ACORN was the nation's largest community organization of low and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities. From 1970 to its end in 2010, ACORN had grown to more than 175,000 member families, organized in 850 neighborhood chapters in 75 cities across the U.S. and in cities in Canada, the Dominican Republic and Peru.
ACORN's accomplishments included successful campaigns for better housing, schools, neighborhood safety, health care, job conditions, and more. ACORN members would participate in local meetings and actively work on campaigns, elect leadership from the neighborhood level up, and pay the organization's core expenses through membership dues and grassroots fundraisers.
The Sixties were an important time in the history of American politics. The decade witnessed struggles for freedom for low-income people and minorities across the nation as well as a war that deeply divided all Americans. Amid the confusion and conflict, some important lessons were learned by those who cared deeply about America and her people - lessons that would endure and make a lasting impact on the nation.
One of the groups that took risks, explored new ideas and developed a unique formula for a politics of justice in America was the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), led by George Wiley. Wiley developed and led the National Welfare Rights Organization in the mid-sixties to become a national force for the needs and rights of low-income people. By 1966, the NWRO had 170 groups in sixty cities across the nation. Despite the very real needs of its members, the NWRO was destined to remain a small minority with limited power in American politics unless it could build a network of friends and allies. When this reality became clear, Wiley began an experiment that would explore the possibilities of a larger constituency for economic justice. He sent Wade Rathke, his young and highly talented organizer, to Little Rock, Arkansas to apply his creativity to the problem.
The broad vision of ACORN as a movement to unify the powerless in pursuit of economic justice was not shared by all the members. The inclusion of many groups in a single coalition came with costs. These costs, however, proved to be a necessary part of the struggle to become a force for social justice in America. In particular, many welfare rights members wanted a strictly welfare rights group and withdrew from the organization, fearing that they would lose control. After the split, the organization diversified further with the addition of the Vietnam Veterans Organizing Committee (VVOC) and the Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee (UWOC).
The following year, ACORN leaders organized a "Save the City" campaign in Little Rock. The campaign addressed blue- collar homeowners' concerns that their neighborhoods were being destroyed by traffic problems in the Centennial section, and by unscrupulous real estate agencies who engaged in blockbusting in the Oak Forest section. ACORN members dealt with the traffic problems (the Centennial neighborhood won a park and a stoplight to ensure the safety of their children), the expressway intrusion (families were relocated and provided other social services) and blockbusting (stopped in its tracks). ACORN, through the "Save the City" campaign, had established itself as a force in Arkansas politics.
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