ACORN Author Wades Into Public
By Stephen Lowman
"Some of you may have heard of ACORN recently," said Busboys and Poets' Don Allen last night as he introduced ACORN founder Wade Rathke.
It was a safe bet on Allen's part. After all, half of the two dozen people in attendance at the beginning of the author talk were members of the media who wanted to discuss the very bad month ACORN has had. Writers for The Nation, The National Review and The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, as well journalism students from American and George Washington universities and a blogger for biggovernment.com, were present at the restaurant and bookstore's 14th St. location.
Rathke divided the room in two: reporters and "civilians." The civilians wanted to talk about the policy prescriptions put forth in his first book "Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families" (Berrett-Koehler Publishers). They were believers in ACORN. They asked questions about Acorn's international operations, voter registration drives, and its fight against predatory lending by banks in the 1990s.
The community organizing group is not unfamiliar with controversy and has long been a target for conservative critics. The fallout was huge from the release earlier this month of a videotape of ACORN employees giving advice on how to evade taxes and run a brothel to a man and woman posing as a pimp and prostitute. This is what the reporters wanted to talk about.
A reporter for the conservative National Review prefaced his question by saying, "I appreciate that you have the courage to make a public appearance." He then asked about money embezzled by Wade Rathke's brother, Dale, a decade ago, which subsequently led to Wade's resignation in June 2008 as chief organizer for ACORN's U.S. operations.
A follow-up question about whether there was a culture of corruption at ACORN elicited a "boo" from a civilian member of the audience.
Despite these pointed questions, there was not much juicy grist for the media mill. Rathke said he was not going "to carp on people" presently in management, only going so far as to say that "some people have broken the 'do-right' rule and it has got to be fixed."
When asked why there was so much animosity directed toward ACORN, Rathke said, "There are many who believe low-income people should not have a voice in the political life of our communities."
"I am not surprised about what's going on," he said about the ferocity of attacks against ACORN. "But it's hit a new decibel level."
"I think there is a neo-McCarthyism at work in the country," he said.
I spoke to Rathke after the event and asked him how the controversy was affecting the promotion of his book, which came out in July.
"To be honest, even the publisher is confused as to how this changes things," he said. "Who knows if this attention will move books or won't move books? Hopefully people will focus on the issues raised in it."
Over the course of the Q & A, the attendance crept up to upwards of 30 people. Despite all the attention ACORN has received, Busboys and Poets' Allen said an event on the previous night had a more robust turnout and sales. That was a book discussion with the authors of ""Tree Spiker: From Earth First! to Lowbagging: My Struggles in Radical Environmental Action."
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