My campaign team and I are in the middle of a heated bid for Congress, in a heated political environment, and in the summer heat where almost every voter we meet --outside of a subway station, a block party, or who wanders into our office--, is looking for something new, something fresh. We're hearing folks struggling to find work, to keep their homes, to feel safe in their communities.
However, we're also hearing one consistent ray of hope: Brooklyn, New York's non-profits. Be it Man Up, Inc. or FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality), my community is flourishing with civic-minded Americans engaged in everything from violence prevention and mentorship for youth, and to economic and housing justice for working-class people.
These committed and creative women and men have become the backbone of Brooklyn's 10th Congressional District. They have delivered time and again for the people of our community. However, to keep delivering for us, they need funding, both from private individuals and from our government. They need it now and they need more of it. What they don't need is government officials making it more difficult for them to serve those most in need.
We've seen what happens when government attacks a non-profit. ACORN drew the ire of conservatives across the country, not because of a cheap stunt run by a couple of characters to try to paint the organization as corrupt and willing to assist the sex industry, but because ACORN expanded voter participation to groups that helped elect President Obama and progressives throughout this country in 2008. This was ACORN's real "crime:" they increased voter turnout, they empowered poor communities, they brought fresh voices to the table.
Bertha Lewis and her team deserve our love and respect for their sacrifice and drive, not the scorn manufactured by conservative media miscreants motivated by little more than ad buys.
We need a government that supports our non-profits. We do not need legislators that turn on good people doing good work when it fits their political agenda. What we saw with ACORN was a good community organization taken down with a silly stunt, but the stunt would have been nothing more than a stunt had the political climate not been ripe for such a baseless attack. The right needed something, some enemy, some focal point for their anger, as they had just been swept out of power by a progressive, multicultural American with a message of change. They needed a scapegoat. They needed ACORN.
Non-profits are an easy target for right-wing attacks because they are eligible for government funding. Furthermore, non-profits are a prime target for right-wing attacks because they help stabilize communities and lift people out of poverty - two concepts that not only aren't part of the right's political agenda, they are diametrically opposed to the conservative agenda as much of the far right sees the world as a zero sum game.
If the poor are receiving funding from the government, then the far right is not. Of course, sometimes they use code words such as "lowering taxes," "bloated government," and "soaring deficits" to soften their rhetoric or make it sound more legitimate, but in reality, this is about the poor receiving something others would rather have back.
As a result, when many non-profits need government funding to do critical work on behalf of the poor, the disenfranchised, or the sick, they become the primary focus of the wrath of the right, especially in a recession. Therefore, it is absolutely paramount that our elected officials do their absolute utmost to avoid any appearance of impropriety when it comes to funding our non-profits. Step on the wrong side of a line, and we saw what happened with ACORN.
My opponent, Congressman Ed Towns (NY-10), did not do the perception of non-profits here in Brooklyn any favors when he himself steered $500,000 to a fake non-profit called Trinity Community Development and Empowerment Group "housed" in a vacant building that employed one of his congressional office staffers. He also did not do Congresswoman Yvette Clark any favors when he roped her into unknowingly co-sponsoring an additional $4.8 million for his false non-profit.
Non-profits like Man Up, Inc. and FUREE do incredible work here in Brooklyn. They do God's work for very little recognition and even less money. They fill the gaps left by our private markets and our government by targeting those in dire need of our assistance. However, what these wonderful non-profits do not need are our elected officials piling government corruption on the misguided conservative clarion call for their elimination. One day you're expanding voter participation, the next day the nation is convinced you're in the sex industry. Ask ACORN.
Kevin Powell is a 2010 Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives in Brooklyn, New York's 10th Congressional District. He can be reached at www.kevinpowell.net