ACORN International uses a dynamic, interactive process for organizing communities to fight for social change. ACORN International organizers and community residents share the crucial task of building local ACORN International chapters and setting agendas. Typically, the process begins when an ACORN International organizer canvasses a distressed neighbourhood, talking to residents about problems in the community and inviting people to attend a local meeting to share concerns about local threats. These organizers in every case are native to the countries where the work is being conducted and trained accordingly within the local language, customs, and culture.
In the first meeting, the organizer moderates the discussion. At the meeting, the organizer asks residents about these pressing issues – e.g., lack of police protection for the neighbourhood, toxic pollution in the area, terrible housing or employment conditions – and residents have a healthy, cathartic discussion of the problems. Because ACORN International is focusing more often than not on work in mega-slums, most of the issues are actually very basic, infrastructure-type issues: potable water, basic shelter, creation of schools, paved roads, and so forth. The organizer helps generate points for preliminary action to focus the group on taking steps to address the problems. The organizer also notes which residents demonstrate the greatest motivation and leadership skills, and begins a more in-depth engagement with those potential community leaders.
At subsequent meetings, the organizer maintains a lower profile, encouraging residents to lead the discussion. By this point, the organizer has begun to cultivate potential community leaders. These local leaders play increasingly important roles at the later meetings. The organizer now focuses on helping the local residents choose the best issues on which to act and advising on what actions to take. The agenda for action usually involves dialogue with government officials and businesses, as appropriate, about the problems in the community, backed by organized, nonviolent community pressure, in the form of protests, marches, publicity campaigns, and related activities.
To sustain and focus the local community’s desire to fight for social change, formal ACORN International chapters are established. Monthly dues are set, local officers are elected from among the community residents, regular meetings are held, and concrete action items are pursued. Dues are modest, usually the equivalent of US $1 to $5 per month. Dues help to pay for local expenses – buying paint for signs or coffee for picketers, for example. These funds barely begin to pay the costs of organizing local communities, but the dues and formal organization of ACORN International chapters help give residents a greater sense of commitment and ownership in their struggle for better living standards.