Building leadership for change at the ACORN Canada 2017 national convention
Published on 23/08/2017
On a hot June weekend in Ottawa, over 250 ACORN leaders from across Canada gathered at our 2017 convention. The atmosphere was electric from the outset, with members eager to catch up on campaigns from other cities that they might be able to replicate back home, listen to leading speakers on social justice issues, and further develop their leadership skills through a series of skill building workshops.
Achieving positive change by working collectively was a key message that we sought to convey through the convention. We wanted participants to see that they have the power to make change happen as part of an organization with 102,000 members across the country, and to understand the strength that they have when they work together and share experiences. The convention also served as a channel for leaders to connect their local work with national policy to understand how they can effect change on a big scale.
The main theme of the convention was Fair Banking and Anti Predatory Lending. While the six biggest banks make profits of over $35 billion, many Canadians struggle with non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees of $45, sky-high interest rates, and no access to low interest credit or overdraft protection in emergencies. This marginalization of low and moderate income people by the mainstream banking sector pushes many to rely on the services of fringe lenders, which offer loan products at often predatory rates.
Weaved throughout the weekend were talks, workshops and training on how to address these issues. From “Fair Banking” and “Disability and Social Assistance,” to “Social Media and Action,” the member-led workshops were packed full of useful information and practical advice on how to make change. Members had plenty of time to share their experiences of various campaigns and swap stories of campaign victories and challenges from their local chapters.
The convention also provided the right setting for practical skills development. Through an outreach exercise to gain support for our Fair Banking and Anti Predatory Lending campaign, members gained insights into ACORN’s unique organizing model. One particular exercise gave leaders valuable experience of spreading campaign messages and increasing support for important issues through outreach. After trying out their petition “raps,” teams of English and French speakers headed out into local neighbourhoods to put what they had learned into practice, collecting signatures in pairs. Despite some wet weather, spirits were high and teams collected hundreds of signatures in a short time.
A definite highlight of the convention, and a further opportunity for leaders to develop their practical skills, was our rally for Fair Banking through downtown Ottawa. The rally culminated in a sit-in at the Finance Ministry to highlight our members’ request for a meeting with the Federal Minister of Finance. Adrenaline was high as members led chants of “Minister, Minister, please come down” and “Stop the war on the poor.” In the weeks following the rally, the Ministry agreed to a meeting, further emphasizing to our members that people power makes change happen.
From the conversations that took place as everyone was packing up to make their way home, members were galvanized and ready to get to work on the issues that affect their local communities, while tapping into national campaigns and the collective power of our organization. Going forward, we hope that the energy we witnessed during the convention will continue, and members will use the skills they have developed to impact the issues that were raised. We look forward to our next convention in 2019!