Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) founder Wade Rathke wants to use the Internet to overthrow the capitalist system.
He said so in his new book, Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families, in which he serves up some community organizing war stories, and offers his thoughts on the future of organizing. Rathke’s currently on a cross-country book tour.
Rathke, a pioneer of the so-called welfare rights movement that aims to get Americans on welfare, devotes an entire chapter of his book to what he calls “The ‘Maximum Eligible Participation’ Solution.” It is a strategy for orchestrated crisis that savvy leftist groups across America are likely to embrace. He writes:
“[I]t is hard to believe that we cannot assemble the troops to mount a campaign for maximum eligible participation that harvests the opportunities and dollars already available if we could achieve full utilization of existing programs.”
Rathke acknowledges his support for the Cloward-Piven Strategy, an approach to radical social and political change articulated by Marxist university professors Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven in a 1966 Nation article, “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty.” The two academics called for “a massive drive to recruit the poor onto the welfare rolls” in an effort to overwhelm the system. [Italics in original.]
The strategy helped to bankrupt New York City in 1975. Years later, the Big Apple’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, denounced the academic activists by name. “This wasn’t an accident,” Giuliani argued in a 1997 speech. “It wasn’t an atmospheric thing, it wasn’t supernatural. This is the result of policies and programs designed to have the maximum number of people get on welfare.”
In the Nation article, Cloward and Piven made it clear that they were irritated that plenty of Americans legally eligible to receive forcibly redistributed wealth hadn’t bothered to ask for handouts. “The discrepancy is not an accident stemming from bureaucratic inefficiency; rather, it is an integral feature of the welfare system which, if challenged, would precipitate a profound financial and political crisis.”
In his book Rathke hails “Cloward and Piven’s exciting call to arms.” He notes that the activist group they created and that he organized for in the late 1960s, the now-defunct National Welfare Rights Organization, caused “a flood tide from its work that allowed many boats to rise, including the level of participation in government assistance programs.”
In an interview with DailyKos blogger Robert Ellman, Rathke complains bitterly that Americans are not getting all the government benefits to which they are legally entitled. (The podcast is available here.)
With one question, Ellman unwittingly lays bare the anti-social, profoundly un-American entitlement mentality that so many on the far left possess. The blogger asks if the “lack of participation” in food stamps, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), all of which many eligible people are not claiming, is “a failure of government, political will, or a culture that demonizes poor people?”
The unctuous Rathke, whom some have called a cult leader, doesn’t miss an opportunity to compliment his interviewer. “Once again you’ve hit the trifecta,” he says. “It’s really all three of those things.”
Rathke quotes approvingly from a New York Times op-ed by his fellow progressive poverty pimp, Barbara Ehrenreich, in which he says she does
a devastating job of looking at the fact that we’re still criminalizing poor people, requiring fingerprints in states like Florida and Texas and California. For even simple welfare applications and food stamp applications, we are going out of our way, and she quotes chapters and verse from various professors, to make it almost easier to do anything in the world other than get benefits that people are legally entitled to.
Incidentally, ACORN knows all about food stamps. Even though people on welfare shouldn’t be trying to buy homes, ACORN cajoled banks into accepting food stamps as income on mortgage applications and then bragged about it.
Returning to the interview, soon Rathke’s comments bring to mind the Will Rogers quip, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Laying out a strategy for orchestrated crisis for the Information Age, Rathke says:
If we just did the job that we needed to do to make sure everything that’s legally entitled to people actually finally gets to people we would make a huge difference in creating citizen wealth and family security. And there’s no reason not to do this. This is a highly technical age. Why we’re forcing everybody to fill out a million forms, come up with a million different pieces of paper when we could do almost all of it through computers, do it quickly, verify it, keep the records, you know, in PDFs or scanned documents or whatever. There’s a lot of people who know how to do this more than you and I, but this could be a huge breakthrough in eligibility.
Rathke asks, “Why not have computers in grocery stores and community centers — and they are in many libraries now — and in churches and synagogues so that people in working communities have easy access to the software to apply for these benefits.”
What Rathke doesn’t explain is that President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress made it much easier a few months ago for those like him who want to overload the system in order to bring about its demise.
That’s because the spectacularly successful Clinton era welfare reforms that helped millions of Americans break free from crippling dependency on the public fisc were summarily executed in February. Provisions buried deep in the stimulus package signed by President Obama, who used to work for ACORN, offer new financial incentives to states to increase their welfare caseloads.
ACORN, whose national board fired Rathke a year ago for gross misconduct, won’t have any difficulty causing the next welfare crisis without him, assuming it isn’t shut down by authorities for racketeering or election fraud.
Meanwhile, Rathke isn’t content merely to screw up America.
Like a modern-day Karl Marx in exile, he is doing his best to spread the wealth all around the globe, spreading social justice and shakedown techniques.
After the humiliation of being fired for an eight-year cover-up of his brother Dale’s nearly $1 million embezzlement of ACORN funds, Rathke remains deeply involved with at least three of ACORN’s more than 100 affiliated nonprofits. (Just this past weekend America learned in a New York Post article by Ginger Adams Otis what Dale blew his ill-gotten gains on.)
He recently changed the name of ACORN’s international consultancy, ACORN International, to Community Organizations International. Rathke also remains chief organizer, or CEO, of the New Orleans-based Local 100 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), another ACORN affiliate he founded. He does not appear to have stepped down as president and director of Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM), an ACORN affiliate that produces news segments for eight alternative radio stations.
Although Rathke has long drawn inspiration from Saul Alinsky’s legendary political strategy book, Rules for Radicals, he only believes in rules if they benefit him.
To this day he continues to defy the resolution approved on a vote of 29 to 14 by ACORN’s national board on June 20, 2008. It declared that Rathke “be terminated from all employment with ACORN and its affiliated organizations or corporations” and that he “be removed from all boards & any leadership roles with ACORN or its affiliated organizations or corporations.”
Alinsky, who taught the importance of flexibility, would be proud.
(This article is an updated version of an article that ran in the American Spectator in July of this year.)