ACORN Leader: Critics Mounted ‘McCarthy-Era War Against the Poor’

The former president of the now-dissolved activist group ACORN struck back at Republicans, Democrats and even the Obama Administration Thursday after a federalreport cleared the organization of misusing federal funds and election fraud.

In an exclusive interview with Raw Story -- her first public remarks since the report's release -- ACORN's Bertha Lewis said the findings of the Government Accountability Office proves the withering criticism against ACORN  that all but shuttered the group was an orchestrated right wing attack against the poor.

"This was a McCarthy-era style war against the poor and minorities, nothing more," the group's former leader told Raw Story.

"This proves the right will resort to anything to maintain power to continue the war on poor black and brown people," she added.

"Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh can call me a racist all they want to," she said. "But there is no way there was not a racial element and class element to this whole attack."

She also hinted that the favorable report might serve as a catalyst for a reincarnation of the group, founded in 1970 to advocate for better housing, jobs, and healthcare for working families.

"Some new organization will be continuing the mission," she said. "It might not be exactly the same."

"But we will be back," she said referring to now defunct local chapters of the organization that may re-emerge under different names.

The GAO found in a report released Tuesday that nearly $40 million in contracts awarded ACORN by a myriad of federal agencies was spent properly. The report also revealed that the group had not violated any federal campaign laws related to voter registration, an oft repeated claim of the right wing media critics like Beck and Limbaugh.

The report was commissioned by Congress as both parties voted to ban federal funding for the group after selectively edited videos were released depicting ACORN employees counseling two right-wing provocateurs posing as a college student and a prostitute.

The ban was later ruled unconstitutional.

But the report comes too late, Lewis said, to completely salvage the reputation of the organization that was relentlessly attacked by conservative commentators like Beck as corrupt.

"You get upset and angry about the unfairness of this," she said of the onslaught of negative publicity from the videos that were criticized as being heavily edited.

"This is just the 21st century version of high-tech lynching."

Lewis laid some of the blame for the group's demise on the lack of support from Democrats and progressives, who she said failed to support the group and voted for the funding ban.

"It just pisses me off that the right can get away with attacks on the organization while the left and progressives just stood by and did nothing to defend us."

The report bolsters her argument that entire campaign was to neutralize the group's efforts to register poor and minority voters, Lewis said.

"When we began to register poor people to vote we became an issue, that's when the Republicans started coming after us," she continued. "Remember, we've been accused of stealing the election for Obama."

Key to reviving the group's mission is a lawsuit currently on appeal in federal court arguing the ban on funding was unconstitutional.

Lewis said the ban amounts to a "bill of attainder" when a legislature accuses a group or a person of crime without the benefit of a trial.  The constitution specifically bans the practice, and a federal judge recently ruled in ACORN's favor granting a temporary injunction of the ban.

The ban has effectively prevented former associates of ACORN from applying for federal funding.  If  not overturned, similar bans could be aimed at other activist groups.

"If this is allowed to stand, a politician could get a government ban on a person or group and single them out."

Lewis was also critical of the Obama administration's continued effort to fight the lawsuit by filing appeals.

"It's politics pure and simple," she said. "They're scared."

A hearing is scheduled on the Justice Department's appeal June 24 in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.


June 18, 2010

Raw Story

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