A.C.O.R.N. (us) leaders caught with their hand in the till

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Joined: 29-01-08
Jul 11 2008 17:56
A.C.O.R.N. (us) leaders caught with their hand in the till

Some might remember that ACORN was the non-profit "people's organization" run by Wade Rathke and his brother (also of SEIU ilk) that the IWW attempted to organize a few years back. Some might also remember that parts of the progressive left gave the IWW a ton of shit for daring to raise the issue that (gasp!) a non-profit is just as capable as overworking their staff and busting unions as much as any corporation, by virtue of the fact that both often use the same HR/management model for internal discipline. Back during this campaign, many of the workers complained of the rampant cronyism and cultism within the organization, that only got worse as one rose through the food chain. No doubt that ACORN critics, especially employees, will feel vindicated by the following published in the NYT:

Acorn chose to treat the embezzlement of nearly $1 million eight years ago as an internal matter and did not even notify its board. After Points of Light noticed financial irregularities in early June, it took less than a month for management to alert federal prosecutors, although group officials say they have no clear idea yet what the financial impact may be.

A whistle-blower forced Acorn to disclose the embezzlement, which involved the brother of the organization’s founder, Wade Rathke.

The brother, Dale Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million from Acorn and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000, Acorn officials said, but a small group of executives decided to keep the information from almost all of the group’s board members and not to alert law enforcement.

Dale Rathke remained on Acorn’s payroll until a month ago, when disclosure of his theft by foundations and other donors forced the organization to dismiss him.

It took years for this to come out, in a monolithic organization that had a good reputation in the more centrist circles of the U.S. left, after staffers had been screaming about the problems there for years. There are the numerous cases of voter fraud, wage violations, NLRB charges, and other issues that have been documented over the years in various press accounts from the Wall Street Journal to indymedia.

How is it that an organization that is supposedly "democratic" gets so far off the mark? What are the early warning signs? Who would we expect to listen when it begins to happen, and the only people saying anything are a small minority? Is this the result when we wait for the "proof" to come along, or do we actually investigate what is being said? Most important: are democratic radical working class organizations somehow immune to this kind of thing, perhaps because of size or ideology? Have we in the anarchist community experienced or seen similar trends within the organizations in which we belong???

Black Leprechan's picture
Black Leprechan
Joined: 12-07-08
Jul 12 2008 02:40

As a person of color. A former ACORN staff member, and as a revolutionary, and in light recent revelations of Wade Rathke's coverup of the theft of 1,000,000USD I just gotta say amen. Wade doesn't allow dissent within ACORN.

Here is what I can tell you, you gotta read Gery DelGado's ACORN: Growing the movement. DelGado, a founding organizer pushed out by Rathke detailed almost 30 years ago that ACORN had an all white management staff. Until Wade was pushed out of Chief Organizer USA by the board this month? Now Bertha Lewis is heading up the management team to clean up the mess?

Wade pushes her under the bus and into the drivers seat as it is teetering on the edge of a cliff? I have not published my real name and I hope you can appreciate why. I am just a lowly organizer who can be easily smashed by Wade's long arms in the Democratic party.

The kicker for me is that in light of Wade's racism towards CLU, the embezzlement of 1,000,00 and in my opinion more importantly the horrible treatment of ACORN staff who were from the working class? He is getting promoted to Chief Organizer of ACORN International? Chief Organizer of the World? Are people in LA going to stomach that?

A couple of points. The management staff that helped Wade cover up the theft are still in place and he is Chief Organizer International. Anyone who knows non-profit work knows you can shred the books (most of the them) every 5 years. That would mean Wade and his brother Dale (who was in charge of the cash box) could have done this up top 6 times. We in ACORN know that the 1,000,000 is a drop in the bucket. Meanwhile mangement staff all over the country are switching jobs right now. All except the star chamber.

I remember once at a staff of color caucus there were maybe 150 of us in a room. Bertha Lewis asked all staff who had been there over 5 years to stand. Only two people were standing. Then she asked everyone there over two years to stand and literally like 10 stood up. They then asked everyone over a year to stand and maybe 20 stood. The other 115 stood. I remember the resistance the management staff had to us even having a staff of color caucus and remember hovering outside the door nonchalantly. We all resolved to call Wade and others out on several issues. Wade never even acknowledged our resolve.

There are good people at ACORN. Unfortunately they are overshadowed by things like office riots when people who haven't been paid in over a month from poor communities explode. They are overshadowed by staff directives that do not allow for true community organizing. The way it is set up working class staff can't hang with the 60 to 100 hour weeks, the low mileage stipend, the ridiculous fund raising goals set etc..

If you have a kid? And you weren't born from money you can forget about working for ACORN. The Democratic party and Unions are helping to feed this beast. The outsourcing to ACORN for low wage campaign workers at 7-8 bucks an hour to do VR and GOTV with no minimum standards that workers get paid the Living Wage ACORN has out fighting for? This just feeds the beast. PIRG is doing it, Move on does it and so do others. The only poeple who survive between campaigns are North East liberals from often times Ivy League or private liberal colleges that are using ACORN as a resume stuffer in their climb up the ladder to be an Exec Dir or Dem party operative. What about all those people form black, Latino and other communities of color that really could have excelled at ACORN had they been paid a living wage.

When I read this letter circulated about CLU shortly after the unrest I couldn't believe the white chauvinism that dripped from this hypocrite. DelGado has it right. A change has to come about in community organizing. Where people form directly affected communities control the work. It has to happen.

Working for ACORN and watching some of the white folks in the field made me feel like we were putting poor communities in a skinner box to see how they would react if we gave this toy or that stimulus etc.. Or worse like some zoologist trying to get close to a lion or monkey in the jungle and acting proud if they were able to sit and eat with the animals. I am serious that is how it felt.

I hope the people of NOLA take this opportunity to force ACORN to reverse the methods, tactics, and employment policies of ACORN. Save that other 115 organizers out there from souring on organizing for ever.

Also, SEIU you need to tell ACORN they have to pay a living wage or they can't do SEIU work. Yes SEIU outsourced work to us often, if the Dems, SEIU, or any other progressive group is going to outsource any of their work to anyone. This business of not getting a contract that ensures the workers will be treated fairly has to stop. I have video I have never released of employees rioting in offices who were not paid for over a month. How embarrassing for them, for me, for the movement.

I don't know if you will print this but judging from your site I thought it might be the right place. I am living in the aftermath of ACORN wrecking my life and many of my friends. Burned out, turned out, and broke. That isn't the way progressives are supposed to be.

When I found out about the million? I wasn't even one bit surprised. I have personally seen that much money thrown out the money on nothing in a week at ACORN. By the way, if you leave ACORN the standard line is "F---k them, they left", you have to secretly leave. It is like a cult. If you do good you can't get a reference, your supervisor will hint that you are a problem worker. I know it. It is hard to re-enter the field of organizing because you are burned out and you are white listed by ACORN.

Please post this response. Maybe edit it if you feel any of it is over the top. Our story must be told by progressives or the right wing will turn it to stone and nothing will ever change.

Peace Out

A Fellow Organizer

Joined: 9-12-06
Jul 12 2008 03:06

"By the way, if you leave ACORN the standard line is "F---k them, they left", you have to secretly leave. It is like a cult."

This is true. The biggest turnover in ACORN was with working class people of color who, as stated above, could not use their trust funds to supplement erratic pay. Of course, they also pushed back more on management because the liberal guilt ploy used by management to keep white workers in line didn't work with people of color.

David in Atlanta
Joined: 21-04-06
Jul 12 2008 05:25

SEIU VP And ACORN Leader Charged With Racism
This is the CLU exchange Black Leprechan mentions.
Welcome to libcom comrade.