Attacking Grassroots Democracy by Attacking ACORN

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, does great work to bring voting rights to all Americans. It is a model of grassroots democracy and of the values we share.

However, there are some people who would prefer that ordinary Americans don't get to the voting booth. The opponents of the grassroots movement share some dangerous motivations and use dramatic language to ensure that some Americans matter more than their neighbors.

My day job involves dealing with scams, hoaxes and so on. Every day in our discussion boards I see rare but dramatic instances of unsavory behavior that attempt to manipulate the forum through hateful speech. In particular, I notice that the same people who attack groups like ACORN also tend to make other racist or equally ignorant, hateful comments on a range of issues. Their purpose is to scapegoat and intimidate, not to introduce any productive options or tools to make the U.S. a stronger country.

I'm involved with the promotion of voting rights, including an advisory role with VotoLatino.org (www.VotoLatino.org). Voto Latino is part of the Lawyers Committee – over 30 civil rights organizations promoting voter protection across the country, specifically in battleground states where voter intimidation is expected. I support groups that defend voters who have been forced to jump unnecessary hurdles, like the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) (www.SAVEvoting.org). I'm also strongly involved with the accountability and transparency movement led by the Sunlight Foundation (www.SunlightFoundation.com).

Over the years, I've seen that claims of voter fraud on the street level are almost always hoaxes. These hoaxes and scams are perpetrated to find ways to disqualify voters in areas with large concentrations of racial minorities or low-income citizens. As we’ve seen over the past year, the inappropriate firing of honest U.S. attorneys seems to be suspiciously related to this practice.

ACORN gives a voice to Americans who want to practice American values by voting.

Alternatively, I suspect that the people who attack ACORN and similar efforts are motivated by fear:

— They fear being held accountable. They fear that if historically persecuted groups elect practitioners of transparency, they will be forced to clean up their acts and answer to a new authority.

— To a lesser degree, ACORN critics are motivated by fear of minority populations and the power they could have if given a stronger voice.

Thankfully, there are ways that all voters can support the rights of the maltreated in America, even if we ourselves are lucky enough to cast our votes without any challenges or hurdles. Right now, every state has different laws when it comes to voter registration, leading to higher rates of political disenfranchisement. Citizens can support standardizing voter registration and eliminating confusion for new voters. If voters do witness abuse at the polls, they can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to speak to a live lawyer and report the abuse

People of good will need to stand up for the practitioners of American values and democracy, particularly those on the front line like ACORN. We cannot allow proponents of hate to shout over the voices of the disenfranchised.