How to Start a SURJ Chapter Call- Action steps and notes

Action steps and links for the call:

Sign up here if you want to form a chapter of SURJ or affiliate your group with SURJ.

Check out our Chapter and Affiliate Organizing Kit- how to set up chapter, has agenda for first meeting, how to pull people together, accountability.

You can find our values on our website.

Click here to see our current chapters and affiliate groups map

For the history of SURJ and our vision for our work, Check out this interview with SURJ leaders.

To find out more about our door-knocking project, check out the notes from our training call on door-knocking here.

For a recording from the call, click here.

Dara Silverman, National Coordinator, SURJ-

SURJ is national network, we work is to engage more white people in taking action for racial justice.

Take a moment for the ninth black church that was burned in the south, part of larger trend of white supremacy. moment of silence.

Pam McMichael, Director of Highlander Center, one of founders of SURJ-

Important for us to come together at this time, have our efforts add up in ways they couldn't alone. Just as SURJ is working now, and growing and expanding its work. State sponsored violence is escalating, hate group violence is growing and burning of black churches. SURJ started in this context several years ago as well. A few seconds to remind us of context.

In 2009, Obamas' first year in office, we started seeing a resurgence of blatant racism during elections, which escalated when he took office. This resurgence, underscored the ways that racism had never gone away, but had gone underground a bit. Meanwhile, right wing forces have been growing in power a number of years. Town hall meetings on healthcare, immigration highlighted the bigotry and fear.

Back then, people coming together saying what are we going to do, we need to do something. Not about Obama himself, understanding what attacks meant, what escalations and resurgences meant. Several converging conversations going on across the country. Highlander Center put out a call asking white people to come together and talk about this. What are white people doing to step up in this moment.

We came together to take responsibility to organize white people for racial justice and deepened our work moving white people to take action. Founders of SURJ were active in organization locally, multiracial justice work. Also stepping up to take responsibility as white people to engage with white people and connect other white people with racial justice work. First call Sept 11 2009, several months phone calls. First step develop written statement as organizing tool. Way for us to being to engage with each other.

SURJ organizes itself as committees: basebuilding, education, social media. Recent step having staff organizing into chapters to help us to take work into whole other level.

Dara Silverman-

When SURJ was founded, it was a moment where people of color were saying: where are the white people taking action? We are in another moment like that now: across country, in congregations, social media, people of color saying where are the white people?

In light of the massacre in Charleston, and church burnings in South, the call for white people to be showing up, to be more present, to be taking visible action for racial justice in an ongoing way.

We have different chapters from across the country, and a number of folks to speak tonight. How do we do outreach to other white people, bringing white people into work by having conversations about race and moving white people into action?

Whitney Yax, Buffalo SURJ:

In Buffalo, myself and a long time friend started our local SURJ chapter. We are both organizers, I work in labor movement and she works in environmental justice. We are starting the chapter by taking action inspired by one of SURJ ideas of door knocking with blm yard signs, going into primarily white neighborhoods, going door to door with yard signs, talking to folks about putting them into their lawn. Conversations with folks.

Two goals with action:

1. For shy people, this is a great opportunity to practice having conversations with people about racial justice.

2. Help us identify who amongst our network, who we know in Buffalo are ready to take action.

We put together a list of about 100 white people that we know from network, who are "in motion" white people who have posted on facebook about Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore, folks who are in solidarity with BLM movements. We are Inviting those people to join us for a canvass to go door knocking. An hour training folks, practicing door-knocking for a couple hours, come back together and do a debrief. Provide opportunity for folks to reflect on experiences. Who in this room came in the first place and showed up might be folks to bring to form a chapter.

Dara Silverman-

As Pam mentioned earlier, SURJ formed not around getting analysis exactly right but by building through doing action, accountability through long term relationships. Whitney talking about work they have done, have a lot of relationship already with people, know who white people are to reach out to. They are planning on doing door knocking with BLM yard signs SURJ created. Before there is going to be a garden tour in buffalo, white people will be seeing BLM yard signs all over the neighborhood, another chance to initiate conversations. Real goal is to work with people who are already in motion.

Not trying to reach the tea party uncle--people who believe there is something that needs to be different.

Desaray Smith in Asheville, how to do this in smaller city, calling people in and working with people where they are at:

Desaray Smith, Ashveille SURJ-

Hi all. Glad to be here. I am a 37 years old queer white, professional training in social work, Quaker. In January I connected with SURJ.

I live in Asheville NC, which is a small town. 100,000 people. 20 percent of population is black, very segregated town in terms of class and race.

Asheville SURJ started in Jan 2015. I discovered by working here, that it is a lot about relationship. We have online discussions, some people won't meet face to face but will talk with me online. We've had about 8 meetings with between 2 and 8 people. 15-20 people coming to meetings. First really social, getting to know each other, getting to know people in community already doing the work. Getting to know what motivates people.

Not so much what we do but how we do it. Helping white people figure out how to join things that are already in motion, how to support things that are already happening rather than doing new things. Next steps for Asheville SURJ, folks are really excited to start door knocking. Getting together date and time to meet and start doing that.

Going to go down main drag to all local shops, we have a strong contingent of people really focusing on community building, acting local and relationships. Will find white people in Asheville who care about racial justice in same way, who see the things that are going on in Asheville in terms in income disparity and affordable housing.

Dara Silverman

SURJ looks different in different places. Values of SURJ--idea that we have to take risks and try things that are different. In that process may make mistakes, but have to keep going and doing this work. Helping people to identify what is their mutual interest, what is their stake in ending racism and ending white supremacy, how do they go about doing that in an ongoing way.

Next two guests, Eliot and Amy-Western Mass. Where they just had first meeting last night.

Eliot, SURJ Western Mass.-

Last night first actual big event, before this was small reading group and what we ended up doing. We could turn a lot of people out for door knocking if we had a kickoff event. Film screening of Anne Braden, Southern Patriot. Northampton, white folks come from class privilege, with the exception of the queer scene. Networking with other reading groups: reached out, gave ourselves three and half weeks, outreach to colleges in the area, vigils, flyers passed out We saw people passing out flyers our group created, a bunch of internet emailing and face booking. Anti-racism reading groups.

The event was wonderful, over 120 folks showed up for film screening and discussion. We had a representative of the local Black Lives Matter (BLM) group speak. They opened the space and closed it with a chant. Shared what BLM team is doing. 5 people helped organize the screening. Each took a part of the agenda and led it.

History of white people doing this work that has been intentionally hidden from us, can take inspiration from Anne Braden—a great segueing to door knocking, she speaks to power of door knocking--nothing like looking neighbors in the eye and having conversations.

We are moving into action together even if we are nervous. Next Monday, we have a follow up event. Going to start planning how we are going to do door knocking in our community. Excited. More than 100 emails on our email list, facebook up and running. Looks like things are going to pick up.

Dara Silverman-

Great example of moving into action, and building in accountability in terms of relationship with blm group. Using tools to meet this need. Final example is Frank Bergh from Chicago SURJ chapter.

Frank Bergh, Chicago SURJ

How Chicago SURJ went from building core group into taking action.

In Chicago, there is a lot of anti-racism work going on already, but most of it focused on education and training or personal support. SURJ is something unique that didn't exist in Chicago yet-- we started a new group in March. SURJ membership is composed of people who are doing anti racist work, or affiliated with organization.

We sometimes deviated from national SURJ in favor of local organizing. We are following the lead of people of color. Rather than targeting Department of Justice for civil rights charges, there was ongoing campaign targeting the Chicago police department over torture. 1970s and 1980s john burge, presided over torture ring in south side of Chicago tortured over 140 African American men, in police custody to illicit confessions, john burge convicted and sent to prison Big movement in Chicago to pay reparations to survivors of police torture. In April, Chicago will be the first city to give reparations to survivors of police torture.

Large movement not directly attributable to SURJ, but we jumped in and support movement.

Partnering with black youth project 100 and let us breathe collective, young activist that have been back and forth to Ferguson a couple dozen times.

In partnership with SURj and others—we held a memorial day parade, where we built a memorial for rekia boyd, a trans woman who was shot by police in north Lawndale--picnic site, march through the neighborhood. Police officer has returned to duty, all charges have been dropped in this case.

We came out for a Juneteenth, black independence day, celebration of black liberation. Built another larger more creative memorial in honor of Rekia Boyd, a couple days after Charleston shooting, also victims of Charleston in memorial park, in three trees and stars in trees. Did another march and an open mics. Leadership of black youth project in Chicago.

Dara Silverman-

We create a lot of actions at national level, but goal is to offer people tools. Every local chapter is going to pick and choose what makes a sense locally, haring examples of how even as we had focus on DOJ Michal Brown, Chicago was listening to relationships they had on ground, building accountable, creating actions that make sense in terms of Chicago.

In Chicago white there are together groups doing trainings in Chicago. SURJ first group in Chicago specifically organizing white people to take action for racial justice.

A couple quick things to highlight:

Check out our values on our website: .

Also on website, we have what it means to be chapter: white people taking action for racial justice, but some groups are multiracial.

Check out our Chapter and Affiliate Organizing Kit: how to set up chapter, has agenda for first meeting, how to pull people together, accountability.

Enough for all- believe that part of our work is organizing, taking action, and fundraising for the movement.

Questions and Answers:

Kate, Ithaca:

What comes after door knocking? If there are people showing that they want to more involved, what would the next steps be to plug those people in? Campaigns that people can plug into, or are those still relationships that are being built now?

Elliot- Door knocking first concrete plan. Started relationship with BLM, planning actions for summer, and are going to reach out to us when they need white people. Nothing specifically planned, but do have connections to folks who will call us in when we need to bring our bodies and minds in to be present. Connection.

Frank- a couple things that folks have asked for: facilitating anti racism trainings through partners, providing some other outlets so folks can feel more confident and excited about what we are doing. Chicago police, going on listening tour this summer. Majority white neighborhoods, coverage from local news outlets handpicking audience and questions to ask police commissioner. Bringing our people to those meetings, real questions being asked. Community policing meetings in each neighborhood: disrupt CAPS-sending people to meeting where police are meeting with their consistent, and listening to discussions, raising questions about police accountability.


Cassandra, Gainesville FL- Dream Defenders, BLM groups huge movements there. There are a lot of white people involved, but not in an organized way. Getting a lot of good ideas. Question: Eliot--what is the name of the film you showed?

Elliot- Anne Braden Southern Patriot.

John- Is SURJ organizing in faith communities?

Dara- We have a call tomorrow for faith leaders. Toolkit to be released soon by SURJ. You can find the notes from that call here.

Working in partnerships with different faith movements: Presbyterians, United Methodist Women, UUs, United Church of Christ, Jewish groups: rabbis for human rights. Already have a couple hundred people registered for call tomorrow. Will be step of supporting folks in religious communities supporting that work. Hanging blm banners in front of their congregations, raising funds to send to rebuild black churches that have been burned last week. Lots of idea: creating curriculum for young adult on resistance of black churches. Everyone inviting call.


Alicia, CA- Basic question: Is there a place that local groups are listed?

Dara- Check out our affiliate groups map and list on our website here.


Cherrie- History of SURJ, have talked to people doing a antiracism work around sports team identities. When I talk to white folks, want to talk about what is SURJ. Link that I can share?

Dara- Check out interview with SURJ leaders.


Miriam Wood- Indiana- Bloomington, College town, how to bring together college students/university folks, and orgs with no students?

Amy- Idea: Our leadership team/core group who planned event have diverse networks, one things that helped us with outreach was having a leadership team that is connected in different ways in different geographical areas and different communities.

Elliot- If you have local colleges around and you don't have really strong networks, sociology department, recommend reaching out.


Erica, San Bernindo County- Population where she lives 40 percent Latino, 40 percent African American, 30 percent white. Interested in moving people toward racial justice. SURJ focus moving white people or is it appropriate for everyone?

Dara- Our focus is on how do we engage more white people on how to do rj work. Def some groups are multi-racial in the SURJ network. It depends on what local circumstances call for in your area.


Barb, Kingston NY- End the New Jim Crow action network. Based on book by Michelle Alexander. Have been leading community in all kinds of actions, rallies, actions, forums with police, films series. Question: Reevaluation counseling, co counseling. Investigating racism for many years. Have you engaged with this community?

Dara- Challenge sometimes--people who do counseling, people who do study groups. Focus can be on having discussions and getting deeper on knowledge, not necessarily taking actions. With white people can have instinct in getting exactly perfect in analysis, SURJ trying to move people on how to take action publicly. See it as continuous cycle. Great to reach out to folks, would love to talk with you about becoming an affiliate of SURJ.

Lisa, Washington State- Is CARW (the coalition of anti-racist whites) in Seattle still active?

Dara- CARW is still SURJ chapter, have facebook page. What's been happing a lot is people are overwhelmed, and if you email us, make sure will get a response from them.