Bertha Lewis & ACORN: Unbowed

It’s good to see a fighter for justice vindicated — and still fighting. Cynthia Gordy at The Root interviews Bertha Lewis on Life After ACORN:

One year after the community-organizing group ACORN disbanded — after an undercover video scandal and a denial of federal funds by Congress — the organization’s former president is back. Today Bertha Lewis is at the helm of the Black Institute, her newly created “action tank” dedicated to immigration reform, environmental justice, education and economic fairness…
__
The Root: After ACORN disbanded, many chapters reorganized under new names. How are they faring a year later?
__
Bertha Lewis: There are 18 independent organizations around the country. Some of the old ACORN chapters were combined, with several states becoming one entity. We learned great lessons from our tribulations, and we decided that organizing by any other name is still organizing. The former chapters and their boards incorporated themselves, renamed themselves and made sure that the reforms I had been putting in place around structure, financial management and operations were carried on. I’m happy to say that they’re very strong, and we’re in about 25 states.
__
Glenn Beck and the conservative right actually helped us create 18 bulletproof community-organizing Frankensteins that they’re going to have a very hard time attacking. We owned up to what our weaknesses were, we were realistic about our strengths, and so these new entities are carrying on ACORN’s work of organizing low- and moderate-income folks. Thank you very much, Rush Limbaugh.
__
TR: ACORN seemed to shut down so quickly, without putting up much of a fight. Why?
__
BL: I don’t say that we didn’t put up much of a fight. We were outgunned and outmanned. We said from the beginning, “These tapes are doctored; we are under attack.” It was like crying out in the wilderness. The so-called progressive, liberal-left community didn’t rise up as they did in the cases of NPR, Planned Parenthood and Shirley Sherrod.
__
When we had a never-ending echo chamber of right-wing media and millions of dollars spent going after us, and then not having the resources and allies to defend us, we were just swamped. We didn’t have millions of dollars to do elaborate PR campaigns and fight the 24-hour news cycle. We could never get our message out. A year later, folks are waking up and saying, “Ohhhh, now we understand.” Well, where were you? Why weren’t we believed when we were vilified and asked for help?
__
By the time we were vindicated, and the district attorneys in New York, California and one place after another said these videos were doctored, the damage had been done. Our board said, “We’re either going to expend our resources fighting something that is overwhelming us, or we need to keep our eyes on the prize.” We made new entities with good structure and financial management, and we went on….
__
TR: You’re such a polarizing figure that, no matter where you work, you’ll be viewed with suspicion. Are you anxious about defending yourself against more allegations?
__
BL: I will forever be the ACORN Lady, and I will never run away from it. I hope they do come after me. I cannot wait. Maybe then, all of the legal vindication and evidence showing how they trumped up stuff can finally be opened up. But I think that if they come after me — digging up a corpse to trot out and debate — then they will be engaging in political necrophilia. So all political necrophiliacs, bring it on. [Laughs.]

Much more excellence, including some details of Lewis’s new organization, at the link.

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51 replies
  1. 1
    themann1086 says:

    We (meaning “progressive”, “liberal-left” types) were definitely way too slow in our defense of ACORN. We learned our lesson though (though the media and many Dems haven’t) and pretty much pushback against any videos now. Sorry ACORN :(

  2. 2
    dollared says:

    She’s absolutely right. We loves our NPR and Planned Parenthood, but there are plenty of feminists, union members, envronmentalists, and intellectual liberals (and more trendy stereotypes) that do not get that we will never have the society we want if we don’t 1) work our asses off to get the the bottom two economic quintiles to register and vote and 2) support all organizations trying to help the poor and working poor.

  3. 3
    Mnemosyne says:

    Unfortunately for them, ACORN got to be the test case for the concentrated smear campaigns by O’Keefe and Breitbart. A lot of people reacted badly (I’m looking at you, Jon Stewart) and it sucks that the fact that they got screwed made it easier to defend the other orgs (because there was a modus operandi to point to).

    It’s the way Republicans love to operate — pick on the minorities first, perfect your attacks since no one’s paying attention, and then move out to your other enemies.

  4. 4
    MaximusNYC says:

    I love that her new org is called “The Black Institute”. That should make some heads explode.

  5. 5
    Corner Stone says:

    She sounds awesome. A person who would be good to learn more about/from.

  6. 6
    Corner Stone says:

    @MaximusNYC: I loved it that it’s an “action tank”.

    ETA, you know, they don’t just sit round talking propaganda like “Heritage”, they make action happen.
    Also, the word “tank” always makes me happier.
    “Oh shit! Here come those hard cases from the Black Institute in their damned Action Tank again!”

  7. 7
    Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937 says:

    O’Keefe’s videos looked like SNL skits. I couldn’t understand how anybody took them seriously. Good for ACORN to make lemonade from the mess and use the lessons to strengthen their organization.

  8. 8
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Is it me or is Jon Stewart getting more Broderish?

  9. 9
    Danny says:

    @Anne Laurie

    When we had a never-ending echo chamber of right-wing media and millions of dollars spent going after us, and then not having the resources and allies to defend us, we were just swamped. We didn’t have millions of dollars to do elaborate PR campaigns and fight the 24-hour news cycle. We could never get our message out. A year later, folks are waking up and saying, “Ohhhh, now we understand.” Well, where were you? Why weren’t we believed when we were vilified and asked for help?

    This is to be expected and is a natural consequence of being outgunned and marginalized. The progressive alliance is by necessity an alliance of marginalized groups – that’s one of it’s raison d’etres. But marginalized groups can’t always stick up for each other in the face of overwhelming force.

    That is why it is of the utmost importance to learn to quickly forgive the allies that let you down, and instead channel and focus one’s anger at the ones who willingly set out to destroy you. Sometimes thats a lot to swallow.

    But it’s all about incentives. If Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keife and other white supremacists can use FoxNews to go after the protectors of the poor and disenfranchized and at the same time breed mistrust and internal strife within the progressive alliance, then it becomes a win-win proposition for them to do it.

    The only way we can win is by forgiving each other everything that doesn’t amount to outright defection, and focus on destroying the traders in hate.

  10. 10
    boss bitch says:

    An “ACTION TANK” – I love the way she thinks.

  11. 11
    kdaug says:

    Blowback from ill-considered Repub tactics? Unpossible.

    Stupid is as stupid does.

  12. 12
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: It’s not just you.

  13. 13
    kdaug says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: He ain’t free-range. I suspect some Viacom suits get nervous and send the word down. Is what it is.

  14. 14
    goblue72 says:

    I’ve worked with and for many community-based, community development organizations over the years working on addressing issues of urban poverty and disinvestment. Some of this work involved the kind of “community organizing” that the weasels on the Right vilified during the Obama campaign in 2008.

    I’ve had experience interacting with ACORN (prior to the O’Keefe “scandal”).

    I can tell you why ACORN didn’t find many institutional allies in the progressive community rising to their defense – and its not as one-sided as Bertha Lewis would have folks believe. First, the organizational and financial managment problems at ACORN amongst its chapters were not insignificant. Well run organizations are not going to stick their neck out to help an organization that for years was badly in need of reform but refused at the highest levels for far too long to do anything about it, until the sh*t hit the fan.

    Second, organizationally they could be quite difficult to work with. When you are organizing on broad-based coalition campaigns at the community level, and one of the community organizations (ACORN) consistently takes “a my way or the highway” approach, it makes it really hard to rise to support an “ally” that never really was a strong ally in the first place.

    Its sad what happened to ACORN. O’Keefe is a douche-bag of the highest order and should be spending the rest of his life in prison as someone’s bottom bunk b*tch. But if ACORN had historically handled its affairs to the degree of professionalism that MOST community organizations do, and if it had actually cared about real coalition building over the years, it would have survived the attacks. Running a well-managed ship is important – you don’t get a free pass just because you work for the good guys. There are lots of “good guys” out here – none of us can afford to watch scarce resources go to waste.

  15. 15
    j says:

    I collected signatures on petitions for ACORN in the late 70s, early 80’s. They were usually for neighborhood improvement projects like opening clinics or pre-schools. One was to rezone an old house to become a battered womens’ shelter. The location was secret for obvious reasons. Even the signature gatherers weren’t told where the house was, although it was in my neighborhood.

    The zoning variance was passed by the city and noone saw a whit of change. A few years later, while just walking through my ‘hood going to the best pizza place within 100 miles, I met a woman who filled me in on all the stuff. She ran the shelter (which was 1/2 block away, around the corner) and knew who I was (because the police looked for sex offenders and wife beaters) and she connected my name with the petition passers.

    To make a long post short, we got a bunch of happy kids, the nearby so-called park got new equipment (paid for mostly through the neighborhood organization’s fund drives, the pizza place got a bunch of kids in the formerly dying neighborhood, some broken families stayed in the area and started renting places of their own because there was a support system in place.

    And Breitbart and his little dog too are liars and assholes.

    Acorn has COMMUNITY in it’s name. Blieitbart has LIE in HIS name (See, I edited it. S’Okay, nobody will notice.)

  16. 16
    Napoleon says:

    Seriously, would it kill you to summarize what whoever it is says? I have had it with post like this. If you have something to say say it. If you want us to read post a link. But don’t post a huge chunk and just expect us to read.

    And no I will not check back on this thread.

  17. 17
    Reality Check says:

    Keep on defending an organization that committed voter fraud and tried to cover up prostitution, guys. I hear that’s real popular with swing voters!

  18. 18
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Napoleon:

    Also, it needs to be richer! More cream!

  19. 19
    slightly-peeved says:

    Jon Stewart’s last interviews with Huck have been pretty un-broderish. When discussing the 911 responders’ bill, Huck claimed the Democrats had been playing politics and Jon stated that they had not. And he’s been ripping Fox a new one on the whole Common thing.

    His goal, as stated back on Crossfire, is to call bullshit where he sees it. Sometimes, he gets it wrong and it comes out a bit broderish, but most of his time is still spent calling outn right-wing bullshit.

  20. 20
    Corner Stone says:

    @Napoleon: “Sell out Democrats totes pu$$ed out when those assholes lied about us. Shit wasn’t as tight as it could’ve been and we learned from that. We picked ourselves back up and are stronger now.”

  21. 21

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    It drives me nuts sometimes. It infuriates me sometimes. But… you know, he’s a comedian, not a pundit or a journalist. I try to suck it up, because if I’m expecting him to have hard journalistic standards then I’M the fool. He doesn’t pretend he has them. It’s just tempting to think he has them because his standards are higher than the actual news media.

  22. 22
    Bostondreams says:

    @Napoleon:

    ‘Silly Noob. TLDNR.’

    Oh grow up. You sound like one of my tenth graders. ‘why do we have to read? this is history, not English. It’s a page long, it’s too long, wah wah wah.’

  23. 23
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    They have now been targeted and they have become empowered. You know what happens when you piss these people off? They get more powerful. They get more motivated. And you know what? They are coming after you. I have never seen a more dedicated, determined and totally committed bunch of people than I saw during the 2008 election when it came to registering voters. I am talking boots on the ground, knocking on doors, showing up at every single community event with a desk a clip board and a voter registration form. OFA in addition was massive here in NC and turned NC blue.

    THe 2010 election has left alot of people here with a bad taste in their mouth and a serious case of buyers remorse, the repub house are now introducing the most outrageous legislation and doing like they are doing all over the US, overreaching. I am thinking that 2012 is going to be devastating for the Elephants.

    One of the most outrageous efforts is rather than increase taxes to make up the budget deficit increasing the fine for a speeding ticket from $25.00 to $250.00 (plus court costs), right now a simple speeding ticket can be taken care of for $166.00, with the Repubs new proposal it will go to $391 an entire weeks wages for someone on minimum wage. But wait, it gets better, if you don’t take care of your speeding ticket your license will be revoked (under current laws) poor people who have no money to pay for the ticket will of course continue to drive to get to work, (to pay the bills) and will no doubt get pulled over and charged with driving while license revoked, another court cost that you cannot afford to pay. The repubs latest legislation attempt will make the third charge of driving while license revoked a FELONY and with a minimum fine of $2,500.00.

    So thanks to the ever so fiscally conservative repubs in the house there are going to be thousands more felons in NC and thousands more inmates in State prisons who are going to be getting 3 hots and a cot every single day. Way to cure the budget deficit you fucking idiots.

  24. 24
    merrinc says:

    @Napoleon:

    Why can’t you fucking whiners just skip over the front pagers who don’t meet your exacting standards?

    Thank you, Anne Laurie, for posting the article here so I wasn’t bothered with having to go somewhere else to read it. I can’t be expected to click AND scroll, geesh.

  25. 25
    El Cid says:

    If memory serves, I think the Democrats in Congress ran to vote to defund and condemn ACORN before pretty much the ‘liberal-left’ community had heard much of what the hell had just happened.

    Having known and even worked (volunteering) with them before, I knew that this was a right wing attack given that the same exact lies were spread about them locally — just without the media uniformly spreading a video propaganda fraud.

    I also don’t think that a lot of liberals-leftists knew about ACORN, and they probably weren’t expecting the political hate hour which arrived like 5 seconds later.

    So, I don’t disagree with the point, but it developed in such an instantaneous fashion that — if discussed as the particular Breitbart-launched / mass media beloved event rather than the longer term issues — I wouldn’t really have predicted a quick defense.

    You’d wish, however, by now there would be the kind of instantaneous anti-rightist propaganda resources on the, um, non-rightist side. Given the Bush Jr. years starting with the ‘recount’ riots.

    But the right’s lies can travel to every newspaper and TV and radio news show before the actual liberal-left can find its boots in the closet, even if they didn’t miss an issue.

    Now that we’ve seen it, it’d be cool if more people like ‘us’ knew of and had met and supported the few organizations doing work in minority and low income communities for local political and economic empowerment.

    And not just at election time, either.

  26. 26
    Danny says:

    @El Cid:

    You’d wish, however, by now there would be the kind of instantaneous anti-rightist propaganda resources on the, um, non-rightist side. Given the Bush Jr. years starting with the ‘recount’ riots.

    But the right’s lies can travel to every newspaper and TV and radio news show before the actual liberal-left can find its boots in the closet, even if they didn’t miss an issue.

    Yeah. They’re well-funded and have been working on their media savvy and messaging power for 50 years, we can’t catch up overnight. No excuse not to get moving though…

    Now that we’ve seen it, it’d be cool if more people like ‘us’ knew of and had met and supported the few organizations doing work in minority and low income communities for local political and economic empowerment.

    And not just at election time, either.

    Word.

  27. 27
    maus says:

    @themann1086:

    We (meaning “progressive”, “liberal-left” types) were definitely way too slow in our defense of ACORN.

    I disagree. “We” as liberals always supported ACORN, it was the media who continuously demonized ACORN and let the right swarm them.

  28. 28
    SFAW says:

    Reality Chick –

    Don’t forget that ACORN forged Obama’s super-dee-duper-long-form birth certificate.

    Which is about as truthful as your comment, imbecile.

    Oh, wait, I just realized – “Reality Chick” is the new nom de dumb for Clown-a. And here I was, thinking s/he had died of terminal stupidity! Guess I’ll have to recalibrate.

  29. 29
    Malron says:

    In the immortal words of the late, great Robin Harris: “We’re Bey-Bey’s Kids’……We don’t die, we multiply”

  30. 30
    Bostondreams says:

    @Reality Check:

    Certainly seems to work for the Republicans, doesn’t it?

  31. 31
    Ash Can says:

    @Reality Check: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

  32. 32
    Danny says:

    @Reality Check:

    Few peeps know about this but thug rapper Common was using ACORN to raise money for smuggling Assata Shakur back into the country and breaking Mumia out of jail. The three of them were then to install Obama as dictator for life by means of violent revolution organized in collusion with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.

    The lame-stream media won’t tell it, though.

  33. 33
    El Cid says:

    Since this is about another vile Breitbart slander excitedly agreed with by someone higher in the chain of whatever person / group he’s targeted, why not yet another?

    The respected Breitbart got another institution, this time a University [maybe] and his labor union, to piss their pants and break through the door running to demand a professor resign because Breitbart minions ‘released’ a video of the professor in class calling for armed jihad and the burning of priests and the raping of 5 year olds and so forth.

    Actually, the adjunct professor, Don Giljum, had committed the sedition of teaching labor history, which slanders capitalism by mentioning labor violence.

    Original reports were that the patriotic University had demanded he resigned. Due to a bunch of America-hating students who actually were in the course and in fact were on fucktard Breitbart’s video, and those fucking ivory tower elitists, the University had apparently pre-given in to the bin Ladenists and had not managed to load him into the trebuchet yet.

    I didn’t see it clarified yet whether or not his union chose to be all French and not have asked him to resign his position in the local. Hopefully they haven’t yet given entirely over to camembert.

    And the patriotic denunciation based on the sort of completely accurate videos stemmed from the local TeaTard commandant. It’s a class taught by interactive videos, which is normally where communist union thug teachers bring students together to learn how to blow up Chambers of Commerce.

    Warning: Some paragraphs of article text are to follow. Those uninterested in too many words further can rely upon the bitterly sarcastic summary above.

    After the Review
    __
    Inside Higher Ed | May 11, 2011
    __
    After reviewing footage of a labor-management class at the University of Missouri that became the focus of an Internet-stoked controversy, the chancellor and provost of the St. Louis campus are backing the instructors and disputing earlier reports that one of the instructors was fired.
    __
    Excerpts of discussions from a labor studies class, which were edited and posted publicly on Big Government, a website of the conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart, “were definitely taken out of context, with their meaning highly distorted through splicing and editing from different times within a class period and across multiple class periods,” Chancellor Tom George and Provost Glen Cope of Missouri’s St. Louis campus wrote in a statement Monday.
    __
    At the same time, one of the two instructors caught in the maelstrom, Judy Ancel, acknowledged that a previous statement she had made in her defense — that she had referred in class to a documentary, but that the videos made her seem to be advocating violence — reflected a misquote on her part.
    __
    Monday’s statement by George and Cope, which followed a letter last week, was the first comment issued by administrators since they reviewed the entirety of the classroom footage. Last month, Gail Hackett, the provost at Missouri’s Kansas City campus, had largely backed the version of events given by Ancel, based upon what was then a partial review. Hackett also expressed concern that the privacy rights of students in the class had been violated and sought to “underscore our commitment to the importance of academic freedom, freedom of speech and the free-flowing discussion of challenging topics in our courses.” George and Cope have made similar pronouncements.
    __
    In Monday’s statement, George and Cope, in addition to corroborating the findings that the footage had been manipulated, offered an alternative account of the fate of Don Giljum, a senior lecturer on the St. Louis campus for 11 years who had said earlier that he had been asked to resign. Giljum, the administrators said, had not been fired, was finishing the course, and remains eligible to teach there. “We sincerely regret the distress to him and others that has been caused by the unauthorized copying, editing and distribution of the course videos,” the administrators wrote.
    __
    Giljum said that earlier reports that he had resigned resulted from a miscommunication between him and the administration. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, he said that he was very pleased and felt vindicated by Monday’s statement…
    __
    …[A] representative from Insurgent Visuals [the citizen journalists working with the reliable Breitbart BigGubmit website] sent an e-mail saying the footage is “legitimate, in context, and shows state-paid professors advocating violence, sabotage and organizing for Communists.”

    This guy is such a racist, fraudulent, lying scumbag that Bill Maher needs to invite him on his show several dozen more times to lie about what he hasn’t done.

    I’d actually like to see, though, what someone organizing for Communists would actually be able to do. Or even for whom they’d be attempting to recruit the students.

  34. 34
    SFAW says:

    Danny @ 32 –

    THANK YOU so much for revealing the truth! Have you found anything re: the rumor that Common is using rapping as a front to create Obama’s secret Mooslim army, with which he will overthrow Big Government?

    Please keep us posted – Clown-a/Reality Chick especially!

  35. 35
    Danny says:

    @El Cid:

    Well see, if we were more like republicans and could stomach taking orders, we could maybe organize hundreds or thousands of angry citizens calling the networks to complain if they ever get the idea to put that bigot on again…

  36. 36
    Danny says:

    @SFAW:

    All rappers are trivially mooslim on account of being – you know – black, so that first part is easy. But the part where they create a SA like paramilitary force (brown shirts AND faces) to trick americans into supporting the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine in order to quell the anarchy in the street – that’s hard to prove…. Because the POS NIC is sneaky. They *all* are. You know who I’m talking about.

  37. 37
    SFAW says:

    Because the POS NIC is sneaky

    Is that a variation of “HNIC”? But outside of that, you make a lot of sense.

    But that raises the question in my mind: if the darkies are so unhappy here, why did they bother immigrating here in the first place? Friggin’ ungrateful, if you ask me.

  38. 38
    Danny says:

    @SFAW:

    Is that a variation of “HNIC”? But outside of that, you make a lot of sense.

    I noticed over in the comments @ FoxNews that Piece of Sh-t is widely used by those among our confederate brethren who lack the stomach for standing proud and tall and just calling a spade a spade e.g. Obama “HNIC”. But I went for the twofer.

    But that raises the question in my mind: if the darkies are so unhappy here, why did they bother immigrating here in the first place? Friggin’ ungrateful, if you ask me.

    They came to force themselves on blonde women, but stayed for the free food stamps – didn’t you know? I think Gingrich had something on that the other day: apparently they have a special “food stamp president” now…

  39. 39
    SFAW says:

    our confederate brethren who lack the stomach balls

    Edited for anatomical accuracy.

    They came to force themselves on blonde women, ..

    This is not the first time I’ve thought about how much I miss Cleavon Little.

  40. 40
    Christopher Wing says:

    I stayed with Bertha while I was training with ACORN, and she was just about the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. We lived in a squat, with kerosene heaters. She worked her ass off each day, and was an inspiration to everyone she touched. She looked after me when I cut open my hand on a glass bottle and almost died.

    If anyone can lead a revolution, it is her.

  41. 41
    Danny says:

    Edited for anatomical accuracy.

    Right you are.

    This is not the first time I’ve thought about how much I miss Cleavon Little.

    Ah, Lilly von Schtupp and her schnitzengruben.

  42. 42
    SFAW says:

    Ah, Lilly von Schtupp and her schnitzengruben.

    Well, I was thinking more along the lines of “Where the white women at?”, but Lily was pretty good, too. (And gone too young, as well.)

  43. 43
    Ecks says:

    @Corner Stone: That’s the very first part. Then the 2nd page starts getting into what the new challenges for her Black Action Tank are, and she has a lot of very smart insightful observations about the Black community and illegal immigration and suchlike.

    It really is one that covers a lot of ground in a short space, and it’s very unlikely that you can summarize what it says better than she said it, so a “shorter” just ain’t very helpful. This one really is worth just reading directly.

  44. 44
    Ecks says:

    @Danny: With a whole army of comuhnist food stamp czars working for him. to spread cahmunistic fashizum through the intricate network of darkies whom we totally surround anyway.

  45. 45
    Corner Stone says:

    @Ecks: I agree and shit, but I ain’t here to speak for such an awesome person.
    I personally don’t mind Napoleon asking for a “shorter”.
    People that wanna click on the link will. Other people can take or leave what I had to say here.
    I’m not shoving my massive package down your throat.

  46. 46
    Ecks says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I personally don’t mind Napoleon asking for a “shorter”.

    LOL, was that intentional?

  47. 47
    Danny says:

    With a whole army of comuhnist food stamp czars working for him. to spread cahmunistic fashizum through the intricate network of darkies whom we totally surround anyway.

    That’s the ticket!

    I’m not shoving my massive package down your throat.

    Thuggie “Cop Killa” Common? On this very blog?

  48. 48
    Corner Stone says:

    It could not be any more so.

  49. 49
    themann1086 says:

    @maus: Agree completely, and I wasn’t very clear. I just meant that we didn’t push back strongly or coordinated enough to help, not that we didn’t support them.

  50. 50
    billy rae valentine says:

    @Reality Check:

    yes! don’t give up on it! keep wringing that towel for more juice.

  51. 51
    JohnnyAmerica says:

    Community organizing is so 2008. Now that they’ve been exposed, they’ll never have the power they once had. Obama won by 6 million votes, it will be a miracle if they could pull it off again. Commie/socialists/democrats/community organizers are playing defense. America rejects what they stand for. They don’t stand for the poor, they stand for class warfare just like Chairman Mao introduced. Epic Fail.

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