“The Organizer”: A Must-See Film for Activists

by on May 29, 2018

On June 2 and June 6 the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival is showing the only Bay Area performances of “The Organizer,” which depicts the building and activism of the national community organization, ACORN. Through the lens of ACORN founder and longtime leader Wade Rathke, the film’s footage goes back to the 1960’s in showing the power of the largest grassroots organization for working people of its time.

I saw a special showing of the film last week. I give it my highest possible  endorsement for grassroots activists and those aspiring to and/or admiring this work.

Many of the best organizers I have ever met were working for ACORN. If you never saw ACORN in its prime and wonder what all the talk was about, see this film. And if you recall ACORN but never really heard from the group’s members, it’s all in the film.

I became involved with ACORN in the late 1999’s. I worked with Rathke to open a San Francisco ACORN chapter, and helped place college grads in chapters across the nation. I also worked with ACORN’s Project Vote in the 2004 election, which ran voter registration and get out the vote campaigns in communities of color. ACORN attracted an astonishing array of organizing talent, some of whom are heard from in the film.

This film should not be confused with an earlier movie that focuses only on ACORN’s 2009 demise. This film also includes how the right-wing and cowardly Democrats brought down ACORN, but it more importantly shows the daily activism around foreclosures, welfare rights and other issues that led so many working-class families of color to dedicate their time to the organization.

The Organizer may have some of the best footage and personal accounts from those impacted by Hurricane Katrina as any other film (Rathke was based in New Orleans and ACORN had 9000 members there when the flooding hit).

If you enjoyed the film, Dolores (the biography of Dolores Huerta), you will want to see The Organizer (and if you have not yet seen Dolores, it’s now on Netflix so you should). While Rathke is at the film’s center, the movie includes the incidents that led to his leaving ACORN in 2008, just prior to the group’s fall.

Both showings are at the Roxie. The times are not the most convenient, but if organizing for progressive change were always convenient the left would have prevailed by now.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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