by Bertha Lewis
For over 40 years ACORN has fought the good fight. From a few initial neighborhoods in Little Rock, Arkansas, we grew to become a large, active, national organization of low- and moderate-income families, mostly people of color, working together to make their communities a better place. In working together, we helped families see that they can make a difference.
In the summer of 2008 I became the first new CEO of ACORN in 38 years. We revitalized a board of community leaders, and began the task of strengthening our organization. We instituted new corporate governance and internal controls, and we took the steps to develop proper legal and financial relationships between ACORN and its affiliates. That was no easy task, and we were well on our way to launching a new era for ACORN.
The impact of ACORN’s highly effective strategies spread throughout the country, catching the attention of right-wing media and its proponents. The barrage of unmitigated accusations certainly took its toll, but even as extremists increased their radicalism, we continued to make a difference for families in each and every corner of our nation. We fought bank redlining and predatory lending for decades, making the American dream of homeownership more universally available while protecting it against waves of abusive practices. We helped build a movement for a living wage, fought for stronger public schools, helped rebuild New Orleans after Katrina, and won countless improvements in neighborhoods. As recently as 2009, the organization saved affordable housing in New York, stood up to anti-immigrant racism in Arizona, and was fighting for real solutions to the foreclosure crisis, even as the right fought to stop this work in its tracks.
The ongoing political onslaught caused irreparable harm. This effort was a clear attempt to cast a shadow over the historic 2008 Presidential election, and set up a far right counter offense. Through those attacks we re-tooled and re-organized. Then again came the right-wing media blitz. This time of edited videos that misrepresented our mission, and consequently misled the public. The pressure and cost of defending ourselves in multiple investigations as a result of the falsified videos has eroded our organization. As a result we will be filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy by close of business today (Tuesday, Nov. 2nd).
We have seen this coming for some time. Our chapters closed in the first quarter of the year. We have spent our remaining resources trying to dissolve the organization with integrity, while continuing to respond to the extremist attacks. Allegations and reports will continue to try to undermine all that ACORN has done, often searching for evidence from long before I became CEO.
Thank you to all our members, supporters, funders, friends and allies who helped ACORN carve out a deep and lasting place in history. Let us all learn from the past, and march boldly into the future. ACORN will live on in the hearts of the people it served, and as those of us who fight for justice know, “THE PEOPLE UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED”.
Bertha Lewis is an activist, community organizer and the CEO of ACORN.