Talk about coming full circle. A Texas district represented by Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and once served by the now-disgraced non-profit ACORN is getting a new community action organization: The tea party.
And guess who's doing some of the organizing: Former ACORN worker Anita MonCrief.
"It was on purpose" that the tea party concept was chosen as a replacement for ACORN, said MonCrief, who was national spokeswoman for American Majority and an editor for Emerging Corruption.
MonCrief also worked for ACORN until 2008 when she blew the whistle on corruption and voter fraud in which canvassers were paid for obtaining registrations. It was shortly after that – after she decided from first-hand experience that ACORN and other groups of leftist slant were "no good for the country," she said – that MonCrief turned conservative.
"The main goal of ACORN was the redistribution of wealth," she said, explaining how she saw first-hand that members would go to banks and businesses and "do shakedowns. They would say they were going to have 10 black people protesting in your lobby on the 5 o'clock news [unless you give] donations. Or, they got them to relax lending standards" so banks and mortgage lenders would provide risky loans to underprivileged ACORN clients.
Or, she continued, they would partner with Service Employees International Union members on a campaign called Foreclose John McCain 2008. That's when ACORN and union officials "would go to [Republican] campaign stops and hold up signs," she said, and petition against the election of McCain – even though non-profits are barred by federal law from endorsing political candidates.
"I saw so much corruption on the left," MonCrief said, "that's why I became a conservative."
But it wasn't enough for her to just write about conservative issues, or expose liberal agendas on her website. Instead, MonCrief joined forces with like-minded Houston locals and business owners to help launch the Crispus Attucks Tea Party, with an inaugural meeting date of Jan. 18. The group is aimed, she said, at giving the same community members who used to turn to ACORN for help a new voice – and a new outlook on the rightful, limited role of government.
"These people haven't had a voice since ACORN left," she said. "So we decided to set up the tea party where it's needed."
But rather than simply "shake down" businesses or the wealthy for money to pocket or pass along to the poor, as MonCrief attributed to ACORN, the new Crispus Attucks approach is to provide the means for community members to do for themselves and eventually, achieve economic independence from the government. Toward that end, the tea party will do everything from helping paint old buildings to writing business grant proposals for entrepreneurial hopefuls, MonCrief said.
"With ACORN, it was that they urged you to get on food stamps" so they could control the redistribution of wealth, she said. "We're going to put sweat equity in the community. We're going to go out and work with local businesses to help write grant proposals, write small business proposals … anything to keep the money recycled back through the community."
So far, the group has had positive feedback, she said. But there is a fear factor.
"I live in Maryland," MonCrief said, "and Democrats there are realizing Obama is not all he's cracked up to be, but they whisper that. They're afraid to speak out. Why? In the black community, you can be ostracized. They're afraid of losing their jobs. When you step out of the liberal community, they try to pull you back into it."
And the pushback is ongoing in Houston, said Earl Johnson, president of the California Tea Party and of the Texas Constituents Tea Party, and a key force in the creation of the Crispus Attucks Tea Party.
"We're upsetting a bunch of apple carts already," said Johnson, whom MonCrief called her "man on the ground" for the setup of the Crispus Attucks Tea Party. "The black community actually polls conservatives, but the word 'conservative' has been totally twisted."
As such, one of Johnson's main goals is simply to show blacks that the tea party – regardless of what's told in mainstream media stories or by those of liberal and progressive slant – is actually a true supporter of African-American causes. He also hopes the tea party will become a cycle of change for the community, where members offer "skills sets" that entice "business and industry to the area" that, in turn, drives out crime and leads to economic revival. Step one, Johnson said, is the public relations battle.
"One of the biggest tasks before us is to overcome all the propaganda," he said. "We're hoping to provide a safe harbor for the conservatives living in these areas."
Inroads have already been made; Johnson said one area of Texas known as Ku Klux Klan territory just elected a black man to the state legislature. Rep. James Earl White won the District 12 race in East Texas, an area populated primarily by whites, he said.
"Northeast Texas is the heartland of the KKK in the state. It's 80 percent white. But they just elected a black guy … and there are plenty of positive symbols on the horizon," he said. "Content and character is really starting to mean more than color."
Meanwhile, ACORN continues to sputter and fight for relevance – though not so openly, MonCrief said.
"They have changed their name, I think," MonCrief said. "They've gone underground. There's a group called Houston Votes now, but it almost mirrors how ACORN did their voter registration."