We know the places where Senator Obama lived as a child but not why he chose Chicago nor what he has done which bears upon the requirements of president.* Experience? Leadership? Of his activities in Chicago prior to running for the U.S. Senate, he says he was a “community organizer.”
The organization for which he community-organized was ACORN. The years were probably 1985 to 1988 when he left to attend Harvard Law School. About his relations with domestic terrorist William Ayers, he revealed only that he’s that “guy who lives in my neighborhood.” These are the themes of his pre-U.S. Senate experience and leadership, community organizing and William Ayers. On community organizing, much is known about ACORN.
ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), organized in 1970, physically seized an empty building owned by the City of New York and put squatters in it. The City later gave ACORN the building.
The mortgage-giant Fannie Mae between 1980 and 2007 gave ACORN $797,000, its third largest amount, according to The Wall Street Journal of July 29. When in 1993 Mr. Obama was on the Board of Directors of the Woods Fund, he saw to it that ACORN got grants.
A scandal reported by the July 13 New York Post involved Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN’s founder. He stole $1 million from ACORN in 1999 and 2000.
Barack Obama as community organizer comes into the ACORN picture in its voter-registration activities. He made that his work as community organizer for ACORN and its Midwest Academy for training community organizers and fundraising.
In registering voters, ACORN collected fake signatures. It provided Washington State with “the largest case of voter-registration fraud in the state’s history,” reported Secretary of State Sam Reed. ACORN employees were supposed to help eligible voters complete voter-registration cards, but they submitted cards with names like “Leon Spinks, boxing champion.” The King County Canvassing Board invalidated more than 1,700 ACORN registrations. The Seattle Times editorialized, “ACORN has done some similar things in other states [14 others] and needs to be cleaned up or shut down,” according to the July, 2007, “Organizing Trends” of the Capital Research Center. It is not known that Mr. Obama had anything to do with these activities.
Colleague Sanford A. Newman said that Mr. Obama’s community work in registering voters was very successful. Newman in a similar agency, Project Vote, writes in a letter to The Wall Street Journal that Mr. Obama’s efforts were on behalf not of ACORN but of Project Vote, in 1992, when he, Newman, was national director of Project Vote. Only after 1992, says Mr. Newman, did Project Vote undertake “more projects” with ACORN. What “more”?
Be that as it may, Senator Obama is now utilizing his experience with voter-registration. According to his campaign, 3,600 trained community organizers called “Obama Organizing Fellows” are working for six weeks in 17 states in his presidential campaign.
Mr. Obama was busy with voter registration both before and after law school. At some time, probably before he left for law school, he had met and worked with Maoist William Ayers, who had graduated from bomb-throwing to Columbia University for a Ph.D. in education (not in English, as Obama reported).
Mr. Obama, upon his return from law school to Chicago, was involved with Ayers, his father and brother, in foundations whose interest, like Ayers’, was in getting control of the Chicago public schools. One was the Woods Fund, whose Board Ayers joined in 1988. It gave grants to ACORN and Obama’s and Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church.
Prominent among foundations was the Annenberg Challenge Project, which Mr. Obama chaired and which William Ayers joined as a Board member. From 1995 to 2000, both Obama and Ayers were in the Annenberg fund. The whole idea of the Annenberg project came from Ayers.
Mr. Obama was the first Chairman of the Annenberg Challenge in 1995, when he was only two years out of law school. It was a $50-million fund (2:1 matching) to reform Chicago public education. Normally, a fresh young law-school graduate just two years out of law school was unlikely to head it, unless Ayers, who had designed the whole project, chose him. That would put the time of their association back before 1995. As both were involved in the school reform movement following the 1987 teachers’ strike, it is possible, even likely, that the Obama-Ayers association goes back that far.
The 1988 law following the 1987 Chicago teachers’ strike provided for Local School Councils of parents and community leaders. In that effort, big business teamed up with Maoist radicals from the anti-Vietnam War movement in support of the LSCs for different reasons. The Business Round Table was prominent in Connecticut in the effort to enact Outcomes-Based Education and School-to-Work into law. Still in existence, it is involved now in a public school fight in Seattle. Also involved was Ayers’ father, Thomas G. Ayers, retired CEO and Chairman of Commonwealth Edison, and a foundation director, sometimes on the same foundation subcommittee as Obama. Also involved was Ayers’ wife, Brinks-Robbery-participant Bernadine Dohrn, released after 22 years in prison, and Ayers’ brother John.
William Ayers has not openly joined the “Progressives for Obama.” It includes Weather Underground members Mark Rudd and Tom Hayden, of the 1968 take-over of Columbia University and the Chicago streets during the Democratic Convention. But this much we know: Obama’s pre-Senate experience includes campaigning, organizing, fundraising, voter registering, and public school reform.
* Where source is not given, it is probably the blog of Stephen F. Diamond, an attorney who teaches law and political science, capital markets, the economy, corporate and international labor, at the Law School of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara , California.
By Natalie Sirkin