April 1 saw the official demise of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and its remaining state affiliates. However, many local ACORN members jumped ship months before and had already begun creating a new organization, Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change.

NEW BEGINNING—Lucille Prater-Holliday leads PCOC members in one of the new organization’s first rallies.

“There’s a lot of changes happening. It’s a completely new and different organization at this point,” said Mary Ellen Hayden, a former ACORN organizer. “They’ve created something that’s really going to work. We want to continue to do all of that community service that we always did.”

PCOC has already secured funding from the Tides Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes social justice, and has gained status as a 501 (c) (3) and 501 (c) (4). The mission of PCOC is to advocate on behalf of low to moderate-income families.

One of the differences between PCOC and ACORN is that the new organization ensures equal representation for all areas across the state. Previously, larger cities, like Philadelphia, carried more weight on the board of directors and were therefore able to steer decisions in the city’s favor.

“We worked very hard to make sure that didn’t happen. Now there’s an equal balance,” Hayden said. “Former members of ACORN are joining the new organization, but we signed up a lot of people who weren’t members.”

DROP THE SUIT— Members of PCOC storm the offices of Attorney General Tom Corbett April 1 in protest of his lawsuit against the new health care law.

The group has also gained new leadership in former ACORN member Lucille Prater-Holliday who was named as PCOC president. Prater-Holliday, an East Liberty resident, has also been involved in the Action Alliance of Neighbors United and the Gathering for Justice.

“I really wanted to have as much involvement as possible with the new organization. We wanted to continue what we had been doing bringing about change for low income to moderate families,” Prater-Holliday said. “I’m a representative of the people the organization advocates for.”

Prater-Holliday said having an organization independent of national leadership allows the organization to partner with more local groups. She also said the group can address issues most important to the people in their communities.

“We’ll be able to advocate more at a local level where as before the organization advocated at a national level. We’ll be able to choose what issues are important to us locally,” Prater-Holliday said. “For example we’re involved with Pittsburgh United and we’re acting collaboratively with more of the local organizations.”

The local issues being addressed by PCOC are not so different from those formerly addressed by ACORN, chief among them, environmental issues such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

“We have a lot of people in low income communities who aren’t aware of how omissions affect their health so we’ll be going into the communities and giving them information,” Prater-Holliday said.

Despite the new opportunities PCOC will offer the region, Prater-Holiday still feels it is important to remember what ACORN has accomplished. She said the recent controversies should not tarnish the organization’s history.

“I think it’s quite unfortunate that they did disband, but it gives an opportunity for local organizations to form. So in one way it was positive in that respect,” Prater-Holiday said. “But as far as the national organization folding, we did a lot of work over the years. In 40 years we were able to get a lot accomplished.”

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