Listen to ACORN’s Voice

, Mytheos Holt, Leave a comment

On August 4, Campus Progress, the youth arm of the Center for American Progress (CAP), released a document to its subscribers entitled “A Guide to In-District Lobbying,” which is designed to give young voters tips on how to fight for particular public policy issues. And while the Center’s bloggers recently denounced town hall criticism of the Obama health care plan as being “coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms,” its “Guide” includes instructions which were developed with the help of radical persons inspired by the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN).

On page six of the document appears a list of 12 “Tips for Effective Grassroots Organizing” with the following attribution: “This section was developed with the help of trainings from Wellstone Action. You can learn more about Wellstone Action at”

According to said website, “Wellstone Action’s mission is to honor the legacy of Paul and Sheila Wellstone by training, educating, mobilizing and organizing a vast network of progressive individuals and organizations to engage in their tradition of politics.” The group was founded by Jeff Blodgett, a former volunteer and campaign manager for the late Senator Wellstone (D-MN).

Prior to Wellstone’s run for the Minnesota Senate, he had served both as a professor at Carleton University and as a community organizer with the Organization for a Better Rice Country (OBRC), as detailed in his 1978 book entitled How the Rural Poor Got Power: Narrative of a Grass-Roots Organizer, now available in a 2003 reprint from University of Minnesota Press and online with Google books. However, then-Professor Wellstone’s work as a community organizer was by no means exclusive to OBRC. On page 200 of his book, Wellstone writes:

“I would like, however, to draw attention to an interview I conducted with Wade Rathke, chief organizer of Arkansas Community Organizers for Reform Now, better known as ACORN. ACORN is widely known as perhaps the most successful example of community organizing in the country. Rathke is…a brilliant organizer, and in my week with ACORN I found a great deal of empirical evidence for many of his organizing concepts.”

At the time, ACORN’s operations were still confined to Arkansas. But Wellstone’s connection to the group was not forgotten in the intervening thirty years, as an ACORN news listserv lists no less than three different obituaries intended specifically for Wellstone on the year of his death.

One year after Wellstone published How the Rural Poor Got Power, he met one of his most promising students. On page 68 of the book Professor Wellstone Goes to Washington, author Dennis McGrath details how Wellstone trained Jeff Blodgett, the student who would one day become his campaign manager and later supply this “training” to the activists at CAP:

“When Blodgett took a required political science course, he drew Wellstone purely by chance. He became enthralled by the professor, took a handful of his classes, and chose him as his academic advisor. Wellstone also coached Blodgett in wrestling and trained him as a community organizer…When Blodgett graduated in 1983 he became a full-time organizer and advocate for the poor. He was hired by the grassroots group Minnesota Citizen Organizations Acting Together (COACT).”

Minnesota COACT’s executive director Don Pylkkanen signed a statement in support of ACORN during the 2008 elections.

Yet the source of CAP’s advice to students only enhances its dubious nature. Their attacks on anti-Obama protests as “corporate astroturfing” notwithstanding, Campus Progress’s guide encourages students to “Know your agenda and roles going in,” and offers some advice on the sort of “roles” individual student protestors might fill. Among these are “the facilitator,” whose role is to “lead [the] introduction, meeting overview and closing,” the “pitcher,” who role is to “make the hard ask” and “the recorder,” whose job is to “take comprehensive notes on what the legislator says” or even use a video camera to record their response to the “hard asks” offered by the pitcher. Also in this spirit of meticulous staging, the guide even includes a time breakdown for how long each group of students should spend either telling “personal stories” or making “hard asks.”

Yet despite the deceptive civility of much of the document, some of the advice offered betrays the touch of ACORN-style bullying. For instance, on page six, the guide encourages students to “demonstrate your power,” “control the conversation” and “neutralize the opposition.” These suggestions are given little-to-no qualification, and what explanation they do receive is highly vague, which only strengthens the whiff of velvet-gloved ruthlessness which surrounds the guide generally, and page six especially.

Even context offers little in the way of excuse. Even outside the directly ACORN-influenced page six, one finds injunctions to “remind America how powerful we are,” and “keep up the pressure,” as well as advice on how to coordinate “demonstrations, flash mobs and other media-savvy events.” The sample letters to congressional offices, which make up the second half of the packet, include language implying a connection between conservative politicians and “the dirty coal or student loan industries.”

However, page six still bears the most brazen example of Campus Progress’ arrogance and ruthlessness. In the section entitled “demonstrate your power,” the following passage appears:

“The Millenial generation is 50 million strong. We’re ¼ of the potential electorate right now and will be 1/3 by 2015. We’re extremely active and very politically savvy. We’re not going away. And we vote.”

One only hopes that the members of the “Millennial generation” not so afflicted by tunnel vision that they can make common cause with the disciples of socialist street thugs will be just as unimpressed by these dishonest tactics as the numerous legislators unfortunate enough to be in their receiving end.

Mytheos Holt is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.