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Seeds of Change
The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group

Author(s): John Atlas

"There is more value on a single page of Seeds of Change than in a year's worth of Rush Limbaugh screeds combined with a lifetime of Sarah Palin sneers at community organizers." --Todd Gitlin

Seeds of Change goes beyond the headlines of the last Presidential campaign to describe what really happened in ACORN's massive voter registration drives, why it triggered an unrelenting attack by Fox News and the Republican Party, and how it confronted its internal divisions and scandals.

Based on Atlas's own eyewitness original reporting, as the only journalist to have access to ACORN's staff and board meetings, this book documents the critical transition from founder Wade Rathke, a white New Orleans radical to Bertha Lewis, a Brooklyn African American activist.

The story begins in the 1970s, when a small group of young men and women, led by a charismatic college dropout, began a quest to help the powerless help themselves. In a tale full of unusual characters and dramatic conflicts, the book follows the ups and downs of ACORN's organizers and members as they confront big corporations and unresponsive government officials in Albuquerque, Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, Little Rock, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and the Twin Cities.

The author follows the course of local and national campaigns to organize unions, fight the subprime mortgage crisis, promote living wages for working people, struggle for affordable housing and against gentrification, and help Hurricane Katrina's survivors return to New Orleans.

The book dispels the conservative myth that we can only help the poor through private soup kitchens and charity and the liberal myth that the solution rests simply with more government services. Seeds of Change, not only provides a gripping look at ACORN's four decades of effective organizing, but also offers a hopeful analysis of the potential for a revival of real American democracy.

An offering of The Progressive Book Club.

Biography of Author(s)

John Atlas, a longtime public interest lawyer, writer, and organizer, is a founder and current president of the National Housing Institute, which publishes Shelterforce. His work has appeared in numerous publications including The Huffington Post, The Star Ledger, The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Tikkun, The Nation, Dissent, New Jersey Reporter, and Social Policy.


  • "Seeds of Change not only provides a gripping look at ACORN's four decades of effective organizing, but also offers a hopeful analysis of the potential for a revival of real American democracy."
  • "...excellent history of ACORN's rise and fall..."
    --The American Prospect
  • " impressively detailed, thougtful, and honest history of ACORN..."
    --World Wide Work
  • " 'Community organizer' has become a household phrase--sometimes a commendation, sometimes a slur. But the public knows little about it, or about ACORN, that lightning rod for right-wing abuse. No one has written more informatively about this difficult, necessary work than John Atlas." --Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

    "Long before the 2008 election made ACORN either famous or notorious, depending on your political point of view, John Atlas was closely following the group over its decades of community organizing throughout America. A knowledgeable and empathetic observer, but never an apologist, Atlas has now written the definitive work on ACORN." --Samuel G. Freedman, author of Letters to a Young Journalist

    "Seeds of Change is the definitive book on one of the most effective grass roots organizations of low income Americans. In an era when our President is a one-time community organizer, ACORN needs to be better understood and appreciated as a source of civic and political mobilization. John Atlas combines scholarship, political insight, and powerful narrative writing in this essential book." --Robert Kuttner, author, co-founder of The American Prospect magazine

    "Seeds of Change is an exceptionally important book--a vivid, honest, and gripping look at the front lines, warts and controversies and all. John Atlas's story of ACORN is also a broader story of critical importance to the nation at this moment of change and transition. He tells the tale of a new populist movement of ordinary citizens beginning to emerge, taking on everyday issues of housing, health care, wages, and schools, and also the broadest question, the future and fate of American democracy itself." --Harry C. Boyte, founder and co-director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship

    "Seeds of Change takes us inside the world of ACORN, perhaps the most complicated national progressive organization in America. By gaining access and trust where most reporters had failed, Atlas deploys his journalistic skills beautifully in this powerful portrait of people working to realize a vision of social prosperity." --Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University

    "This timely and engaging book about one of America's most important antipoverty organizations is a must read. Couched within the broader context of American culture and politics, John Atlas' riveting stories about ACORN as an organization and its activities accomplishes the following: The reader of Seeds of Change gains an understanding not only of ACORN's success in the fight for social justice, but also why its efforts to empower ordinary people are viewed with alarm and have come under attack by conservative and reactionary forces in our society." --William Julius Wilson, Harvard University
  • "Atlas delivers a rare look into the machinery of a high-profile, controversial grassroots organization."