In May of 2008 I was working at a respected non-profit and learning the ropes of the corporate nonprofit world. At ACORN you never knew what you would find. I once walked into a lobby and saw a man on his knees talking to DC local ACORN about the “man” and something about Bush. My new position was defiantly not grassroots. Everything was efficient, clean and well run. I was making a nice salary and loved the mission of the nonprofit. I had been there a few months and the only problem was that I felt that I was in the wrong place. As primaries raged on I felt a disquieting sense of something passing me by. At the time I was trying to reconcile myself with my choices in life but a part of me was still living in fear of who I had been and who I really was.
That May I decided to go back to my grassroots background and experience this monumental change that everyone predicted was on the horizon. I started out as a Hillary Clinton supporter as I have mentioned in radio interviews. I wanted to really delve into the feeling that seemed to permeate through the liberal community as the 2008 presidential election approached. Everyone sensed that we were on the cusp of something life changing. It became harder and harder for me to sit by, so I joined another grassroots, progressive organization with labor roots. I was sitting at my desk one July day I when got the email alert about the ACORN embezzlement scandal. I followed a myriad of nonprofit dailies and was surprised but not shocked to see the story. ACORN had tons of stories like these floating around, it was part of ACORN lore.
I often wonder if I would have contacted New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom if I had stayed at my previous post with the international nonprofit, but somehow I think that making the choice to leave made this one easier. I was a union member with great benefits, a salary in the mid-forties and what I felt was a front row seat to change. I debated with myself about contacting the reporter who wrote the story. Part of me wanted to let sleeping dogs lie and not talk about what I knew about ACORN. I remembered doing the research on voter fraud allegations from 2004 and knew what happened to ACORN employees who decided to speak out, and I felt that I would definitely be retaliated against and labeled disgruntled. I weighed all of these options and decided that if I stayed quiet that it would be for selfish reasons, and that is not why I came to DC.
Still, I asked myself “why throw away a promising future and speak out against ACORN?” But the part of me that came back to grassroots to help people knew that I had to finish what I had started in 2007 when I contacted the makers of the Rotten ACORN website, the Employment Policies Institute, because I had become disillusioned with ACORN and no longer wanted to turn a blind eye to what I had seen. At the time I had a baby who was less than a year old and had been born premature at 2lbs 2 ounces. I made that call in hushed tones without identifying myself, and the staffer to whom I spoke expressed concern over my personal situation. Instead of trying to use me to attack ACORN immediately and “mine me” for information, he advised me to seek other employment first and then call back. After a great deal of thought, I decided to contact Stephanie Strom at the New York Times using an alias. Stephanie responded immediately and we began a collaboration that would span a number of months. I came to trust her and told her my name.
In August of 2008, Marcel Reid, a board member who was selected to sit on the national board of ACORN and the president of the Local DC ACORN board, somehow learned that I was working with the NYT and got in touch with me. I began passing information and messages from Marcel to Stephanie. I emailed Stephanie at the time that it appeared that “…Wade [Rathke] is refusing to fully hand over the reigns there has even been talk of jail time. I think she may want to throw a few more nails in the coffin to ensure her leadership and direction are taken seriously.“
Some women who grew up in similar situations have “daddy issues” but I had resolved my feeling toward my father about five years after he died. I had “mommy issues” that led me to look to Marcel for guidance, reassurance and at times validation. To me she was an older black female who really seemed to care and to understand how hard this was turning out to be. I remembered her from my days at ACORN and she always struck me as authoritative and in control. I look back and see the perfect storm of coincidences that led to this relationship. My mother was working in Japan, my health had taken a near deadly turn and issues at work (I briefly described these in my testimony in PA) coupled with a speedy move to a place where ACORN could not find me, led me to look to Marcel for inspiration and advice.
Stephanie Strom and Marcel would eventually connect directly. By then I found myself moving away from trusting Stephanie or the Times. Several articles had appeared that seemed to be extremely watered down and almost PR pieces for ACORN. The running theme was to blame founder Wade Rathke and to extol the new ACORN leadership. While the Obama camp will not admit it, the campaign and his whole presidency has been about race (a trusty divisive technique) and I went against the inherent need as a black person to “stick together” and overcame my political instincts as a liberal and confirmed what Michelle Malkin has already uncovered about ACORN and Obama. Stephanie seemed hot on the trail of this story but as election day got closer and the stories weaker and weaker, I decided that I needed a back up plan and emailed Michael Gaynor and Michelle Malkin.
I had never heard of Gaynor but his writing on ACORN back in late September and early October of 2008 led me to believe that he, like Michelle, understood what was going on. Gaynor emailed back, Michelle did not. He became my backup plan after I agreed to identify myself to him so that he could check me out. In addition to being a confidential source of Stephanie, I became a confidential source of Gaynor.
Later in October of 2008 Stephanie told me that it would be better if she could identify me for this ACORN/Obama story. I preferred to be a confidential source, but reluctantly agreed to come forward. As of September 2008, I was no longer working for my union affiliated organization and a part of me felt that I had let my family down. I talked to my fiance, who was having a rough year because of me, and he agreed to support me no matter what. That was very important to me because I was never one of those people who lived the perfect life and being under a microscope would be hard for everyone. I was tired of living in fear, fear of the person I used to be, fear of other people, fear of ACORN and fear of what I was supposed to do.
With my mom in Japan with minimal phone contact with me, I leaned on Marcel and asked for advice when the New York Times decided to make Stephanie “stand down” and killed the ACORN/Obama story. I called Marcel after listening to the voice mail that Stephanie had left for me and then talking to Stephanie about what had happened and why. I told Marcel about Stephanie’s game-changer comment and she told me about a lawsuit brought in Pennsylvania by attorney Heather Heidelbaugh against ACORN and gave me the number to contact her.
I also contacted Gaynor that same day. He encouraged me to work with Heather and asked if he could write about it immediately, and write about it he did! See ACORN WHISTLEBLOWER: OBAMA’S THIRD STRIKE? (October 22, 2008). I was not expecting such detail but I had agreed to come forward and he had said he would do what he could to draw public attention to the whole truth about ACORN, including its Obama and Obama campaign connections.
After our conversation regarding her case, Heidelbaugh came to DC to interview me the next day and I immediately knew that I could work with her. She was smart, funny and comforting, and as I got to see her in action, I was awed by her legal skills. The night before I was to testify, I talked to Marcel and she told me that Karyn Gillette, my former mentor, would be there. This was a big blow to me, as I credit Karyn with helping me regain my confidence after working with ACORN/Project Vote for so long. Karyn really listened to me, she was not a “DC insider” and I loved her unapologetic take on life. Of all the people there for ACORN, she was the one that seeing was the hardest thing for me. I knew that I had to tell the truth, but I still didn’t want her to ever think that by telling it, I was rebuking her or what she had taught me. I learned another lesson from her that day when I was told that she never came back after the break to testify against me.
After my testimony in the Pennsylvania ACORN case (transcript available here), the Wall Street Journal article about it and an interview by Laura Ingraham on her radio show, I was invited by Fox News to come to New York and be on TV the weekend before election day. I talked to Marcel and Gaynor at length about this. I was afraid to appear on TV or become the black woman who tried to take down Obama. I would stay up all night and watch over my family. They had never signed up for this and there we were, hiding out, not knowing what would come next. I saw how Joe the Plumber was treated just for asking Obama a question and here I was , about to tell the world that the Obama campaign had given ACORN/Project Vote his donor list.
Former friends seemed to want to do physical harm to me and I was afraid to leave the house. Gaynor has always been an advocate for the full truth getting out there and tried to help me overcome my fear. I had been interviewed by Laura Ingraham and was surprised by how much I like her and begun to wonder if Fox News was really as evil as the left portrayed it. Granted, my only experience with Fox was from NewsHounds, a site whose slogan is “We watch Fox, so you don’t have to.” I was advised by an ACORN insider that Fox would use me and that it would be a hatchet job interview set up to make me the poster child for a last minute anti-Obama push. Being a liberal I believed this and tried CNN and ABC instead of Fox to get a “fair” story out but they were too busy covering for Obama.
If there is one thing that I learned during my time with ACORN, it is that they have friends in the media. I grew tired with the one-sided reporting that seemed to crop up every time ACORN’s name was mentioned. I started my own blog in response to the biased coverage on ACORN. My first few posts were hard for me as I felt like I had lost my voice for a number of years and it was kind of “raspy” as it came back to me. At ACORN I felt out of place and very cautious, as if I were walking on ground with land mines buried beneath it, and this led me to seek approval before posting. I would send Marcel copies of my posts before posting, knowing that she would tell me whether they were horrible or not. At times I would add in favorable mentions of her ACORN 8 as she requested or change language related to President Obama.
Throughout most of the winter my relationship with Marcel grew and I began to depend on this friendship to keep me focused when everything seemed so bleak. There were a few times when I wondered if we were really making a difference and questioned my judgment for taking my family down this road. I felt a glimmer of hope in February of 2009 when at Marcel’s request, I went to a meeting with the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. Marcel and I had spent the day taking copies of the ACORN 8’s RICO complaint against ACORN to members of Congress. Not a month later, Marcel and I attended a Congressional hearing at which Heather Heidelbaugh testified about my experience with the New York Times and my testimony in her Pennsylvania ACORN case. See the transcript here.
I began to see progress but at the same time, I felt that I was holding back. Since I was coordinating with Marcel, I listened to her on matters like exposing the bias at the New York Times. Often she would tell me that it was “not our fight” or convince me that it would distract from the goal at hand.
A part of me wanted to believe her and also protect Stephanie, someone whom I felt had tried to do her job as a reporter. However, eventually I started to gain strength and listen to my inner voice, the one that was telling me that covering up for people was the same thing as lying. As I began to drift from Marcel and the ACORN 8, I headed towards the conservative path as my thinking clarified. The first step was overcoming my fear; I had to learn to accept responsibility for whatever arose as a result of it and to be at peace with that. I was tired of being afraid and tired of running from myself, so I broke free and began to connect the dots between ACORN, the Democrats and Obama. The more that I exposed, the less afraid I became.
Exposing the New York Times spiked ACORN/Obama story was not something that I took lightly, and I think Marcel was one of the reasons I did it. I remember her telling me that I was “all right” because I was focused with her on the ACORN 8 complaint and that she knew from friends that “Obama was not worried about what I was doing.” Instead of comforting me, this troubled me because I had begun to see Obama as someone who was steadily making payoffs to his labor buddies like Andy Stern president of SEIU. I looked at his picks for Labor Secretary and Health and Human Services Secretary and knew that Hilda Solis and Kathleen Sebelius were put in place to help pass obvious labor enriching legislation. Exposing the media bias also exposed Obama and ACORN as a something so newsworthy that it had to be covered up. For me it was the beginning of a journey that was not meant to be easy or to lead to a happily ever after ending.
The more I spoke about Obama and the Democrats part in the ACORN scandal, the more I drifted away from the ACORN 8. I never thought that their mission was bad, but ACORN’s subversive nature is rooted in pay for play politics and if one is to clean house, it has to be across the board. I was proud when Marcel appeared on Glenn Beck but often dismayed at the picture she painted of ACORN. Yes, the members are great people, but they do not need an ACORN to help them. Local based initiatives run by people in their own communities seem to do more to really help the poor. As more ACORN corruption was exposed, it became evident that reform was really not an option, it was a band aid on the Titanic. By breaking free of someone else’s agenda and doing the right thing, I was able to take this story to another level by doing research and exposing even more corruption.
I used to think that my life would be one that would repeat a cycle of despair but I discovered that I was meant to do this. Living through a series of events beginning with me trying to forge my way without guidance and continuing to where I am now is nothing short of a miracle. Two years ago, if someone had told me my life would take this turn, I would have laughed hysterically, but along the way I learned that by exposing the truth about ACORN and the Democrats that I had a chance to really help the poor in a way that would really make a difference.