The first time I had heard of ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) was in 2009 when Andrew Breitbart released undercover video of James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles pretending to be a pimp and seeking free tax advice at a low-level ACORN office. This video started the unraveling of this organization, and for this sheltered Southern California boy, I didn’t think twice about it, but I did buy into its image portrayed on all the news networks. Yes, that includes Fox News Channel.
Now time has passed, and director Nick Taylor is bringing the currently defunct ACORN back into the forefront “in this current climate” via the documentary, The Organizer. Taylor’s film is about the community organizing movement that started in the late 60s/early 70s, but more a piece about ACORN’s founder, Wade Rathke.
When approaching a documentary that’s politically motivated, already I start looking for partisan warning signs. The Organizer unabashedly paints Wade Rathke in a good light, considering he appears prominently throughout the doc. It also draws a distinct line between them and us, meaning liberals will like the doc more than conservatives. But what I appreciate most is its fairness, especially in the way it addressed the ultimate downfall of ACORN in the U.S. in 2010.
“…who from the start found his passion in giving voice to the voiceless and building power for the powerless.”
The Organizer follows the career of Wade Rathke, a 60s radical, who from the start found his passion in giving voice to the voiceless and building power for the powerless. For Rathke, the voiceless was the growing number of poor and homeless across the nation. Based on a conflict model inspired by activist Saul Alinsky, the strategy was simple: organize the poor then together as a group march and demand specific changes to be made in their community. This was the birth of ACORN in Little Rock, Arkansas.
ACORN started with small, achievable successes like programs to dispense coats to women, furniture for low-income families, and forcing the government to clean up vacant lots in the neighborhood. Success was achieved by bringing members of the community together and unite under a single cause that directly affected that community. By sheer numbers alone, change was made, and to Rathke’s credit, he stayed behind the scenes and rarely became the face of the movement.
With ACORN’s success, the movement grew across the nation and took on more prominent causes like welfare programs, voter registration, and affordable housing. The doc goes through these causes in detail, but the true highlight was what ACORN did for New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. No one ever talks about how Rathke and ACORN saved the city.
The final act covers the downfall of ACORN. Like most organizations that become national and grows to an enormous size, too much power was placed at the top of the org chart as the ground troops felt neglected. This led to some cities breaking off and forming a smaller, more attentive separate organization. Then there’s the financial scandal, that shook the trust in ACORN’s leadership and Rathke’s resignation. Finally, Andrew Breitbart and Fox News lighting the fuse of ACORN’s implosion.
“…you’ll walk away understanding its true heart and spirit…”
While ACORN no longer exists in the U.S., The Organizer follows Rathke and his work in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere with ACORN International. What I appreciate most about Rathke is he is never the face of a movement. Instead, he empowers people to stand up for their rights and dignity.
I tend to be incredibly skeptical about political docs and features. I’m always looking for bias, fabrications, and lies in its presentation. Also, political films rarely unite and revel in dividing people further.
While clearly taking sides, The Organizer, is an honest portrayal of Wade Rathke and the rise, fall, and potential resurrection of ACORN. You may not agree with Rathke’s politics or tactics, but you will get an honest glimpse of his heart, passion, and the tangible results of his work. For those on the right, you may think at the end ACORN was a corrupt organization, but you’ll walk away understanding its true heart and spirit, enough to strongly challenge your opinion of the word, “corrupt.”
The Organizer (2019) Directed by Nick Taylor. Featuring Wade Rathke.
8 out of 10 stars