Bertha Lewis, the relatively new head of ACORN, took over the group in 2008, promising to clean up its finances, oust those responsible for corruption, and concentrate on enacting its goals of helping the poor. Her bio can be read here. When she took over the job as ACORN’s head, she replaced the controversial group’s founder, Wade Rathke, whose brother compromised the organization by embezzling money, an act which Wade Rathke concealed from ACORN’s board. Crain’s magazine called Lewis one of the most influential women in New York City business.
Despite stories to the contrary, Lewis recently told NPR that ACORN was not disbanding, only transforming itself into a “leaner and meaner” operation so that it could continue its work. Lewis explained: “Some of our state chapters have chosen to go their own way. We haven’t been able to maintain the resources, state-by-state, that we had, so we have gotten a little bit smaller. We’ve had to change some of our programming.” The reason for this, Lewis claims, is the repercussions that took place after the now famous videos “showed ACORN employees giving legal advice to conservative activists posing as a prostitute and a pimp.” Congress voted after this to cut off further funding of ACORN, and hence, state affiliates have acted to continue by changing their name and dropping their old membership lists.
Now, thanks to the website Verum Serum, a new video has emerged featuring portions of a speech Lewis gave in mid March to the Young Democratic Socialists, the youth arm of Democratic Socialists of America:
In her presentation, Lewis said:
Any of these groups that says, “I’m young, I’m Democratic, and I’m a socialist,” is okay with me. You know that’s no light thing to do — to actually say, I’m a socialist. You’ve got to know, actually, we are living in a time that’s going to dwarf the McCarthy era. It is going to dwarf the internment of World War II. We are right now in a time that is going to dwarf the era of Jim Crow and segregation.
They are coming. And they are coming after you. And they are going to be brutal and oppressive. They’ve already shown it. … This is not rhetoric or hyperbole — this is real. … This tea party so-called movement — a bowel-movement in my estimation — and this blatant uncovering and ripping off the mask of racism.
Her words deserve not only widespread attention, but serious comment since they emanate from a leader acclaimed by both New York magazine and Crain’s as someone who commands both respect and attention. The first point to note is Lewis’ remarks that “it’s ok to with me” to call oneself a socialist.
This is particularly important since Saul Alinsky, the theorist of community organizing whose ideas inform ACORN’s leadership, made it clear, as David Horowitz has written in his study of Alinsky, that “the most basic principle of Alinsky’s advice to radicals is to lie to their opponents and disarm them by pretending to be moderates and liberals.”
The goal is then to activate the base by gaining power, which will be used to slowly but surely subvert the existing system and transform it.
As Alinsky explained in his classic book, Rules for Radicals:
As an organizer I start from the world as it is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.
Second, one has to pay attention to her nonsensical claim — which truly approaches the bizarre — that our current period “is going to dwarf the McCarthy era,” which as the Left regularly asserts, was a period of great repression by the government approaching a “reign of terror.” Lewis even asserts, referring to the internment of Japanese Americans by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, that the new repression will “dwarf” that internment. It will also, she says, dwarf that of the time of Jim Crow and segregation. She goes on to assure her audience that she is not engaging in “rhetoric or hyperbole,” but simply pointing to the evidence of what she says is already a “brutal and deceptive” repression.
What, one must ask, is Lewis talking about? Oh, she says she is talking about the Tea Party Movement — which to date, has held peaceful protests concentrating on the deficit and taxes, and has repressed no one at all. They are not in any position to do so, even if they wanted such an outcome. In fact, perhaps what bothers her is that this movement is precisely the kind of popular people’s movement on the streets that the Left is usually so fond of. Recall their slogan, “The streets belong to the people.” Maybe her problem is that now the people on them are the wrong ones.
Writing about her comments, Morgen Richmond makes this point:
While she certainly seems sincere, it is almost unimaginable that she truly believes the coming conservative re-alignment will lead to a new era of McCarthyism, segregation – and internment!? More than likely, considering the audience, she was purposefully exaggerating in order to build momentum towards her recruitment pitch. But in case there is any doubt, I think I can safely speak for most conservatives in saying that our only interest is in achieving (overwhelming) victory at the ballot box, and then beginning to get the growth of Big Government and federal spending under control.
Richmond may be right, but I think his take on her words comes from a lack of familiarity with how the old Left argues and thinks. Despite the fact that the Obama administration controls both houses of Congress and the Executive Branch, and the President will soon choose another nominee for the Supreme Court (who will probably get the post) ,the Left always acts as if it is in danger of imminent fascist repression — since the capitalist power base is still intact and the socialist revolution has not yet taken place. Until then, any victories no matter how solid are seen as transitory. It is not, as Richmond thinks, simply because Lewis seems to have “a persecution complex,” given the self-imposed setbacks ACORN has suffered in the past few months.
Most important is another point Richmond makes: that ACORN has been until recently viewed as a “fairly mainstream, non-profit organization,” not as a radical or revolutionary socialist group. Indeed, it has received not only government funds through contracts, but major grants from big corporations such as Bank of America, Citbank and JP Morgan-Chase. Could Lenin’s insight into the capitalist mind apply here when he quipped that the Bolsheviks would “sell them the rope with which we will hang them”?
Then, Lewis raises the bogeyman of racism. Again, no matter that a popular African-American political figure is president of the United States. The Tea Party movement proves that the racists are on the march. Her goal, however, is an America filled “with more black people than white people,” which will then have the majority necessary to lead the country to real socialism. This, of course, is a new version of the 60’s theory of the black underclass as the new proletariat that would fulfill Marx’s prophecy of a class that would be the agent of change for revolution.
As Lewis put it:
The future of our country is people of color. And how that’s going to change our psyche and our economics, this is why folks are grabbing so hard to change the economic paradigm, because we gettin’ ready to have a majority country of people of color. And the fear of a black planet is real.
What has to be done, she admonishes, is for the young socialists to join the Hispanics and blacks together in a new coalition for socialism. She ends her remarks with: “That will be the battle for the kind of government that we have. That will be an economic battle of epic proportions. Immigration, self-sufficiency, and the people united.”
She left off the old refrain “will never be defeated.” Perhaps that is because, the way things are moving, she is afraid her hoped-for agenda will be.