Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Fall?

"He [Wade Rathke] said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a "weapon" into the hands of enemies of Acorn.."

Stephanie Strom, "Funds Misappropriated at 2 Nonprofit Groups," New York Times, July 9, 2008.
You can read the bloody details about the $1 million embezzlement. Rathke, et al., kept a lid on it for eight years.

Rathke's ethical gymnastics is a perfect example of the "self justification" that keeps us from confronting mistakes -- hence producing new mistakes. See: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. What better way to reconcile Acorn the grassroots group dedicated to truth and justice with Acorn the master of cover-up. Talking about weapons and enemies will do the trick. Have you heard this line before? In history? By founders of organizations like Rathke? It also allows Rathke to say that the cover up for his brother wasn't for venal reasons like nepotism or family loyalty. No, the cover-up was for the bigger purpose of protecting the movement. And thus okay.

Saying all this, I hope Acorn weathers the storm. They are a terrifically effective community organizing group that takes on some of the toughest issues while delivering real benefits to low-income members and communities. While many others floundered, they organized productive, life-saving action in New Orleans post Katrina and Rita. I was looking at their newsletter this week and was again amazed, even with my skeptical eyes, about the range and depth of their work. Keep it up.


Josh said...

Sorry to hear about this, ACORN does great work.

Bob Brehm said...

It's not the group's enemies I worry about in something like this - it's their allies and supporters.

Sure, don't break any laws or ethical codes of conduct, so as to avoid giving the other side any ammunition.

But more importantly, handle things so as to give your supporters and allies good reason to keep supporting you, even when stuff happens or you take a controversial stance.

It's the potential loss of support that would be more troubling for me, than the possible backlash from opponents. How might ACORN have handled things if that was their primary concern too?

That said, I know little about this matter beyond what I've read in the published accounts. So there could be layers and other factors I'm not aware of. And I too would be sad to see ACORN hurt by this or any other scandal that is off point when it comes to their organizing work.