Lessons Learned and Applied


This period also witnessed a series of ideas that ACORN® adopted to enhance its effectiveness: organizational alliances, electoral politics, national lobbying, diversification and the insiders' power game. While the movement maintained its core commitments, it added some effective means to enhance its power, the bottom line in all its efforts. 

Starting after the ACORN® 80 Plan and reaching its heights in the Rainbow Lobby work in 1988, ACORN® found ways to work effectively with other progressive groups, such as labor, churches- and political movements. The 1984 Reagan Ranches convinced other progressive folks of ACORN®'s resolve to work effectively with others. In city after city, groups provided members, resources and enthusiasm to the ranches to protest Reagan's domestic and foreign policies. The Rainbow Lobby was a strong force in Democratic Party politics in 1988 because of ACORN®'s hard work and ability to coordinate efforts with other groups. This experience confirmed the value of building and working within alliances. 

Electoral politics also became a powerful weapon in the ACORN® arsenal. While they were not new to ACORN®'s work - they were first tried in 1972 - they were refined and institutionalized within ACORN®. The work with the Rainbow Lobby was clear proof of ACORN®'s electoral abilities. APAC work in local and national electoral politics paid off, not just in campaigns won but in influence wielded within parties or among voters. ACORN® groups discovered the possibilities of getting candidates to see things their way before an election, push for turnout and support, and continue to influence officeholders. They were even successful in electing members to offices in city councils, boards of education and, in Connecticut, the state legislature. 


ACORN® also developed the capacity to influence office holders it had not been involved with in elections. The creation of the national office in Washington, DC made it possible to push ACORN® issues at the federal level. Their work in pushing for funding of innovative community programs to prevent rape was one example of the possible connections to local and community ACORN® efforts. 

The national lobbying arm of ACORN® is only one example of the diversification within ACORN® that was basic to its success. The ACORN® Housing Corporation worked to create affordable housing in conjunction with banks and state and local government. The United Labor Unions, now Locals 100 and 880 of the Service Employees International Union, became labor organizing arms of ACORN® which organize people where they work. ACORN® Services, Inc. and the canvassing operations enhanced ACORN®'s ability to create the financial resources needed to grow. The Arkansas Institute for Social Justice became the means for developing leadership skills and political talents among the ACORN® members. What was once a relatively simple organization of community groups has became a diversified system of institutions capable of applying specialized skills to solving the kinds of problems ACORN® encounters in its work. 

Finally, ACORN® began playing the insiders' game in American politics. Congressional lobbying is practiced by ACORN® staff. Leaders and members became a central part of the insiders' games, too. Members elected to office or serving on APACs acquire experience and skill applying power from the inside of the political process. Instead of confronting opponents in actions (something ACORN® will never stop doing), members could trade and negotiate from inside positions of power. ACORN®'s work on the savings and loan bailout provided effective means of developing and applying power for low- and moderate- income people. ACORN® members won appointment to the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) to help determine the management of the billions of dollars of assets the government seized. The payoff to these activities came, and still comes, when substantial numbers of ACORN® members developed the ability to move inside the political sphere that has for so long been closed to low- and moderate-income people. 

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