By Assata Harris
A Reflection on Working with ONE DC.
This summer, I experienced some type of divine intervention, I found ONE DC. I am originally a Bay Area native, and have longed and often romanticized for an organization that I often didn’t believe could exist. I was highly interested in Urban Planning, and for my research paper, I decided to write about gentrification in Oakland. I searched the web for days looking for writers, political thinkers, anyone who could speak about the real root causes of gentrification. Naturally, I couldn’t find anything, until I found a paper written by Dominic about White Supremacy and Gentrification. After I read the paper, I found it a perfect opportunity to contact ONE DC for an internship opportunity for the summer.
I didn’t quite know what to expect because there wasn’t so much information available about ONE DC. It was when I first stepped in the office and felt the warmth and love, I knew this was going to be an amazing summer. I met Rosemary, a dedicated organizer that showed me that ground organizing was not only still possible, but is beyond necessary. I also met Marybeth, a passionate organizer that created a space where intellectualism and love were welcomed. I also met Jennifer, whose eloquence in speech was beyond inspiring. And Claire, the tech behind the scenes that helps keep the organization up and running. And Dominic, who was relentless in perpetuating the shared leadership model. I also got to meet all the wonderful people from the Shared Leadership Team, who brought unique and creative solutions to create the best possible organizing strategies; and people who attended the People's Platform meetings that shared the same beliefs. All of these people a part of the ONE DC movement were all so radical, because they showed me what real organizing looks like.
This summer, I learned how to use Nation Builder, a vital tool for modern day organizing and attended numerous conferences, meetings, planning sessions, and staff meetings. I was able to understand the techniques behind organizing and how much time and effort it takes to do effective outreach. From doing outreach in the rain on Saturday mornings, to attending a Freedom School about resisting state violence, to seeing what a shared leadership staff meeting looks like, to hundreds of phone calls and email blasts, I got to experience every angle of what organizing looks like. Most importantly, I learned that organizing is not about momentum, it is about persistence and base building.
While the organization itself created a wonderful environment for me to further develop my analysis on gentrification, capitalism, and antiblackness, it wasn’t always easy to stomach the amount of systematic violence that has been endured by the Black residents in Washington, DC. When you participate in authentic grassroots organizing, you firsthand feel the atrocities in any community. It was through those moments of sadness that I was able to realize that ONE DC was doing exactly what it set out to do.
While every part of ONE DC was an amazing experience, it was working in Brookland Manor that really left an impression on me. Through ONE DC, I did phone banking trying to help organize a new tenant association board for the property which is planned to be demolished, in turn displacing hundreds of low-income Black families. ONE DC created the environment where I was able to listen and use organizing strategies that were revolved around leadership, equity, and resident-led projects. This was refreshing beyond belief because I have only been used to seeing hierarchal and patriarchal forms of organizing. I felt for the first time I was able to be doing the right work for the right reasons with the right people. This organization created an environment for self-reflection, positive feedback, and a way to expand my worldview in ways that I could not have imagined.
While I was only expecting to make phone calls, do technical jobs, ONE DC was all about everyone participating in organizing. To be able to firsthand see an organization that was devoted to Black organizing and a unique leadership design, was an eye-opening experience. In essence, I experienced growing pains. I was pushed beyond natural paradigms to imagine a world that everyone also calls cliche or impossible. ONE DC pushed me to envision a world without state violence, capitalism, anti-blackness, and patriarchy. I absolutely loved interning at ONE DC this summer. I don’t consider it an organization; I consider it a family. I hope to find my way back to ONE DC, and continue to work with the forgotten people of DC.