Acorn’s opposition to welfare reform only threatens to worsen the self-reinforcing cycle of urban poverty and family breakdown.
The goal was to remove eligibility restrictions, and thus effectively flood welfare rolls with so many clients that the system would burst.
The theory, explains Stern, was that an impossibly overburdened welfare system would force “a radical reconstruction of America’s unjust capitalist economy.” Instead of a socialist utopia, however, we got the culture of dependency and family breakdown that ate away at America’s inner cities — until welfare reform began to turn the tide.
Acorn is at least as radical as these better-known groups, arguably more so. Typically, media background pieces note that, on behalf of Acorn, Obama and a team of Chicago attorneys won a 1995 suit forcing the state of Illinois to implement the federal “motor-voter” bill.
Yet because Acorn works locally, in carefully selected urban areas, its national profile is lower. In fact, Obama’s Acorn connection is far more extensive.
ACORN has been repeatedly attacked in the press by partisan officials eager to counteract this success.
Permissive state voter challenge statutes allow partisan individuals to challenge and disqualify voters, frequently without providing clear grounds on which such challenges are allowed.
While Acorn holds to NWRO’s radical economic framework and its confrontational 1960’s-style tactics, the targets and strategy have changed.
Acorn prefers to fly under the national radar, organizing locally in liberal urban areas — where, Stern observes, local legislators and reporters are often “slow to grasp how radical Acorn’s positions really are.” Acorn’s new goals are municipal “living wage” laws targeting “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart, rolling back welfare reform, and regulating banks — efforts styled as combating “predatory lending.” Unfortunately, instead of helping workers, Acorn’s living-wage campaigns drive businesses out of the very neighborhoods where jobs are needed most.
The vote cagers then compile a list of names associated with pieces of returned mail onto “caging lists,” which are used to challenge voters’ eligibility to cast ballots.
These mailings overwhelmingly target voters of color, residents of cities and likely Democratic voters.
According to Stern, Acorn’s radical agenda sometimes shifts toward “undisguised authoritarian socialism.” Fully aware of its living-wage campaign’s tendency to drive businesses out of cities, Acorn hopes to force companies that want to move to obtain “exit visas.” “How much longer before Acorn calls for exit visas for wealthy or middle-class individuals before they can leave a city?