- Founder and former Chief Organizer of ACORN, a nationwide activist network engaged in “community organizing” and in voter mobilization drives for George Soros’ Shadow Party
- Former draft-resistance activist for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)
- Former activist in the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) and protegé of its founder George A. Wiley
- Co-founder of the Tides Foundation, along with Drummond Pike. Currently serves as Board Chairman of the Tides Center and member of the Tides Foundation Board of Directors
- Founded Local 100 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New Orleans and heads it to this day. Rathke is president and co-founder of SEIU’s Southern Conference and a member of SEIU’s national executive board. He also helped launch the United Labor Union (ULU), which organizes low-skill service workers.
- Rathke chairs the AFL-CIO’s Organizers Forum and formerly served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.
Wade Rathke founded the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), for which he served as Chief Organizer from 1970 to 2008. He is also the co-founder and Chairman of the Tides Center; a Board member of the Tides Foundation; an Executive Board member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); and Chairman of the AFL-CIO’s Organizers Forum. Rathke describes himself as someone who is dedicated to “winning social justice, workers' rights, and a democracy where ‘the people shall rule’”; i.e., socialism.
Rathke hails from a family of prosperous orange ranchers in Orange County, California. During the late 1960s he attended Williams College in Massachusetts but dropped out before graduating. He thereafter became a draft-resistance organizer for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and an organizer for George Wiley’s National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). (For details on NWRO, see the separate entries for George Wiley and the “Cloward-Piven Strategy.”)
In 1970, Wiley sent Rathke to Little Rock, Arkansas to begin organizing NWRO chapters in the South. By that time, Wiley -- who was African American -- was coming under attack by black militants who opposed his policy of placing whites such as Rathke in NWRO leadership positions.
Rathke, perhaps sensing that he might soon be demoted or released entirely, in 1970 formed a new organization called Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). He enlisted civil rights workers and trained them in a program (at Syracuse University) patterned after Saul Alinsky’s activist tactics.
The group’s name was later changed to Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, but the acronym ACORN remained the same. In keeping with George Wiley’s original vision, Rathke gave ACORN a wider mission than that of NWRO. Instead of focusing solely on welfare recipients, ACORN would address issues touching all low-income people -- most notably "living wage" ordinances, "affordable" (i.e., taxpayer-funded) housing, mortgage lending, and voter-registration drives. Under Rathke's leadership, ACORN grew rapidly. Today it claims more than 400,000 dues-paying member families, and more than 1,200 chapters in 110 U.S. cities. (The organization is also active in Canada and Mexico).
The Florida recount crisis in the 2000 presidential election served to inject Rathke and his fellow ACORN activists with a heightened sense of urgency to advance their political agendas. Initially, Miami-Dade County's all-Democrat canvassing board moved the recount into a room too small to accomodate reporters or Republican observers. At the same time, the board announced that since its members lacked time to hand-count all the ballots, they would only count some ballots -- presumably, Republicans feared, selecting a disproportionate number of those that had been cast for Al Gore. The ensuing uproar, which featured Republicans pounding on the counting-room door and an angry crowd of Cuban-Americans gathered outside the building demanding entry, persuaded the nervous canvassing board to back down from its illegal plan -- and perhaps prevented the Democrats from stealing the election.
“[W]e allowed conservatives to steal pages from our playbook and do actions on us in Dade County,” Rathke later lamented in his magazine Social Policy. “We need an edge, some harder steel on the rim.”
With new resolve, Rathke and ACORN thereafter pushed into high gear their efforts to help Democrat candidates win political elections at any cost. Toward that end, ACORN's mass campaigns of voter-registration fraud would reach unprecedented heights in subsequent election cycles. ACORN’s paid workers, tasked with registering as many pro-Democrat voters as possible, submitted many tens of thousands of fraudulent voter-registration cards in key voting districts around the United States. By 2008, federal authorities were investigating voter fraud by ACORN in 12 separate states.
On June 2, 2008, Rathke stepped down from his role as ACORN’s President. A month after his departure, the organization publicly acknowledged that Dale Rathke -- Wade’s brother -- had embezzled nearly $1 million from ACORN and its affiliated groups in 1999 and 2000. ACORN further admitted that for eight years its executives had known about Dale's activity but had kept it secret from almost all of their board members and from law-enforcement authorities.
According to journalist Stephanie Strom, Wade Rathke “said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a ‘weapon’ into the hands of enemies of ACORN, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to its often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers.”
Tides Foundation founder and president Drummond Pike personally repaid the embezzled amount to ACORN.
Today Wade Rathke disseminates his political views by means of a blog he administers on his website, WadeRathke.net. In a July 25, 2008 blog post titled “Herr Obama,” Rathke celebrated the excitement that had attended Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama's recent tour of Europe:
"Can you remember the last time an American who didn’t have a microphone in one hand and a guitar in another drew 200,000 people anywhere in Europe? And, that would have been as part of a festival where they were serving beer at the least. For 200,000 people to come out and hear a candidate for President is an amazing phenomenon. It makes me think that there is an excitement -- and hope -- around the world that America as the world’s leader, might actually be a leader and have a leader that the world is willing to respect and hear differently."
In 2009, Rathke resurrected the crusades of NWRO by pursuing a so-called “Maximum Eligible Participation Solution” (MEPS) which exhorted all Americans eligible for welfare payments to make “full utilization of existing programs” and thereby advance Rathke's dream of a massive welfare state. The MEPS is essentially an updated incarnation of the old Cloward-Piven Strategy, aiming to orchestrate a crisis that will overwhelm the financial system and cause it to collapse. Rathke writes in his book, “it is hard to believe that we cannot assemble the troops to mount a campaign for maximum eligible participation that harvests the opportunities and dollars already available if we could achieve full utilization of existing programs.” Rathke has also said that technology should be utilized to make it as easy as possible for people to claim welfare benefits.
In his 2009 book Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families), Rathke explicitly hailed “Cloward and Piven's exciting call to arms.”
In March 2011, Rathke issued a call for “days of rage in ten cities around JP Morgan Chase.” That call culminated in the formation, later that year, of the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement, whose street protests were part of what Rathke described as his "anti-banking jihad." Rathke's efforts were supported by Stephen Lerner, an SEIU board member and radical-left organizer who candidly aims to “destabilize the folks that are in power and start to rebuild a movement”; “bring down the stock market”; “bring down [the] bonuses” of executives in the financial sector; and “interfere with their ability to ... be rich.”