ACORN’s History

ACORN’s History

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was founded by Wade Rathke in 1970 in Little Rock, Arkansas in the United States. 

By the 2000s, ACORN was a 500,000 member organization in over 100 cities in the U.S. In 2002, we formed ACORN International to spread the ACORN model to other countries, often where our U.S. members had emigrated from.

In the late 2000s, coinciding with the election of Barack Obama as the U.S. president, ACORN was the target of baseless right-wing attacks. While ACORN in the United States was damaged by these attacks, ACORN International continued to grow. ACORN members achieved many victories around the world. Currently, we have ACORN affiliates on 5 continents and 15 countries, with over 250,000 members total.

The idea of ACORN is simple: That when individuals join together in community groups and unions, we are more powerful. 

When those community groups and unions join together into large organizations covering cities, countries, industries, and continents, we can have the power to change whatever we want to.

Check out “Recent Wins” for more of what our model has accomplished.

Over the last 50 years, ACORN has:

Won for residents – homeowners and tenants

  • Forced banks in the U.S. to sign agreements for billions of dollars of home mortgage loans that made 7 million families home owners.
  • Increased income for lower waged workers in the U.S. through tax programs and outreach for tax credits.
  • Won major rent reductions for tenants in Rome and housing retrofits in France.
  • Won more than $150,000,000 in landlord improvements for tenants in Toronto, Canada  with a campaign for landlord licensing.

Won for workers

  • Raised wages through more than 100 successful “living wage” initiatives in the U.S. This included winning minimum wage increases in several states. The result was billions of dollars in raises to more than 10 million lower waged workers.
  • Won Canada’s first living wage bylaw in New Westminster in British Columbia with a starting wage of over $16 per hour.
  • Organized coalitions to stop corporations (like Tesco and Walmart) in India. Won protections for 20 million workers involved in small retail operations. 
  • Organized unions of informal workers including auto rickshaw drivers, domestic workers, hawkers, and waste pickers in Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Delhi.

Won democratic rights

  • Registered 5 million low-income voters in the U.S. and elected tons of members to government positions.

Won for the low- and moderate-income

  • Won reforms to stop payday lending abuses in British Columbia, Ontario, and other provinces in Canada.
  • Won thousands of community improvements in 38 U.S. states and 100 U.S. cities where ACORN chapters were located.
  • Won a cap on the cost of money transfers from new Canadians back to their home countries. This was part of the larger ACORN International Remittance Justice Campaign.

Won basic rights

  • Won construction of schools, parks, roads, and stairways in San Juan Lurigancho, the mega-informal settlement near Lima.
  • Won reform of the bursary system in Korogocho mega-slum in Nairobi, Kenya so that children’s fees for secondary school would be paid.
  • Stopped water privatization schemes in many Peruvian cities. 
  • Winning land for informal communities in La Matanza; Argentina; south Quito, Ecuador; and Lima, Peru.