How ACORN could intrude on President Obama's India visit
Activists tied to ACORN International, an offshoot of the US group that caused President Obama so much trouble in the 2008 election, will protest outside Obama's speech to India's Parliament Monday.
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Some are cutting large cardboard boxes into smaller panels that are cut and pressed together to form new, smaller boxes with their old logos cleverly flipped inside. Even the old staples are recycled.Skip to next paragraph
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Others are sorting for specific detritus like car headlamps or bicycle handlebar grips; such items take on value in bulk.
A man named Syed Sheikh sits under a canopy sorting through a sack of plastic junk he bought for 50 cents. He pulls an item out, taps it against a rock, then tosses it into one of the many bags and piles around him.
"I tap the rock to understand: Different plastic makes different sounds," he says.
Plastic that's sorted by color and by grade sells for $3.50 to $23 per sack. Even with his fast pace, the work nets less than 67 cents an hour for him. Still, after three hours of work a day he will earn more than 75 percent of Indians do, according to World Bank data from 2005.
While he lives in a very expensive city and Indian wages have grown in the past five years, his economic reality remains closer to the majority of Indians than the elite Obama met.
Shetty says roughly 40 percent of all Mumbai's waste gets recycled, meaning ragpickers are part of the "green-collar" workforce that politicians and industrialists tout as a "win-win" between environmental and business concerns. ACORN India is resisting efforts to commercialize the sector unless the ragpickers are the ones chosen for the formalized jobs.
Standing in the foot-deep sea of worthless tiny plastic pieces outside Mr. Sheikh's tent, one can see the tall buildings of Mumbai's most expensive offices, including Indian Oil, Citibank, and Reliance Industries, the company owned by Asia's richest man.
"I think President Obama is a long way away from community organizing now," says Wade Rathke, the founder of ACORN. While he says Obama carries lessons from his community work, "he's playing a different game."
Indeed, Obama has used his trip to bring together the heads of multinational corporations to argue for free trade as a means of job creation and economic growth in both countries.
ACORN International's focus on world's mega-slums
Mr. Rathke, who left the US ACORN group in 2008, focuses now on a separate organization he founded named ACORN International. The group has members in nine countries, including India, and focuses on the billion or so people who live in mega-slums.
Activists tied to ACORN International will protest outside Obama's speech to Parliament Monday to pressure Indian lawmakers not to allow foreign companies like Wal-Mart into retail.
"We're trying to organize a vast base in order to push on all political parties," Rathke says. "The vision is that people should have the power and they should be able to push governments and corporations to do the right things."