACORN out of an honest paycheck than they were with stealing elections. That's no one's fault, but ACORN's.

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