Don’t miss FrontPage’s other Union Gangsters profiles featuring Craig Becker, Richard Trumka, Stephen Lerner, Andy Stern, Jimmy Hoffa Jr., John Sweeney, Leo Gerard and Daniel De Leon.
In the connect-the-radical-dots evolution of radical leftists and their thuggish tactics, from the anti-Vietnam war protests of the ‘60s to the OWS movement currently afflicting the American landscape, few men stand out more vividly than Wade Rathke.
Despite the fact the Rathke’s family members were prosperous ranchers from Orange Country, California, Rathke describes himself as a “professional organizer for over 35 years” who has “worked for and founded a series of organizations dedicated to winning social justice, workers rights, and a democracy where ‘the people shall rule.’”
His first use of those skills was his organization of draft resistance for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) after dropping out of Williams College in Massachusetts in the late ‘60s. From there he moved onto a career with the NWRO (National Welfare Rights Organization) in Springfield, Massachusetts, under the direction of the late George Wiley, a black militant. Both men were dedicated to the Cloward-Piven Strategy, formulated by Columbia University sociology professors Richard Andrew Cloward and Frances Fox Piven. The strategy aims to implement the overthrow of capitalism by overwhelming the government with so many entitlement demands that the entire system crashes.
Thus it should come as no surprise that Rathke, who was sent by Wiley to Little Rock, Arkansas to begin organizing NWRO chapters in the South, would take it one step further after he fell out of favor with members of the NWRO who objected to a white man being in a position of power. In 1970, he formed the Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which as the acronym indicates, became the first chapter of the now infamous Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
Rathke began training members of ACORN using a Syracuse University program that was part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty efforts. A Community Action Training Center was created at the University, and it hired none other than the godfather of community activism himself, Saul Alinsky. Thus began the implementation of the “Alinsky Method,” which Alinsky described as one in which a community organizer “must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act.” (It should be noted that during his own days as a community organizer, president Barack Obama taught the Alinsky method. A photo of him doing it can be seen here.)
Rathke served as ACORN’s Chief Organizer until 2008 when he was fired. A month later it was revealed that his brother Dale had embezzled almost a million dollars from 1999-2000, and that board members kept the scandal quite for eight years. The money was repaid personally by Drummond Pike, who founded the Tides Foundation in 1976, a public charity that funnels money to radical left-wing groups. Why would Drummond make the payment? It might be due to the fact that in 1996, he created the Tides Center to help other organizations get a tax-exempt status under the umbrella of the foundation–and Wade Rathke was made chairman of the board. Rathke also sits on the board of the Tides Foundation as well.
Yet it was ACORN where Rathke had his most enduring success. At is high point, the organization boasted more than 400,000 dues-paying member families, and more than 1,200 chapters in 110 U.S. cities. And under Rathke’s leadership, thug-like behavior became a regular occurrence. Noisy and sometimes violent protests were organized against financial institutions, businessmen and public officials, much of which centered around living wage laws, voter registration and affordable housing.
Each initiative has been marked by either hypocrisy or disaster. With respect to living wage laws, a 2003 study by the Employment Policies Institute revealed that, despite advocating for job-killing, municipal budget-busting living wages that were often double the prevailing rates, ACORN was paying its own workers only $5.67 per hour. Furthermore, despite supporting “card check” for union organizing, which would have resulted in the elimination of secret ballots for workers, ACORN itself unlawfully blocked its own workers from organizing in 2003, according to the National Labor Relations Board.
With respect to voter registration, ACORN has been at the center of multi-state investigations into voter fraud. The low-water mark for such fraud came during the 2008 election cycle, when Anita MonCrief, a former ACORN employee, testified in a Pennsylvania state court that the organization’s quality-control efforts were “minimal or nonexistent.” Less than two weeks before the 2008 election it was also revealed that ACORN’s claim of registering 1.3 million new voters was wildly exaggerated–but that 30 percent of ACORN registrations were self-admittedly “faulty.” The group managed to avoid direct convictions for vote fraud by claiming they were not to blame for the actions of people they hired. Last August, however, Nevada District Court Judge Donald Mosley fined them the maximum amount allowed by law after ACORN’s Nevada field director, Christopher Edwards, who had previously pled guilty, testified against them in court.
Yet perhaps the most damaging aspect of ACORN’s activism was its involvement in affordable housing schemes which began in the 1980s, when ACORN activists in several cities seized abandoned properties and promoted “squatting” in them by homeless people. It was a ham-fisted attempt to force local governments to salvage and convert those properties into affordable housing. Yet their greatest success was their ability to get changes made to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) by successfully arguing that any discrepancy between lending rates to “people of color” and whites–regardless of credit-worthiness–was de facto evidence of racism.
Such nonsense reached ridiculous levels when “credit-worthiness” was extended to include welfare and unemployment insurance as income streams during the Clinton administration, which also pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to expand mortgage loans to low and medium income borrowers by relaxing standards. Both developments contributed substantially to the subsequent housing meltdown which continues to this day. Yet relaxed mortgage standards for minorities are still being pushed today by Attorney General Eric Holder and a Department of Justice task force.
In theory ACORN no longer exists due to the well-publicized scandal in which undercover reporters posing as a pimp and a prostitute got ACORN employees to give them advice on how to set up a proposed prostitution business, leading to a cutoff of Congressional funding for the group. Reversing a lower court ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City upheld the cutoff and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Yet on November 3rd, Fox News reported that ACORN, re-invented as New York Communities for Change, has been involved in the OWS movement “as a key organizing force.”
It is worth remembering that the OWS movement began as a “Day of Rage” scheduled for September 17th. Last March 25th, Rathke, who was also a former president of a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New Orleans and served for eight years as a member of SEIU’s International Executive Board, announced the beginning of “days of rage in ten cities around JP Morgan Chase” which he claimed would be “the beginning of the anti-banking jihad.” The lead organizer of that so-called jihad is Stephen Lerner, an SEIU board member.
SEIU’s political leanings? The union reported spending $85 million on politics in 2008–of which more than $32.5 million in independent expenditures was used to elect Barack Obama. SEIU tactics? In litigation initiated by catering company Sodexo Inc. against the SEIU earlier this year, the discovery phase revealed a work entitled “Contract Campaign Manual” written by former SEIU president John Sweeney, which laid out specific ways unions could muscle companies into doing their bidding.
It is somewhat ironic that Rathke would use the word jihad to describe the OWS uprising. An October 2010 posting at Organizers’ Forum website indicated the chair of that organization was putting together “An International Dialogue in Egypt” from September 25, 2011 to September 30, 2011 “to determine leadership transitions in what has been an autocratic regime, now challenged by the Muslim Brotherhood and succession and democracy issues,” further noting that “we will strive to have a mix of both community and labor organizers/leaders from a variety of community organizations and unions…meet in Cairo.” Wade Rathke founded the Organizers’ Forum in 2000 and is the Chairman of the Board. Drummond Pike sits on the Board of Directors.
Perhaps sensing the implications of the timeline, in which his effort to organize Egyptians preceded the uprising there, Rathke denied any involvement in the movement now known as the Arab Spring.
Currently, Rathke operates out of New Orleans, where he purchased Fair Grinds Coffeehouse for $500,000. And despite being unceremoniously dumped by ACORN, which on June 28th, 2008, voted that Rathke “be terminated from all employment with ACORN and its affiliated organizations or corporations” and “removed from all boards and any leadership roles with ACORN or its affiliated organizations or corporations,“ he keeps busy traveling to the 12 countries that are partners in ACORN International. Furthermore, Rathke envisions his coffee shop as a “nexus of activism.”
In the meantime, the OWS movement is entering a new phase, with cops cracking down on protesters in Oakland, Portland and most recently in New York on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether these anti-capitalist protests will eventually peter out, or enter a dangerous new phase. At his website Rathke reminds us where he’s been–and where he stands:
A million years ago around 1984 or so at ACORN we organized something we called Reagan Ranches, which were similar tent cities, protesting the terrible conditions of that time under the Reagan Administration…My heart goes out to the (OWS) organizers on the ground. This is just plain hard and thankless work.
And, worth it!
The movement is not in the small parks and tent cities of Occupy but in the way people everywhere are consolidating their positions around core concerns, including the 99% pitched against the 1%. If this is only something for this moment of history where it allows an administration to finally belly up and get aggressive, or a movement trailed by a long wake of many changes over time, we need it now, it is helping us all, and it deserves and demands our support.
One can only wonder, if this movement turns more violent than it already has, if Wade Rathke will still be out there “demanding” support for it. If his historical track record is any indication, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”
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