By Bob Harris
In the past few months, there have been a number of stories with negative information about the social activist organization the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
I learned about ACORN several years ago when articles told of its program called Nehemiah, which worked to build homes for poor people in deprived neighborhoods. Nehemiah was the Hebrew prophet and statesman who led the rebuilding of Jerusalem when the Hebrews returned from their captivity in Babylonia.
Today ACORN is the largest community service organization in the nation. It uses private and various government money to build houses for the poor, carry out voter registration among the poor, help victims of Hurricane Katrina, help people facing foreclosure problems, establish alternate schools, help unemployed youth and provide social service advice to the needy.
Last year the organization was attacked by conservatives because some ACORN voter registers in Nevada were given a bonus if they registered 21 people. When ACORN officials realized some voter registers has committed illegal actions, they turned them in to the authorities. Critics then criticized ACORN because of the illegal actions.
But one has to realize that any organization which registers over 1 million voters who vote Democratic is dangerous to conservative officials. That is why ACORN was attacked during the election campaign last year and why two conservative activists recently made a video against ACORN.
Conservative men and women recently posed as pimps and prostitutes and went to various offices looking for advice on how to set up brothels. Considering that some of the people who come to ACORN may use drugs, be prostitutes and have housing problems, the workers interviewing these people may not have been surprised at the requests. Congress has voted to cut off funding for ACORN.
State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) asked in a daily newspaper op-ed piece, “If ACORN disappeared, who would aid the poorest of us?” There are many social service volunteer organizations from all religious and social factions.
ACORN was created by a liberal activist whose brother is now accused of embezzling a million or so dollars. Halliburton was accused of illegal activities, but is still providing services in Iraq. Things must change if some workers in ACORN did things wrong, but its enemies have already gotten Congress to ban the nonprofit from working on the 2010 census and doing tax-assistance for the needy.
The poor, poverty-stricken, homeless, under-educated and needy need help and nonprofit groups do the helping. Groups of all kinds help the needy with advice or food pantries. Some of us volunteer. We must make sure groups who help the needy are permitted to help but are punished if they do not follow the law.
Catch the crooks, but let those who help the needy help the needy. Watch out for politics.
GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Queens College is a well-respected school. My wife attended it. One thing she talks about is that Queens College was a school for the youth of Queens, where students could live at home to save money and easily commute to the school. Each borough has its own local public colleges.
Now it seems schools like Queens College and St. John’s University want to diversify and attract students from far-away places by building dormitories. The new five-story dorm at Queens College opened for 489 students. Officials want to give the campus “new energy” as students come from other states and countries.
But dorms change the original mission of the City University of New York system of giving local students an inexpensive school they could attend, thus enriching the boroughs and economy of New York City.
Adding hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of students does not improve the quality of life of a neighborhood even if the youth are fine people. Just adding hundreds of people can upset the balance between suburban and urban living. The drain on city services could be a problem. The addition of cement and bricks could be a problem. We will see how things turn out in the weeks and months ahead.
Brooklyn College will open a 250-student, eight-story dorm. I thought zoning was created to keep the density of population down and the quality of life up in New York City. Why dorms everywhere? Why is Queens beginning to look like Manhattan?