CHICAGO – Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) brought some 2,000 delegates attending the national convention of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to their feet with a ringing call for “the people’s agenda.”

Standing before a banner bearing the convention theme “Justice Now, Justice Always,” Davis drew cheers as he ticked off a list of demands of the people’s movement: livable wage, affordable prescription drugs and health care, higher minimum wage, public education, equal opportunity and affirmative action.

ACORN, founded in 1970, organizes low- and moderate-income people in communities across the country. The June 29-July 1 convention included large, lively delegations from Chicago, New York, California, Missouri and Minnesota, and smaller groups from a range of states, including Oregon, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maryland and Massachusetts. Participants were primarily African-American but also included Latinos and others.

Convention participants attended workshops and picketed the homes of officers and board members of Household International, the home mortgage company that is the principle target of ACORN’s national campaign aimed at “predatory” lenders who target low-income families that have difficulty arranging financing to buy or repair homes. Delegates also staged a demonstration in support of immigrant workers on the last day of the convention. (See story page 16.)

Capturing the spirited mood of the June 30 opening session, Maude Hurd, ACORN president, said that despite the Sept. 11 attacks, “we still have the same old fight.” Hurd cited victories won by ACORN during the past two years. Among these, in New Orleans ACORN and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 100 worked to win a first-ever citywide minimum wage increase through a public ballot initiative. In Massachusetts and other states, ACORN waged successful campaigns for regulations against predatory lending. “We are going to fight on issues that affect our members and we are going to win,” Hurd said.

Other speakers talked of a need for a people’s movement to “save our country.” SEIU international Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger said, “How do we save our country? Organize, radicalize, mobilize.” Burger lambasted corporate CEOs and their allies in the Bush administration for favoring the rich at the expense of the rest of the country. “How greedy can they get?” she asked, warning: “We have to do more before our Constitution, our democracy, even our way of life is taken away.”

In an appeal for an alliance of labor and community organizations to fight the people’s battles, Burger said, “We need your help, you need our help. Together we can take back our government, and our country.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) charged that, for the Bush administration and the Republican leadership in Congress, “everybody comes before the people,” and said that with their drive to repeal the estate tax, Republicans are putting “rich dead people before poor people.” Congress should block tax cuts for the rich until everyone has an affordable place to live, she declared.

Assailing the Bush administration’s anti-immigrant policies, Schakowsky said, “Since Sept. 11, this administration has had a hard time distinguishing between terrorists and immigrants who come to this country only to make their lives better. They deserve a living wage along with everybody else.”

Later, delegates boarded buses to travel to the upscale communities where Household International officials live. Although police forced demonstrators away from the gated entrance to the property of Household CEO William F. Aldinger, Betty Coy said the effort was worthwhile.

“We accomplished two things,” she told the World. “We let the community know they had a ‘shark’ for a neighbor and we hope we built more support for our campaign against predatory lending.”

ACORN defines predatory lending as the practice of imposing unfair and abusive loan terms on borrowers by taking advantage of a borrower’s lack of understanding of extremely complicated transactions, and use of outright deception in getting people to sign. The damage is increased by the fact that predatory loans are made in such concentrated volume in poor and minority neighborhoods where better loans are not readily available.

Betty and Gary Coy are typical of the thousands of victims of the “sharks.” For them, what started out as an effort to refinance their existing mortgage and consolidate their credit card bills with a loan from Household became a nightmare as they found themselves entangled in a web of “settlement costs,” “discount points,” “credit insurance” and stiff “prepayment penalties.”

Coy said instead of owing less than $70,000 on the original mortgage, the family now owes more than $132,000 and the monthly payment ballooned from $900 to $1,900. Public pressure saved the Coy home, with Household offering to lower the interest rates on their loans from as much as 21.8 percent to 5 percent.

While it may take a while to reach the convention’s goal of “saving our country,” saving the Coy’s home is certainly a step in that direction.

Fred Gaboury can be reached at fgab708@aol.com; Susan Webb can be reached at suewebb@pww.org

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