ACORN to City: Clean up your act!
By Gary Allison Morey
"Anyone of us could go down there to city
hall and talk to them till we was blue in
the face, and you know what they would
do? Nothing. But when we go down there
as a group, and they hear ACORN's
coming, those politicians sit up and take
Lucille Martin got involved with the
Association of Community Organizations
for Reform Now (ACORN) last summer
when the City of Houston wanted to
charge her $600 for a paving project that
she and her neighbors did not want. They
fought the project and won.
Irene Tanner went to her first ACORN
meeting in January. By February, she was
leading ACORN's fight to increase the exemption on school taxes for senior citizens.
Martin and Tanner worked together on
that project, and won.
"How would she and I have ever got
together to work for the same cause without ACORN?" Martin asks. "She lives in
South Park, I live in the Heights. Out in
the Heights, we don't know what the
problems are in South Park. If we didn't
have an organization, how would we know
we had the same problems?"
ACORN is a league of 21 neighborhood
organizations in low and moderate income
communities throughout the Houston area
that is fast becoming one of the city's
most controversial and successful grassroots organizations. Issues range from op
position to Southwestern Bell's rate hike
(resulting in a decrease in phone rates last
year) to installation of traffic signals at
dangerous intersections. The membership
of 2,000 families ranges from senior citizens in Acres Homes to young teachers and
truck drivers in the East End. Eight of the
21 executive board members are women.
Five of the 10 ACORN organizers are women, including the head organizer,
"Rich people have power in their poc-
ketbooks. Poor and middle income people
have power in numbers, when they're organized," Talbott says. "But first they
have to believe in themselves."
Eva Mick el from the Heights says that
believing that she could lead a community
group was not easy for her. "I've never
held an office in any organization before,"
she explains. "When I had to go in front
of city council to fight the tax increases, I
was scared, and when I had to lead a news
conference I nearly backed out. But I
really wanted to get something done."
ACORN members say they manage to
win the involvement of many people like
Eva Mickel who have never been active
before. In some cases, that involvement
brings a new awareness of how the political system works.
"It's exciting," says Irene Tanner, co-
chair of the South Park ACORN group.
"I've been the spokesperson on senior
Ben G. Levy
247th DISTRICT FAMILY COURT
: 25 years of experience practicing law — more than both his
Member of the Bar of
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United States Court of Claims
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United States District Court for Southern District of Texas
Supreme Court of Texas and all other State courts
Organizer and former Chairperson of Houston Chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union.
Veteran, United States Navy, World War II; and former Chairperson, Houston Committee to End the War in Viet Nam.
Harris County Women's Political Caucus
Harris County Democrats
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Gay Political Caucus
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2244 W. Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030
ACORN menders EVA MICKEL, EMILY ROBERTSON and LUCILLE TANNER (1
to r) took Jack MeDaniel, (not shown) director of the City of Houston's Solid Waste
Department, on a recent tour of trash-lined streets in the Third Ward.
citizens' taxes, and ever since then, I read
the papers more closely. Before I started
working with ACORN, my husband used
to complain about me not reading the
paper. Now I pay attention to news so I'll
know what I'm doing. I pay attention to
every candidate that opens his mouth."
If ACORN members are watching local
officials more closely, those officials are
also watching ACORN. And they don't
always like what they see.
In early April, a group of ACORN
members took Jack MeDaniel, director of
Houston's Solid Waste Department, on a
tour of the trash-lined streets in the Third
Ward. ACORN invited the news media.
MeDaniel was furious. He thought he
would be touring the East End with only
one ACORN member. Trucks had been
out in that section all week picking up the
trash, according to ACORN members. But
trash piles that had been sitting in the
Third Ward for weeks were still there when
the tour bus rolled by. MeDaniel cried
foul play, claiming that he had been
"suckered" into the tour.
ACORN members argued that the only
foul play was in the city's neglect of their
inner city neighborhoods, and demanded
improvements. They won some immediate
funds for the leasing of additional trash
and garbage trucks, as well as a commitment to publish pick-up schedules and
rules in Spanish as well as English. But
they say they are still working for their
major goal, a regular monthly heavy trash
pick-up in all neighborhoods.
Direct confrontation with local officials
is a common tactic for ACORN groups. It
often nets some dramatic results, and it
changes some members' views about issues
and political candidates.
"The city council got up and walked
out on us," remembers Eva Mickel. "We
were protesting the 300 percent increases
in our property taxes. When Pearl Ford
from Meadowbrook ACORN got up to ask
for a reduction at the council meeting, all
of the other 80 members stood up, too.
Pearl didn't get to finish; the council
wouldn't let her. So we all started singing
Which Side Are You On and the council
walked out. But they came back later and
lowered our taxes even more than some of
us had asked for."
Lucille Martin explains that she has
learned a lot about politicians from events
like the tax protest. "When they walked
out, that did it for me," she says. "I try to
pick the candidates that's for the underdogs, the ones that's for the working class
of people, since I've always had to work.
But I never knew what these officials were
really like until we started fighting the
taxes. The River Oaks Country Club deal
was a big factor for me. If it wasn't for
getting in with ACORN, I wouldn't have
known that when they was going up on my
property tax more than double, they went
down a million dollars on River Oaks'
evaluation. We're out there in the Heights
struggling with them just to get a traffic
signal put up, but they can go out there
and cut a million dollars off their taxes at
the country club, and not even blink. Personally, I'd like to see every one of them
get beat at the next election."
ACORN takes partial credit for beginning to change some voting patterns in
inner city neighborhoods. "It used to be,
the candidates could play on racial feelings
to get us to vote for them," says Emily
Robertson, one of the ACORN board
members. "They could take two lower income neighborhoods with the same interests, and have them voting against each
other because one was white and the other
black." According to Robertson, politicians still do that, but it doesn't always
work as well as it used to. She points to
the precincts in the largely white Heights
that for the first time in many years voted
the same way as those in black neighborhoods like South Park and Third Ward
in the last mayoral run-off. ACORN had
organizations in all three areas.
"The people are not what they used to
be," Robertson says. "We're organized and
we're for real. Used to be, politicians could
say one thing and do something else.
Those days aren't gone, but with ACORN,
they're going fast."
COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT NO. 8