Principles for Organizing in DC
Building Our Movement: A Statement of Principles From DC Organizers and Activists
A guide for effective organzing in DC, especially for out-of-towners.
The District of Columbia is the nation’s Capital and therefore a lightning rod for national organizing, but it is also the home of 600,000 people who deal day-to-day with the consequences of many of the important issues that get protested downtown. Often, there is a great divide in DC between locally and nationally focused groups even though these groups encounter the same difficulties, require many of the same resources and often have similar goals. This leads to competing for attention, attendees, media and support while wasting that most valuable of resources, time, by duplicating efforts. Often times there are class and race divides between local and national organizers, adding to the power dynamics and complicated relationships.
This document is an attempt to address this problem by laying out best practices for organizers working in the DC area who see the inherent power in building connections across issues, relating national and international struggles to the local ones affecting people day to day, and strengthening a powerful and unified movement for progressive social change. We hope that national organizing can strengthen local capacity to improve social conditions, organizing and movement building in DC, rather than sapping energy and causing divisions within the movement. We think it’s possible to continue to support important and inspirational national protests while also empowering DC communities in order to strengthen and unify our movement as a whole.
- Every issue being protested in the nation’s capitol that is global, national, or local can be seen first-hand in the communities of the District of Columbia.
- DC is not a state and therefore does not have 10th amendment protections, federal voting rights, or true self-determination.
- DC organizers know our communities in a way that organizers from outside cannot know.
- DC organizers are engaged in long-term and strategic organizing to try to build peace and justice in DC, which has immense inequality.
- DC organizers know the congressional schedule and rules better then most any outsider.
- DC organizers are trained, skilled and experienced in our craft.
- DC organizers face massive unemployment, gentrification, and rising costs of living.
- DC organizers remain in DC dealing with fallout or retaliation by authorities, including the police, long after the mass mobilization moves on and protesters go home.
- DC has a population of over 600,000 people in the city limits and 5.4 million in the metro area, and national organizations bus in people for events that only a handful of locals show up for.
- Often, national mobilizations use the time, energy and resources of DC organizers, who serve as a de-facto host community, at the expense of crucial local organizing.
- There must be a way to utilize the organizing power and hopeful energy that goes into national mobilizations so that the host city’s peace and justice movements stronger.
Therefore, in a show of solidarity, both local and national organizers agree to the following list of principles to guide their organizing and decision making.
As DC organizers and activists we ask:
- DC organizers will be consulted in the decision making process in a meaningful way before major decisions are made final.
- The opinion of DC organizers will hold extra weight in informing decisions that will need to be made for actions within DC.
- National organizers will check in with and consult local organizers before planning events in our city.
- National organizers do their best to coordinate with and support local organizing in the DC area, knowing that empowering our local movement is building the movement as a whole. This includes asking local organizers the best way to support their work and including locally-organized events and actions in the calendar for out-of-town activists.
- National organizers will think about the consequences of their actions and decisions on the local movement and our attempts to strengthen peace and justice in the DC area.
- National organizers will attempt to leave the DC activist community stronger than when they came, knowing that there will always be a "next action" that will need similar resources.
- The measure of success of any action held in DC at least partly will be whether or not the local organizing on said issue has been advanced by the action in a substantial and measurable way.
- When organizers or trianers are hired or paid for work that the opening be opened first to local organizers and that they also be given priority within the hiring pool.
- When DC organizers are hired or paid for work that the pay be of a living wage with benefits.
- DC statehood be, in some way, at least recognized by those who come here in protest of other issues.
- That organizers realize that one-time deals – whether mobilizations or direct service opportunities – have only a limited impact and sustained commitment is what is needed to make change. Given that most national activists aren’t able to make that sustained commitment in DC, local organizers should be asked and their opinions respected as to the best use of the time and effort of national groups. This might not always be the ideal volunteer opportunity or action that was envisioned while at home, but will have more of an impact and strengthen peace and justice work for the long-term.
As DC organizers and activists we offer:
- An intimate logistical knowledge of the geography of DC that can help to maximize impact locally, nationally, and globally while minimizing cost.
- Direct access to physical resources such as stages, sound systems, signs, and much more, as well as knowledge of best places to host events, house groups and more.
- An intimate knowledge and immense experience with permit applications for the myriad of jurisdictions in DC.
- Knowledge and experience dealing with the many different law enforcement agencies, risking arrest in DC and the legal process.
- A network of local organizers, trainers, artists, etc, who can connect your organization to both local allies and potential ally movements.
- Direct access to the 5.4 million people living in the DC metro area.
For example, please check out the online Resource Guide from the Washington Peace Center (www.washingtonpeacecenter.org), who strives to provide all the tools we need to change the world. You can find:
- sliding scale rentals of sound systems, stages, bullhorns for events.
- discounted b/w and color photocopies for activists.
- Searchable Organization Directory of over 300 local progressive and radical groups so you can find your local allies.
- DC Permit Process Overview and Tips
- Local Events and Meeting Spaces for free or cheap
- Law Enforcement Agencies in DC Overview
- Mass Housing Resources- Where to find housing for your group in DC.
- Outdoor Locations for Events – Guide to DC area parks for events and rallies.
- Legal Support for Direct Action - Documents and organizations that will help you know your rights and do legal support.
- And much more!