ACORN grilled

I don't know if it makes the Republicans' point, but Deal Hudson notes that ACORN got more than $1 million in aid from the U.S. Catholic bishops' Campaign for Human Development last year. Hudson's attack on ACORN comes as the Republican Party is tarring the community activist organization as part of its campaign to link Barack Obama to radicals. I don't think Hudson helps the GOP's case by noting the bishops' financial support for ACORN projects. But he is taking advantage of the opportunity to urge the bishops to cut off funding for ACORN on grounds that it is too political for a non-profit.There are some rough edges around ACORN, going back to the days when its members seized abandoned buildings as squatters. Its voter-registration drives are the particular target of Republican ire and are under investigation in various places. But from my own observations, I can also see why ACORN's community-organizing projects merit funding from the money we throw into the collection basket for the Campaign for Human Development. It organizes the poor the to help themselves.I observed this as a newspaper reporter in the late 1990s. When workfare was first required for welfare recipients in New York City, I spoke to some of the participants. They were treated horribly - working outdoors in city parks in the winter without coats, appropriate work clothes or boots (they often wore their own sneakers in extremely cold weather). They had no rights whatsoever - they were "fired" - cut off from benefits - if they missed a day of work for whatever reason. Untrained supervisors treated them with contempt; I visited one sanitation garage where the workfare workers' tools were segregated from the regular city workers' tools. The bathroom was off-limits to the workfare workers.Few were paying attention to this at the time. But ACORN stepped in to organize the workers. Their plight improved considerably. The workfare program improved because of it, I think - the whole point was to convey the dignity of work, but instead the Giuliani administration's approach had been punitive. ACORN recognized the welfare recipients' human dignity. Detractors like Hudsdon can call this a radical agenda, but to me it sounds quite Catholic.Whatever comes of the political allegations being made against ACORN in the heat of a nasty campaign, I hope that its legitimate grassroots organizing goes forward.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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