Pages tagged "coalition building"
On April 25th, more than 80 people testified, and over 100 community members came to the Wilson Building to show support for Racial Equity in DC. A wide variety of advocates and activists packed a hearing on the proposed REAR Act, which is legislation introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie to assess the impact of government practices on racial equity in the city.
Witnesses testified on the impact of structural racism on the educational system, housing, healthcare, policing, and economic opportunities, as well as the disparities that persist in the city along racial and ethnic lines. Councilmember Brandon Todd presided over the Committee on Government Operations and heard seven hours of expert and powerful testimony; the councilmember pledged to continue engaging with constituents as the bill is evaluated by his committee.
Many of the community members present that day were motivated to join in because of a call from the DC Initiative on Racial Equity and Local Government, a diverse group of organizers and direct service providers that has been pushing for the city to do more to improve racial equity for all residents. The DC Initiative proposed several improvements to the legislation, increasing its scope and impact.
ONE DC organized with 9 residents to develop their testimony and show their support for these efforts, joining with Empower DC, Bread for the City, SPACEs, Jews United for Justice, Working Families, and several other organizations to hold educational sessions for community members about racial equity, the DC Initiative, and the REAR Act itself. The group plans to continue building a powerful coalition to demand intentional government action to reduce disparities and improve equity, using this legislation as a springboard to further acts to dismantle systemic racism and improve outcomes for all city residents.
|Sharecroppers in Eutaw, Alabama, 1930s|
ONE DC recognizes that because all basic necessities of human life come from the land, community control of the land is an essential element of liberation. Displacement and dispossession from the land are perhaps the most powerful tools of colonialism because they strip us of our self-sufficiency. We become dependent on capitalist structures to provide our food, water, and housing as commodities, forgetting that as human beings on a plentiful Earth, we all have an inherent and equal right to these necessities, regardless of our ability to pay. Without control of the land, we may survive (when our survival is useful or convenient for those in power) but we can never ensure that our survival will continue. We cannot guarantee access to healthy food and safe, decent housing for our families and communities; and we cannot protect our water, soil, and air from pollution that poisons our bodies.
In DC, we live our daily lives on land with a long history of contestation, environmental inequality, and racial injustice. Our city exists on land stolen from its original residents, the Nanotchtank people, and developed using the exploited labor of enslaved African people by European colonists. People of color in the District have been relegated to less desirable land, and dispossessed of their land as soon as it has become profitable for those with more power. Systemic housing discrimination and mass displacement guised as "urban renewal" efforts have led to the disenfranchisement of Black residents throughout the 20th century. At the same time, many white residents were able to benefit from this inequality to build intergenerational wealth, creating a dramatic wealth disparity between white and Black families in DC.
|Overlooking development in Anacostia|
In the ongoing struggle to defend our homes, DC residents must contest with the joint powers of corporate greed and government corruption. It is common practice in DC for government officials to provide enormous subsidies to real estate developers in return for campaign contributions. Instead of funding affordable housing, transportation, education, or community-led, equitable development, hundreds of millions of dollars of city funds are given away to developers each year by way of tax breaks and land deals. In these so-called "sweetheart deals," corporations have received public land worth millions of dollars for only $1. Meanwhile, D.C.'s housing costs continue to skyrocket, and the rate of homelessness remains one of the highest in the U.S. Now, as the housing crisis reaches a critical point, political resistance in the District is stronger than ever as working class people and people of color are uniting and organizing for land, equity, and justice.
At Congress Heights, tenants are still going strong in their fight for community control over housing and for safe, dignified housing conditions. After a fire broke out on the property in November 2018, the tenants have been temporarily relocated to other buildings in the area, and maintain their legal standing as tenants of their Congress Heights apartments as they wage the fight for quality, long-term, and meaningfully affordable housing in their neighborhood. The two ongoing lawsuits against Geoff Griffis and City Partners regarding their improper ownership and evasion of tenants' TOPA rights have been fought in the courts over the past year. The property also remains under the control of a court appointed receiver due to past negligence of the property.
|Congress Heights tenants hold a meeting at the BWWC|
In the way that development and humanitarian aid are often used to mask imperialist intervention abroad, the rhetoric surrounding mixed-income development obscures a sinister process of displacement. At the very core of the politics of mixed-income development is the undermining of communities of the working poor, particularly when these communities are also Black. Gentrification exposes already marginalized communities to increased policing and surveillance. As new, wealthier, whiter residents move into communities, long-term tenants find themselves subject to racialized stereotypes of criminality, often resulting in dangerous and violent encounters with the police.
|Kelsey Gardens tenants prior to the demolition
In addition, once residents move into shiny, new developments, building management implement a draconian slate of rules enforced through constant surveillance of private behavior and space. This is coupled with an aesthetic and cultural transformation of neighborhood and community space, which compounds feelings of unfamiliarity, loss, and discomfort. As this discomfort mounts and long-term residents choose to leave, rather than be subjected to continued indignities, the traditional networks of mutual support, which working class and poor people rely on to survive the perpetual onslaught of capitalism, start to fall apart.
Kelsey Gardens, one of the first properties where ONE DC organized, is a clear example of the negative impact of mixed-income development on working class and Black communities in DC. After a long struggle against the developers who sought to transform their housing into luxury apartments, in 2006, the residents of Kelsey Gardens, led by their tenant association, won the right to return to the new building after construction was completed. The residents would live in subsidized apartments within the building, which would be shared by new arrivals to Shaw who could afford to pay market-rate rent.
When the residents returned to the building after being displaced for six years, however, they realized that the communal feel of the old Kelsey Gardens had been erased with the construction of the new property, Jefferson at Marketplace. In the new building, subsidized tenants found that they were subject to a different set of rules than the market-rate tenants, including restrictions on access to amenities, surveillance and criticism of their guests, and verbal harassment from management.
In addition, residents have reported previously undisclosed fees for basic services, coldness from market-rate residents, and interference with the tenant associations right to organize on the property. In one extreme case, a resident was even evicted for smoking cigarettes in her apartment, a practice she had maintained for most of her adult life. These forms of harassment and invasion of privacy and comfort have caused many of the original residents, who fought hard for the right to return, to leave the new building and Shaw entirely.
Despite the injustice they faced at the hands of building management, the current and former residents of Kelsey Gardens continue to fight, and want their experiences to serve as a counterbalance to the dominant discourse on mixed-income development. Over the course of the last few months, former Kelsey Garden residents have been working with ONE DC member Martha Davis and Virginia Commonwealth University Professor Kathryn Howell to share and record their experiences living in new mixed-income developments.
|Former Kelsey Garden tenants sharing their stories in 2018|
The results of these interviews will be compiled into a policy document that will be used to educate lawmakers and combat the mythology of mix-income developments. In addition, the interviews will be turned into a popular education tool to discuss the relationship between mixed-income development and the displacement of working class and working poor communities of color in DC. This, in turn, will be used to collectively educate buildings experiencing similar redevelopment attempts and give them tools to identify, articulate, and organize against mixed-income development and in favor of their right to the city. We look forward to the results of this project and the implementation of its associated written resources.
In November 2017, Mrs. Jourgette Reid-Sillah, (aka. Ms. J.), a ONE DC member, along with a few of her neighbors voted to create a Tenants Association at the Richman Apartments in Southeast DC. The Richman Apartment residents, noticing the increase in expensive housing developments popping up in their community, wanted to take action and get organized.
Ms. J and other tenant-leaders began meeting monthly in their laundry room, and encouraged fellow residents to get involved. ONE DC enthusiastically supported Ms. J. and her neighbors’ organizing efforts. ONE DC staff and members helped knock on doors, conducted outreach, and offered technical assistance on how to create a Tenants Association.
Ms. J. saw the Tenants Association as an important group that could help build community and stay abreast of development plans. But even as residents recognized its value, not everyone was willing to contribute the necessary labor. "Everyone thinks that a coalition is a good idea," Ms. J. says, “the challenge is making people understand that they must help carry the water.”
Their hard work has paid off. They have named their association the Because We Care Coalition, Richman Apartments Tenants Association. Through a process of debate and discussion, the tenants created their by-laws and are now focusing on electing a board and registering their Tenants Association with the DC Government.
Ms. J. is excited about the future victories they will win for their complex and neighborhood. She, like Fannie Lou Hamer, believes, “If you don’t speak out ain’t nobody gonna speak for you.” Over time, even more community leaders have become dedicated to building power in their community, and the association is continually seeking to recruit tenants who care. They are focused on organizing and setting goals for the future.
ONE DC is only one component of a growing international movement - we partner with and take inspiration from organizations all over the world who share our vision. Methods of achieving community control of land and housing differ from place to place, as different communities exist in unique historical contexts, with different needs and cultural values.
From Justice for Grenfell in London...
The official enquiry into the Grenfell Tower atrocity is currently adjourned indefinitely. Justice delayed is justice denied. But some of the root causes are well known to the working class communities around Grenfell, across the Atlantic and throughout the world. Neoliberalism considers the lives of the poor unimportant. Housing has become just another commodity to be traded. The people and agencies who should have been ensuring the safety of people at Grenfell were more interested in making money out of them, or pursuing their political careers.
But it goes deeper. UK council tenants, like US public housing tenants, have been stigmatized for decades. The Grenfell fire spread because of the flammable material fitted to prettify a council housing tower block. There are some very rich people living near Grenfell. They didn’t want to look at “ugly” housing, or think about the people who lived there. Grenfell has become a symbol of our failing housing policy and divided cities. But there is hope. It’s also become a totem for campaigns demanding decent, safe, secure and truly affordable homes for all. Winning that is the real way to get Justice for Grenfell. -Glyn Robbins, author of There's No Place: The American Housing Crisis and what it means for the UK
...to the MST (Landless Workers' Movement) in Brazil:
Agrarian reform may seem like an old problem, but it is vitally important for a new vision of modernity. It means tearing down three fences, as the MST puts it—fences around land, capital, and knowledge. As part of a larger effort to democratize access to resources, agrarian reform and food sovereignty can encompass everything from providing credit for settlers in land reform areas so that they can practice agroecological methods, to establishing good public schools and universities in every region. It might start with diversified local economies supported through farmers markets, but it also envisions universal health services, access to the internet, public transport, movie theaters, and more in every town. (Source)
...to Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers' Movement) in South Africa:
The state makes promises. The state breaks its promises. People respond. We were promised a piece of land. That land was sold to a businessman. Anger welled up. We brought traffic to a standstill for hours, demanding answers from the authorities. Most popular protest in South Africa uses road blockades as a tactic. What is significant is that although there were so many protests around the country, we were able to sustain that protest and turn it into a movement.What made that possible is that the state was prepared to lie and put lies ahead of the truth and put profit ahead of human needs. Because they were prepared to continue lying, I think that act really enabled us to put sustaining plans in place to resist. We did not only organise our locality. Neighbouring communities also got involved. They said, ‘we identify your demands with our demands. We can amplify our voices if we all unite’. So, this unity was organic. This movement grew from anger to the table, not from the table to anger. Ours is a politics of the poor – a homemade politics that everyone can understand and find a home in. (Source)
And in 2018, ONE DC joined Homes for All, a national campaign launched by Right to the City Alliance that aims to protect, defend, and expand housing that is truly affordable and dignified for low-income and very low-income communities by engaging those most directly impacted by this crisis through local and national organizing, winning strong local policies that protect renters and homeowners, supporting efforts at building models for truly affordable community-controlled housing and shifting the national debate on housing. We believe that housing is a human right not a commodity.
To get involved, contact Patrick Gregoire at [email protected] or 202-232-2915
Clean Energy DC!
In December 2019, after years of relentless community pressure by the DC Climate Coalition, the DC Council passed the Clean Energy DC Act:
- The District will be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2032. This puts DC on the fastest timeline to 100% renewable electricity among states in the country, faster even than California!
- The bill creates groundbreaking efficiency standards for existing buildings. Buildings account for 74% of the District’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- This landmark legislation takes aim at emissions from electricity and natural gas use. It scales up the existing Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) utility fee, which will raise tens of millions of dollars to finance renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and provide assistance to low-income DC residents.
- The Clean Energy DC Act will fund local programs to assist low-income residents as the city transitions to more sustainable clean energy systems, and create a clean energy workforce development program.
- Finally, the Act begins to tackle transportation, the #1 driver of climate pollution nationwide. It does so by adjusting the vehicle excise tax to incentivize clean cars and make owning dirty vehicles more expensive. The Mayor is now authorized to put a price on transportation fuels with a DC carbon fee if Virginia and Maryland commit to the same, and to join DC to emerging regional efforts like the Transportation Climate Initiative.
The DC Climate Coalition will continue to push for progressive environmental policies in DC. If you are interested in serving as a ONE DC representative on the DC Climate Coalition, please email Claire at [email protected]
End Pay to Play Politics!
In early December, the DC Pay to Play Coalition organized to pass sweeping campaign finance reform in the District of Columbia including a new pay to play law. The DC Council passed the Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2018 (B22-0107) unanimously on December 4th. Mayor Bowser did not veto the bill, but did not sign it either, which means it will become law after an obligatory 30 day Congressional review period. The legislation will:
- Restrict major government contractors from making campaign contributions to those responsible for issuing the contracts, addressing ongoing concerns about “pay to play” politics
- Ensure the independence form political interference of the campaign finance enforcement agency
- Enhance the disclosure requirements for money in District elections and require that “independent” expenditures be truly independent of candidates
- Mandate training of all candidates and campaign treasurers of the campaign finance and ethics laws
Congratulations to everyone in the DC Pay to Play coalition! Jews United for Justice, DC for Democracy, Campaign Legal Center, ONE DC, Empower DC, People For the American Way, the Ward 3 Democrats, DC NOW, Franciscan Action Network, the Brennan Center for Justice and DC for Reasonable Development.
Decriminalize Fare Evasion!
In January 2019, the “Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018 was successfully passed. This bill makes evading fare on WMATA buses and trains a civil offense punishable by a fine, rather than a crime that can result in arrest, jail time, and/or a fine of up to $300.The zero-tolerance criminal enforcement of low-level offenses like fare evasion by Metro Transit Police has a negative impact on all District residents. It has proven especially harmful to young people and to poor Black and brown residents who rely on public transit the most and who are disproportionately targeted by police enforcement.
After the DC Council voted to pass the bill in late 2018, Mayor Bowser vetoed the bill. With her veto, the Mayor put in jeopardy this important criminal justice reform that will prevent hundreds of Black DC residents from unwarranted arrests, jail-time, and criminal records for failure to pay a $2 fare (91% of fare evasion enforcement has targeted Black riders). Thanks to broad community support, the Council voted 11-2 to override the Mayor's veto, protecting the bill.
By BA Cockburn & Maurice Cook
November 14, 2018 in Raleigh North Carolina, the NBWCP held its annual convening with representatives from seven worker centers from across the country: Baltimore, Bay Area, LA, New Orleans, North Carolina, Chicago, and DC. The convening centered around connecting to the other centers, telling our collective story, and building power. “It’s not just about the local struggle but how we build a broader and more powerful movement.”
It was an insightful two days, where discussions and workshops included an overview of black economic history insights, the dangers of a single story, story telling, working while Black videos, and the benefits and challenges to being a part of the national network. Steven Pitts, NBWCP’s Board Chair, and Tanya Wallace Gobern, NBWCP’s Executive Director, welcomed the group and set the tone for the convening – “What are we doing to build power? We are the embodiment of survival and winning. There is power in our union, there is power in the entire working class. Our north star is the national movement to change the world to build power as a collective.”
This was not the usual gathering. Tanya had a very unique and meaningful introduction process. She randomly invited 8 to 10 attendees at a time to sit in a semi-circle at the front of the room. She asked each person to say their name and to tell the story of an ancestor’s work experience or moment of pride - to share who your people are, which says something about who you are. For one, it was a dad who always paid his unions dues so when they went on strike, the family had food. For another, it was an enslaved great grandmother who held on to her baby during a forced march at the end of the civil war; holding on meant that her child survived to grow up free and inspire a new generation.
To think about how we got to this moment in time and to remind ourselves of some key collective moments in the black economic history, we participated in a gallery walk. We walked around the room contemplating posters that depicted historical scenes such as Black Wall Street, Tulsa riots, and others. We talked about systems built in racism, public resources used to exploit people of color, strategy of wealth extraction, and cyclical issues and practices. The group brought up the need to remember positive key moments in history as a source of inspiration such as the 1892 New Orleans general strike, where the workers held strong against racism and gained most of their original demands. The group agreed that we need to celebrate ways that workers have overcome oppression. We want to remember that there has been a lot of pushback to force change throughout our history.
To frame the discussion around Black economic history, we watched Robert Reich’s video, “The Big Picture.” Robert Reich is an economist and his video depicts his views about the policies driving the U.S. economic wealth gap from the 1940’s to today. It’s his view of how we got into this mess. NBWCP challenged the group to see what was missing from the Black worker’s point of view. The video’s perspective was from a white male. Black people were left out. The role of racism in the economy was left out. Anything that predated the 1940’s was left out.
So, how do we tell the Black economic story? What is the black workers’ story? And, we need to be mindful of the danger of a single story. From the group, a theme came out of action and struggle, over and over again. Those in power tell one story but it’s not the only story. It’s just as important to tell the other story. By limiting the other story, we put people into boxed without realizing that we do. By being left out of the story, we are indoctrinated with antiblackness and it is hard to build solidarity. Black people are more than one story. Stereotypes develop when there is only one story. Repeating the myths robs people of their dignity. We need radical agitation – don’t run away from those difficult conversations. Stereotypes are tools of power. People buy in and internalize the stereotypes. We need to create new stories that are positive. To build a national movement of black workers, a wide variety of stories will help people connect to the movement. We have to win the hearts and minds of the masses to build our power.
So from the convening, a question rose: In 10 years from now, what is the impact that the BWWC will have on Washington DC? What is our big, audacious goal beyond supporting the economic survival of our people? How are we radically inspiring workers to imagine a world where we are in Power?
One Fair Wage - Initiative 77, which would raise the wage for tipped workers from $3.89/hr to $15/hr PLUS TIPS by 2025, was passed by the majority of DC voters in the June 2018 election. On July 10, the DC Council introduced a bill to repeal One Fair Wage - Initiative 77. Even though 6 out of the 7 wards voted YES for One Fair Wage, the DC Council and Mayor Bowser are siding with big industry capitalists and lobbyists who are actively working right now to overturn the initiative.
To overturn One Fair Wage effectively overturns the peoples' vote. We must show the DC Council that we will not be disrespected! We must tell the DC Council to respect and defend the will of the voters and not repeal Initiative 77.
Come out and join them at the following public events to show our power and testify to the council. Hold them accountable - Let your elected officials know why they must respect the vote and protect 77!
- Friday, September 14 - Press Conference
Monday, September 17 - DC Council Hearing. Click here to RSVP
- Friday, September 28 - Ward 8 Town Hall Meeting
- Tuesday, October 2 and 16 - DC Council will vote on 2 separate days to overturn YOUR vote.
Here are the FACTS:
- Initiative 77 will raise the wage for tipped workers incrementally by $1.50/year over 7 years. So the minimum wage will rise from $3.89 to $15/hr PLUS tips by 2025.
- DC voters overwhelmingly voted for Initiative 77 by a 56% to 44% margin.
- Initiative 77 had greatest support among lower-income wards with a higher African-American population. Low to no support came from the wealthiest ward with a higher White population.
- DC Council and Mayor Bowser are trying to overturn the initiative instead of respecting the democratic process and the will of the people.
- Wards 7 and 8 had the highest support of Initiative 77, yet even Council members Trayon White and Vincent Gray have decided to ignore their constituents who voted them into office and have signed on to repeal the DC vote.
Sign up for more information and to attend. Sign up to tell your story at public events.
email: [email protected]
By Brook Hill
Between July 18th and 22nd, ONE DC members Keisha Harden, Janice Underwood, and myself attended the Homes for All Assembly convened by the Right to the City Alliance in Atlanta. The assembly brought housing justice organizers together from across the country to discuss housing challenges, share solutions, and plan how to react to those challenges nationally and regionally. The assembly was also an opportunity to introduce attendees to and invite comment on a training tool that includes a blueprint for building a grassroots group and an articulation of shared values. The ONE DC delegation was able to establish ties with groups working in nearby cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Newark, and to strengthen ties with folks from D.C. that we were already familiar with.
The first full day of the conference was spent discussing the current state of our housing work and collectively planning what we would need to do over the course of the next decade to achieve our goals. Despite the fact that the group included people from east, west, north and south, many of the problems they faced were surprisingly familiar. Low-income communities of color face displacement fueled by commercial and residential real estate development not only in cities that have been earning reputations as expensive places to live like DC, New York and the Bay Area, but also in places like Lincoln, Nebraska; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Nashville, Tennessee.
The solutions they are seeking to implement are familiar too; just cause eviction, right to counsel, tenant opportunity to purchase, and rent control. Even though these tenant protections have not solved all of the problems facing tenants in cities where they exist – such as the District of Columbia – tenants’ rights would be a lot more elusive without them. It was inspiring to hear about serious campaigns to pursue them in so many places. If tenant protections become common outside of DC it will be easier to push for even stronger protections in DC. Folks were serious about what it would take to accomplish these things, as much of the plan for the next ten years included spending a lot of time door knocking, making phone calls, recruiting members, building coalitions and raising funding.
The second day of the conference was about what it would take operationally to achieve the plans that were laid out the day before. Appropriately the day began with a direct action because after we do the work of bringing people together, disrupting the status quo with protest is important to bring about change. However, the rest of the day was spent discussing the less glamorous work of building a group that can fight for housing justice in a meaningful way. To that end, the Right to the City Alliance introduced the Homes for All Handbook, movement DNA. It is a pamphlet with a dozen or so pages that lays out the shared values of the Homes for All Coalition along with step by step instructions on how to build a group. The techniques reminded me of what I had learned as an organizer at ACORN and New York Communities for Change and they were packaged in an inviting and digestible fashion. The Homes for All Handbook has the potential to be an invaluable tool for new organizers and tenant leaders.
On the third day, everybody attended a training session. The one I decided to attend was about development without displacement and community control. We participated in an exercise where we imagined that we were planning our ideal community and the facilitators would approach us and try to offer us things that would ‘improve’ our communities – we’d have to think about the consequences and reject or accept the offers. It was a great exercise. After that, we heard about how one Bay Area community group teamed up with a community development corporation to successfully fight for an alternative vision of development in their community.
|ONE DC members Janice Underwood, LaKeisha Harden, & Brook Hill|
All in all, the conference was a great experience. We were able to deepen our ties with other DC organizers, networks with other organizers in the region, do some reflection on our work in recent years and begin planning the future. The other ONE DC members and I left Atlanta inspired and anxious to continue building at home.
|Tenants and organizers outside the U.S. Capitol|
This morning at 11:00 AM, representatives from ONE DC, Bread for the City, and the Poor People's Campaign delivered a petition with over 100,000 signatures to House Financial Service Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling to demand the protection of housing rights for low-income renters across the United States.
After cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthiest people and in the middle of an historic national housing crisis, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson and President Donald Trump have asked Congress to pass legislation to raise rents for all residents of public and subsidized housing and triple rents for the lowest-income residents.
This cruel proposal has sparked outrage from people across the country and in the District, where the proposal would mean a rent hike of $900 per year for the poorest families, and would put seniors and families with young children to risk of homelessness in the nation’s capital.
Local and national groups including Right to the City, an organization of which ONE DC is an organizational member, have collected over 100,000 signatures from people demanding Congress refuse to pass any proposal to raise rents and instead make the investments necessary in HUD to provide housing assistance to everyone.
|Keisha, Janice, & Angie - Members of the Shaw Housing Education Team|
“The housing crisis has reached emergency levels. More than half of all Americans spend over 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, including me and my family,” said Paulette Matthews, a resident at Barry Farm Public Housing. “Now Ben Carson and Trump want Congress to help them make it worse. I’m proud to stand with people all over the country in telling Congress to remember who they work for and reject this cruel proposal."
The petition delivered was sponsored by Americans for Tax Fairness, CarsonWatch, Center for American Progress Action Fund, CPD Action, Daily Kos, MHAction, Partnership for Working Families, People’s Action, Progress America, and Right to the City Alliance. Click here to add your name to the petition.
|People's Platform organizer Kelly holding the 100,000 signatures demanding a stop to rising costs for low-income renters|
By Nora Charles & Kelly Iradukunda
On the evening of May 22, around 150 people from across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia attended a town hall in Columbia Heights to voice their concerns about the impact that having Amazon headquartered in D.C. would have on our communities. The DMV is a top choice for Amazon’s “HQ2,” or second headquarters. The company, run by Jeff Bezos, has a net worth that is about 50 times the District’s annual budget. Although DC government, as well as the state governments of Maryland and Virginia, have signed non-disclosure agreements that hide what they are offering Amazon to draw it to the area, we do know millions of dollars and public land are being offered up. As Stop Police Terror Project-DC organizer Eugene Puryear said at the town hall, "if the city is hiding it from us, we know it can't be good."
Amazon's plan to build its second headquarters in DC would bring more harm than good to long-time DC residents. We have seen it in the past -- technology-oriented companies bring a rise in the cost of living, resulting in displacement of long-time working class DC residents. Another disconcerting detail is that the incentives that Mayor Bowser is putting on the line to entice Amazon's HQ2 to the District remain unknown to the public. During her second budget engagement forum, a small group of people disrupted her speech with signs that said “ Fund Communities Not Amazon.” They were shouting “Money for Schools!” “Money for Housing!” “What are the incentives Mayor Bowser?” and “Why did you sign a non-disclosure agreement with Amazon?”
Essentially, our D.C. tax dollars will subsidize a company that is already worth $700 billion dollars and pays as little in taxes as it can get away with. The secret deal D.C. is dying to make is doubly scandalous because the District is currently working with a budget that has exacerbated the affordable housing crisis, displacing families and leaving people homeless. The company’s move would only offer high income jobs and not enough of them to cover the costs of increased rent that would come with the move. It is clear that D.C. can not afford to host Amazon and that making the DMV a tech hub will make it even more uninhabitable to low-income residents and those who have been here for generations.
If you are interested in continuing this fight, you are in luck! Organizers have put together a “toolkit” to help residents of the communities that would be affected by this potential move to host house parties to educate their friends and neighbors about the issue and share stories and concerns. Organizers are also hosting a training on June 2nd for people who want to learn direct action tactics.
Dozens of students, teachers, and climate and justice advocates joined together for a rally on April 13 to urge the D.C. Council to introduce a strong, progressive carbon fee-and-rebate policy soon. On the steps of the Wilson Building, middle school students and teachers stood alongside members of the “Put A Price On It, D.C.” coalition — which consists of 70 local organizations and businesses — to speak out in favor of the proposed policy.
About 30 students and about 50 additional D.C. residents rallied together, surrounded by giant clocks and signs noting that “the time is now” for strong climate action. Four seventh-graders from the Washington Latin Great Debaters Policy debate team and local community activists gave inspiring speeches calling on D.C. lawmakers to introduce and pass a policy to put a fee on fossil fuel pollution and rebate a large share of the revenue to D.C. residents. Students speaking out in favor of the carbon price today represented middle schools and universities across the District.
By Ericka Taylor, DC Fair Elections Coalition
After a multi-year campaign, on March 13, 2018, the Fair Elections Act of 2017, designed to empower small donors and democratize the city’s electoral system, officially became law. The legislation establishes a voluntary public-financing system that will match small donations, allowing candidates to focus on meeting with their constituents instead of having to dial for dollars from developers, wealthy donors, and big corporations. Thanks to a 5:1 matching system, someone who can only afford to give $25 is making, with the match, a $150 donation. This means that working families and people of color will not only be better able to participate in the political system as donors, but they’ll face fewer financial barriers to running for office.
With the passage of fair elections, we can begin correcting the current imbalance among DC donors, who are in no way representative of the city’s population. Historically, these donors have been wealthier, whiter, and more male than the city as a whole, which gives candidates a skewed view of local priorities. The fact that only a quarter of the city’s adults make more than $100,000 a year, but 61% of mayoral donors and 59% of council donors do, indicates a problem with our democracy. The fact that 62% of mayoral donors and 67% of council donors are white, but white people only make up 37% of the population, shows that we’re not reaching our democratic ideals. Fair elections, which candidates can begin using in 2020, should upend those statistics.
Although the mayor signed the legislation after the council approved it with a unanimous vote, the path to victory was far from short and easy. An earlier effort failed several years ago, and the Fair Elections Coalition began working on the campaign in 2015, when passage was far from a certainty. Furthermore, the mayor publicly articulated disinterest in signing the legislation multiple times. The diligent work of coalition members to show grassroots support made a significant difference.
In addition to ONE DC, DC for Democracy, Fair Budget Coalition, DC Working Families, Demos, DC Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and US PIRG, dozens of other organizations pitched in, helping gather over 5,000 petitions from residents in every ward. Coalition members also delivered to the mayor a letter of support signed by more than 80 community leaders across the city. With the mayor including the initial funding for the law in the city’s next budget, the city is well on its way to right-sizing our democracy. You can find more about the legislation and how it works here.