Insider Opportunities

With a Democratic President and Congress, the national government became more receptive to reforms promoting the political power of low- and moderate-income people. ACORN played an important role in the passage and implementation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, or "Motor- Voter," Act. After its passage, ACORN members attended President Clinton's signing ceremony.

The law itself was not enough to get the job done, however. ACORN follow- up required new registration laws in Arkansas and Massachusetts and lawsuits against governors who wouldn't comply with the federal law in Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. By 1994, ACORN participation helped Project Vote register 147,000 voters in Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The potential political power of low- and moderate-income people all over the U.S. got a big boost from ACORN efforts.

Democratic control of the federal government meant that ACORN had increased access to top officials with more sympathetic ears. ACORN members began regular meetings with Henry Cisneros, HUD Secretary under President Clinton, on a variety of issues. ACORN organizing began to include more tenant groups under the ACORN Tenant Union (ATU), and Cisneros was increasingly helpful.

In 1993, ACORN began a national campaign to fight insurance redlining, a practice that put the gains made in other housing campaigns at risk. Homeowners in low- and moderate-income communities could not get insurance or paid higher rates. The insurance redlining campaign targeted Allstate, hitting sales offices in fourteen cities and a Sears, Allstate's parent company, stockholders meeting. Allstate agreed to negotiate and signed an agreement in 1994 for a $10 million partnership with ACORN and NationsBank for below-market mortgages to low-income home buyers. Travelers Insurance came on board with a Neighborhood and Home Safety Program, linking access to insurance and lower rates to public safety programs. ACORN proved it could win whatever it took to ensure access to home ownership to low- and moderate-income people.

In 1994 the ACORN national convention, "Taking it to the Top," was held in Washington, DC. Its goal was to meet with top government officials in the executive branch and Congress. Members met with Secretary of Education William Riley, Attorney General Janet Reno, Chair of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan, and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. As Maude Hurd, President of the ACORN Association Board, put it, "Get ready for action, because while some things have changed, we still have many fights on our hands. From the White House to Capitol Hill to the biggest corporate lobbying groups, our voices will be heard." ACORN voices were heard by members of Congress whom they lobbied on ACORN issues, and especially by Henry Cisneros, who agreed to prevent any HUD interference in ATU organizing. This supplied needed support for ATU work for proper maintenance services, operating appliances, fair representation and the right to organize in Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York.

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