ACORN founder Rathke speaks at Gordon Hall amid small protest
Wade Rathke, founder of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and author of Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families, gave a speech at Tuesday evening at University of Massachusetts’ Gordon Hall to speak about his new book.
On Monday, Rathke spoke at Springfield College, where nearly 30 conservatives were waiting to disrupt his talk. According to an eyewitness account, several conservatives stood up and began shouting accusations at Rathke, who was able to convince them to wait until the following question-and-answer session.
Rathke posted an account of the lecture on his blog, noting that “the room filled up amazingly to almost the full 250 capacity. There were people from local community organizations: ARISE, Springfield ACORN, and ADP. There were 9/12ers sitting in the front row in motorcycle vests as well as some others sprinkled about the hall. There were students galore and a number of older faculty and retired types.
I was introduced and as I walked to the lectern, the first of the Beckers jumped up from his seat to protest my speaking and rant about ACORN and its evil and prostitution and whatnot. Department chair, Herb Zette, walked up to him and ushered him out.”
If Rathke had been expecting something similar Tuesday at UMass, he was sorely mistaken. Rather, the crowd sat and listened quietly as Professor Dan Clawson of the Department of Sociology introduced Rathke and turned over the podium to him. Clawson became concerned that the lecture would be interrupted by protests again.
“Anybody is welcome to attend and listen and ask questions,” Clawson said in an interview the morning of the lecture. “On the other hand, anybody who disrupts the talk will be asked to leave.”
During the speech, which was sponsored by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), the Departments of Sociology, Economics, Political Science, Social Thought and Political Economy Program (STPEC), and the labor center, Rathke mainly focused on his book’s criticisms of how the government has attempted to bridge the gap between rich and poor. He argues instead that “wealth-building” is key to solving these problems, and that the government’s attempts to do so, such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, and tax relief provide some temporary relief but ultimately make things worse by preventing individuals from building up the assets they need to provide themselves with a stable lifestyle.
Rathke advocated minimum-wage increases as an effective way of coping with poverty. “[They’ve been small raises] like a dollar, a dollar and a quarter, a dollar fifty, but if you’re in full-time work, if any of you are labor students, you know, full-time work is still 2080 hours a year…that’s a $2000-plus raise if you’re a full-time worker,” he said.
After the talk, attendees leaving walked into several conservative protesters outside Gordon. The protest was organized by the Western Mass 912 Project, a local chapter of a national movement called the 912 Project, started by conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck earlier this year.
“We’re not affiliated with anybody but [Glenn Beck] was the encouragement to start it,” said Bill Gunn, a Ware resident and one of the organizers of both the Springfield College event protest and the protest at UMass. But the protest outside Gordon hall was significantly smaller than the one in Springfield the night before, drawing about eight people who gathered outside, brandishing signs as diverse as “Community Activism Leads to Corruption” to “Buy Locally Grown”, also waving United Nations and American flags, shouting anti-ACORN slogans, and handing out flyers accusing ACORN of socialism, embezzlement, voter fraud, and other criminal activities. All of the protesters refused to give comment.
“We agree with some of ACORN’s causes,” said Gunn, citing voter registration
and the empowerment of poor people as some examples. “We disagree with the
way they go about it. Those are great goals; we share those goals. But we
actually mean it when we say it.”
Cameron Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.