By David Swanson
From 2000 to 2003 I was the communications coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. I don’t know whether to be sorry or relieved that I don’t have my old job now.
ACORN has been through some scandals of its own making, but it is currently all over the news because of a pair of absolutely fraudulent and nationally coordinated attacks.
One of these attacks involves accusations of voter fraud. But, of course, “voter fraud” almost doesn’t exist, and federal prosecutors have lost their jobs because they couldn’t find evidence of its existence to satisfy the Bush White House. In fact, the accusations against ACORN are not about voting, but about voter registration.
Now, if some kid fills out bogus forms in order to make more money from ACORN for supposedly registering voters, ACORN is supposed to try to catch that stuff and not turn in those forms. On the whole, ACORN has registered huge numbers of people with only a tiny percentage of problems. But the more important point is that the kid trying to scam extra bucks has no intention of trying to vote multiple times, risking imprisonment, and no intention of bringing in corpses to have them vote, as CNN seems to imagine. There’s no money in fraudulent voting, only enormous risk. But there is money and power in vote suppression and vote miscounting, the major stories that this one is meant to distract from.
The other attack on ACORN focuses on blaming the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) for the collapse of Wall Street. Most subprime loans, and therefore most predatory loans, are not made in order to comply with CRA. In fact, low-income and minority communities have seen a great deal of activism in recent years demanding that the predatory lenders stay out, not in. ACORN coined the phrase “predatory lending” and made news years ago by beginning a major campaign to keep loans that are worse than nothing out of neighborhoods.
Predatory loans are not loans made to the wrong kind of people. They are loans made in very deceptive ways with the aim of making the borrower believe they’ll be able to pay it back, but with the aim of making them fail. Predatory mortgage lenders make money by refinancing repeatedly, extracting more fees each time, and eventually seizing the property. This is accomplished with misleading fine print that strips people of their equity through all sorts of hidden fees and charges and rate increases, and by consolidating credit card and other debt with house debt. Every year, ACORN produces a lengthy report documenting the targeting of racial minorities with these loans.
For years, ACORN has led efforts to ban predatory loans through local and state legislation, while the same gang that is now so upset about these loans being made has fought endlessly against bans and restrictions.
The good news is that the family of organizations known as ACORN is growing, raising wages, improving schools, reforming corporations, building housing, organizing active citizens, and clearly threatening the powers that be. ACORN has decidedly moved past the stage of being ignored and even the stage of being laughed at. ACORN is now being attacked. Next comes victory.