THE ORGANIZER is a film about people who have dedicated their lives to the often hidden, usually messy and always controversial job of building power for the powerless.
THE ORGANIZER is a portrait of Wade Rathke, the controversial founder of ACORN, as well as an exploration of that much maligned and misunderstood occupation – community organizing.
Before it’s infamous demise following several highly publicized scandals, ACORN had been the largest community organization in the US.
Rathke, a former anti-war and welfare rights organizer founded the organization in Little Rock in 1970 and over the next decades shepherded its growth into a national political powerhouse for the poor. His entrepreneurial vision helped build ACORN but internal conflict and external pressures would lead to its tragic downfall.
Undeterred, Rathke is now building new organizations around the world and trying to rebuild at home.
Shot across four continents and with a wealth of archives and interviews with ACORN organizers and community leaders, along with renowned political figures like Noam Chomsky and Marshall Ganz, THE ORGANIZER shows us how, under the right leadership, a few driven and passionate individuals can create powerful and sustaining organizations that can transform lives and communities and inspire broad political movements.
WADE RATHKE, 1976
WADE RATHKE, Cameroon. 2016
I first met Wade Rathke in Toronto in 2009, at the same time as the organization he founded, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) were in the news for a series of damning hidden camera videos. The controversies surrounding ACORN in 2008-2009, were a hot-button story in the polarized political landscape of the time, but as I filmed with Wade and other organizers and ACORN community leaders between 2011 and 2016, I became far more fascinated with how the biggest poor people’s organization in US history was built, not with how it was destroyed.
Rathke, a former anti-Vietnam war and welfare rights organizer, founded ACORN in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1970 with a handful of low-income families and the idea to build a multi-racial, multi-issue organization that would build power for the poor. When the organization became national news decades later, it had half a million members and chapters in over a hundred cities across the USA.
In between is an incredible story about the dedication and entrepreneurial vision of a small group of organizers and a growing army of inspiring community activists.
It’s also a very human story about organizational tension, personal tragedy, betrayal and ultimately of resilience. It’s partly a cautionary tale, but also a hopeful one. At a time of great political uncertainty, it gives an example of how a political force for the poor, marginalized and forgotten was built... and how it might just be built again.
- Nick Taylor