SURJ Basebuilding: How to Engage White People through Campaigns

SURJ Notes from 7.28.2015 Basebuilding Call: Using Campaigns to Broaden Your Base of White Folks Taking Action for Racial Justice

Download audio here. (Note: Call starts at 27:28 mins)


Sam Hamlin- SURJ is a national organization that organizes white people at the local level to take action for racial justice. Tonight’s conference call is part of a monthly program to build skills and learn from each other’s work. Tonight, local organizations will talk about how to organize white people for anti-racist justice through campaigns. Organizations paneling are: Nell from Ground Works in Madison, WI, Amanda with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice from NYC, Martin with European Dissent in Seattle. Then there will Q n A time and small group breakouts.

Sean O’Neil- part of SURJ base building and leadership team and is based out of Seattle, WA. Tonight’s theme is developing campaigns. This issue is important because broad base campaigns can challenge institutional power. There is a rich history of communities of color organizing for racial justice. Learning from about their work is important, so we can take direction from them, support new leaders and build a broader base. What does it mean for white people to be doing campaign work? –we need to deepen our approach to reaching more white people and supporting communities of color and the people most impacted by racism.

Sam Hamlin- Panel discussion on engaging white people through campaigns.

Nell, Groundwork: Madison, WI- part of White Anti-Racist Collective in Madison: They have several different campaigns

  • They hold a 6 week antiracist workshop and then people can join the collective. This training usually happens every other year –this year they also had it because of the political moment.
  • They also host Living Room Conversations: bolstering the work of communities of color esp Black Liberation, working with Young Gifted and Black. Start a conversation –provide a space for white people to talk about concerns. Living room conversations look like: invite neighbors and friends into home, and provide childcare. This has had a ripple effect where participants than start to host their own. Over the summer they’ve done about 8 conversations. Also they’ve branched out to congregations.
    • The Living Room agenda looks like: Presenting the work of the 3 to 350 campaign and community control over police campaign. Building a context of local and national events about why uprisings are happening now, especially around police brutality. Then they break into small groups and talk about supporting local events through volunteering or donating and talking about what in life is preventing you from participating in actions.
    • The Living room accomplishments have been involving new people in the discussion. Its an entry point into the movement that keeps black leaders at the forefront.
    • Also working on 350- a campaign that addresses the racial disproportionality rate of incarcerated people of color in Madison’s county. 5% of counties population is black and 50% jailed. These people are in for crimes of poverty with their bail set from $500-$1000, so can’t afford to pay to get out.
    • Community control over the police: Community has power to hire and fire police, police officers live in county or district?, civil review board over police and their policies. Much of this work came out of a murder this year of a biracial 19 year old named Tony.

Amanda Altman, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JREJ): New York, NY–Two campaigns:

 1. Domestic worker justice

2. Communities united for police reform

  • Communities United for Police Reform is made up of several different groups most affected by police violence. Amanda names some (Street Boys and States, Justice Families, DRUM, Police Violence). They work on countering school to prison pipeline, Stop and Frisk, and anti-Muslim policies. She goes over brief history of broken windows policing and how they are working to get rid of it. The Right to Know Act (R2K) is legislation that requires objective proof before conducting a search.
    • Some more information on the Right to Know Act: Police officers make it hard to give name and badge number, then people can’t file a complaint. Consent to search is meant to humiliate and bring people into the system by searching, esp trans women –for instance position of a condemn gives grounds for a search. Silence is not consent. R2K legislation is seen as stepping stone to changing power between police and communities of color.
    • Another legislative success was through the work done by Justice Families a special prosecutor is assigned to cases of when the police kill someone. It was signed by NY governor this year.
    • Also she organizes broadening the Jewish community in anti-racism work, including rabbis about the Right to Know Act. They have also targeted white, especially Jewish council members to support the R2K. And have gotten constituents to sign petitions in support of R2K, making a difference in close elections.
    • Communities United for Police Reform also have done cultural celebrations, like having a Saiter in the street. Also train communities to do COP WATCHING.

Martin, Kara, Megan and Jenna with European Dissent: Seattle, WA- Use resources and anti-racist principals from People's Institute for Survival and Beyond –Northwest chapter (also groups in New York and New Orleans). A central question for their organization is, How can we build a broad base multicultural anti-racist movement? They put a high value on relationship building and looking at internalized white supremacy, which means working outside of peoples’ comfort zones.

  • Kara spoke about the King County No New Jail Campaign, with CAMPUS and an organization about the prison industrial complex. Martin goes over incarcerated racial disproportionality rate in King County and how much a new jail will cost. Their campaign focused on organizing in the gentrified community of where the new jail will be. They went door to door and spoke with people about the community council and educating them how a new jail will impact their community. The community council had previous just rubber stamped King County’s request for a new jail. This campaign resulted in the council overturning their support of a new jail to being against it. Education about white supremacy was most important in this work
  • Jenna/Megan-Spoke about a mock tribunal where the juvenile justice administration of King County was put on trial. A day long event included testimony of crimes against humanity and youth and addressed questions of community healing. It also discussed how white people have been affected by mass incarceration. Often white people are working in and benefiting from those systems.

Sean:   Q n A thanks to the people who are doing tech work on this call.

Q: Elise: thank you for organizing. Seattle folks what is your definition of multi-culture and not just reaching other white middle class liberals? What are your successes and how are you doing it?

A: Martin: Still working on it –what will it take for poor white folks to be a part of and feel safe in our organizing spaces? In North Carolina after shootings more white people start coming out that hadn’t before. European Dissent in Seattle has been having more meetings for youth and elders- esp around organizing against the jail and having them come out for that. By elder he means 70-80 years old.

Q: Layla Roberts –with Move to Amend, working to overturn corporate rights. Boomer age is most represented in this organization and wants to help it be anti-oppressive and anti-racist. For organizations that aren’t explicitly about anti-racism, but are anti-racist in their organizing, what supports are there to help them.

A: Nell: A Living room conversation was held for Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Madison. WILPF is talking about adding a racial justice amendment to that organizational charter on the national level. Someone at this Living room conversation was also connected to Move to Amend, so maybe a similar change may take place in that organization as well.

Q: Andy Bankman, Maryland –works with Teamster Union. What groups have reached out to unions?

A: Jenna -Seattle: In our work we are also looking at raising the minimum wage, so had some conversations with unions about an anti-racist framework. With the building of the new jail, it had been approved that local people would be hired to build it. So we organized around educating people what it may mean that parents are building the jail for their kids.

Sean O'Neill-convening small groups -15 minutes. Guiding question: How could you imagine doing white anti-racist work at the local level? Talk from people with your region and then report back.

Sam Hamlin- If want contact

Report back: 9:15-9:20

Desiree in Ashville NC: People in her group included many from Durham and one from Tampa. They talked about super club model focusing on anti-racist organizing in an intimate setting. They also talked about how to reframe whites people’s concept of violence.

Emily from IL: Super club seems doable. Is there a kit for these clubs for how to replicate the model? What role do white people need to take in their own circles and in people of color spaces?

Sam- These SURJ skill buildings happen every fourth Tuesday of Month at 8pm EST. Next one is Aug 25 at 8:00 EST. Topic is on Calling In Not Out.

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