Filling a void: Maude Hurd's work on behalf of the poor is getting national attention.
Hurd's battles for low- and moderate-income citizens are making her a major player in local and national issues. "Maude has a folksy, down-home disposition that masks a sharp and focused mind," says Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has worked closely with Hurd on the Community Reinvestment Act. "She's able to take these unbelievably complicated Washington-Beltway issues and translate them into dollars and cents for ordinary citizens."
ACORN is a nonprofit organization founded in 1970 by a group of Arkansas welfare mothers who wanted to gain control over their lives and communities. A national network of neighborhood groups that works on local issues affecting their cities and towns, from alternative schools to voter participation, ACORN has 32 offices across the country.
Hurd, 51, got involved with the group the way most people do--through someone knocking on the door. Her first reaction was to turn the organizer away, but she was intrigued that ACORN did not pretend to have all the answers to the problems that plague low-income communities. On the contrary, ACORN expects members to find their own solutions. At that time, Hurd's primary concern was Boston's many debris-filled vacant lots, especially the one next to her home. Calls to city officials hadn't yielded any results.
The ACORN rep asked Hurd to present the issue at the next meeting where, much to Hurd's surprise, she was asked to be chairperson. Reluctant at first to participate, Hurd soon found herself involved in a protest at City Hall--where members had brought garbage from the lots after the letter-writing and telephone campaigns had failed.
"That was a radical move for me. I had never done anything like that, and I was scared," recalls Hurd. "I really didn't think I could do it." But she did. And not only did the group get an appointment with the mayor, it got those lots cleaned up as well. "I truly believe that with group and direct action you can accomplish a lot of things," says Hurd.
Since then she has been involved in all sorts of actions--Acornese for sit-ins, demonstrations, and negotiations--and has risen up the ranks of the organization from member to leader in various roles over the past 13 years. She's served as ACORN's national president for the past six years.
In March, when ACORN tried to testify before the House Banking Committee, Hurd and four other members were arrested by Capitol Hill police. The five were charged with disrupting Congress and are awaiting their trial date.
As frightening as her jail experience was, Hurd remains determined to stand up for the issues ACORN has focused on for the past 25 years. "Low- and moderate-income people have a problem being a player in anything," she says, "so ACORN aims to make a more level playing field."