Tempest in an Acorn-Shaped Teapot

Acorn brand vending machine photo and ascending price decals from Crow River Trading

Check out this oblique segue: In our previous post we discovered Cynthia Von Buhler’s reliquary prize capsules & vending machine. Her capsules were of the round type but there are also acorn-shaped capsules, as well as a brand of vending machine called “Acorn” made by Oak Manufacturing.

…and speaking of things, acorn: how about all that self-righteous, Republican indignation about that other, more newsworthy Acorn?

The recent Borat-style ‘sting’ by James O’Keefe has put Acorn —(Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)— on the defensive in the media, but unlike Sacha Baron Cohen, who, as Borat or as Brüno, sought to expose the prejudices of individuals, O’Keefe and his backers have something more grandiose in mind. His YouTube prank videos of a few guileless Acorn workers, have been packaged presented as if they were an indictment of the entire organization as a whole. O’keefe has created a sufficiently prurient sound bite to scare off Acorn’s funding & support and putting its CEO and Chief Organizer, Bertha Lewis onto a mainstream media hot seat.

BerthaHeadShot I met Bertha Lewis when she was a fellow homesteader in the same building in the South Bronx. Living there (and then fighting to remain therewas, for me, just an instinctive response to the 1980s escalation of rents in Manhattan. For Bertha, however, it became more than that. Yes, she too needed an affordable place to live, but it was through her dedication to the various shared struggles of tenants in that building—(rebuilding a collapsed courtyard, unclogging the building’s sewer, securing legal representation in housing court, etc.)— that, I believe, she came to really embrace “housing rights” as a core principle.

Ms. Lewis and her friends moved into the building in 1983 and fixed it up, paying rent to a man who claimed to be the landlord. After two years, they found out they had “been snookered,” Ms. Lewis said. The city tried to oust the occupants as squatters but they resisted, forming a tenants’ association and winning in court. Ms. Lewis became their spokeswoman, reaching out to reporters and persuading William M. Kunstler to take on the case. “I was just trying to save my home,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about organizing. You just learn this stuff, and I learned the hard way.”

New York Times, March 14, 2001

Building Eventually my wife and I gave up and we left the space that we had worked so hard to fix up, while Bertha and others stayed on to fight the good fight. We were delighted when we learned that she had become head of Acorn and I remember hearing her on NPR warning about predatory lending practices years before all those sub-prime mortgages, bundled into “toxic assets” brought down the entire world’s financial system.

I cringed in 1989 when President Bush (senior) invoked his “thousand points of light” rhetoric, citing volunteerism as a better alternative to any humane or humanitarian government-run assistance. Knowing myself well enough to know that I am not and never have been a “point of light,” it strikes me as horribly ironic, that Bertha Lewis should be now scapegoated by the right wing. Here is the one person I know who actually does exhibit the “volunteer spirit” that the metaphor was supposedly meant to inspire. What if they were to succeed in crushing Acorn? Who would they like to have step up and help poor people? Big government?

See what Rachel Maddow has to say about the Acorn controversy:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

(See Bertha Lewis on The Colbert Report and some acorn-related packaging, after the fold…)

Better Know a Lobby – Acorn
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Michael Moore

Top row: an acorn-shaped jar by California-based potter, Alina Hayes from her Etsy site;
2nd row, left: acorn-shaped “vinaigrette” vial from Ruby Lane; on right: an acorn-shaped coin purse; 3rd row: Canada’s vintage “Acorn Brand” peanut butter (see also: Cream Nut); 4th row, left: an acorn-shaped bird feeder; on right: a Laura Ashley acorn-shaped perfume bottle; bottom left: acorn-shaped measuring tape; on right: an edible, acorn-shaped chocolate box

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

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