Every successful grassroots effort to fight the abuse of eminent domain happened because of effective organization. It is essential to your struggle, and it’s not as hard as it may seem.
Find other people affected by the project
Opposing a redevelopment project and eminent domain takes a lot of work and energy. You can win, but you need allies. Start with the people who are directly affected by the project. If you don’t know them, you can go door-to-door or hold a neighborhood meeting to discuss the situation. Pass out flyers to all your neighbors to get them to attend. In situations involving small businesses, you should approach customers and suppliers, since the loss of your business to eminent domain will mean the loss of goods and services for them as well. In large projects, there are usually some people who are willing to sell and others who are not. After you have talked to the other people affected, you will have an idea of the lay of the land. There also may be other people who are not in the area directly affected but live nearby and care enough to help you.
Form a citizen group
Once you have a sufficient number of supporters, it is useful to have a community group with a name. That group can then hold events and be listed on press releases. It gives legitimacy to your cause and also serves as a point of contact for any media who are interested in your story, since your group will likely be considered to speak for the local home and small business owners who are fighting to stay.
Contact community and policy organizations
Start talking to all kinds of community groups and local organizations to see if any of them will support you on this issue. Local policy networks, think tanks, historical societies, religious organizations, cultural groups and seniors’ organizations may be interested in supporting your position. Remember that no group is too small—whether it’s the bridge club or the PTA—because you are likely to pick up members and spread the word about eminent domain abuse. Homeowners in Pittsburgh formed their own community organization and secured support from The Allegheny Institute (a local policy organization) and a historical society. In Mississippi, owners secured help from The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the local chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. In both instances, broadening the base of support proved crucial to fighting eminent domain abuse.
It may also be helpful to contact state and national policy organizations. Groups that are members of the State Policy Network (www.spn.org) usually are interested in opposing eminent domain for private use. Try their website to find out if there is a member organization in your state. If the area is historical, try some historical preservation or historical societies. If the area is rural, contact the American Farm Bureau (www.fb.org). If the area contains primarily businesses, try the National Federation of Independent Business (www.nfib.org) and other business organizations. It may also be useful to contact organizations that represent minority groups such as the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People (www.naacp.org), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (www.sclcnational.org) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (www.lulac.org). If the property is a house of worship, you may want to contact the National Council of Churches (www.ncccusa.org). If the area is primarily residential, residents may have connections to local and national groups that can offer support. Chances are, you won’t be able to get support from all or even most of the organizations you try, but even two or three can make a huge difference in the end—and you’ll get invaluable practice focusing your message.
Build a coalition
In building a coalition to defeat eminent domain abuse, you should first establish the foundation of your coalition and then build upon it. Your core group should include the people who are able and willing to dedicate the time and energy that it will take to achieve your objectives. Once your leadership is established, you can build your coalition from that foundation, branching off in as many directions as possible. Your group should have a clear and concise mission or goal, and effectively organize to achieve it.
Every community includes a number of political, residential, business, academic, religious and community organizations. Work with these already-established groups (see page 22), garner their support as allies, and use the infrastructures that already exist within these circles to spread your message. Sometimes, something as simple as asking another organization to contact their members about a given issue can go a long way.
With increasing momentum against eminent domain abuse spreading throughout the nation, you’ll probably find it useful to work with other local activists in your state. When it comes to grassroots politics, you will all be more likely to achieve your shared goals if you work with one another. The Castle Coalition is happy to help you organize effectively and to connect you with other local activists in your state.
The next page has a basic coalition diagram, which is provided as a standard model for you to tailor and individualize to your own unique community and battle.
Raising money for your fight against eminent domain abuse can be one of the most challenging and important tasks you’ll face. The politicians and developers trying to take your property often have lots of money, and you’ll need funds for literature, events, signs, billboards, T-shirts and other costs associated with spreading your message. This is especially true if your battle goes to the ballot box—if you start a local initiative or referendum, for example.
You should start fundraising as early as possible, and do so while the issue is hot. Use every opportunity to ask for support from people who sympathize with your position and are in a position to contribute to the cause. Sometimes, it is very effective to host events—especially because those events will help you raise awareness and give you the opportunity to solicit financial support at the same time. Activists have held bake sales and car washes. These help to bring attention to your campaign, but they are not usually big sources of funds. Activists have said that the most profitable events are house parties, dinners, dances, social events, raffles and silent auctions.
Some activists have ”passed the hat” at community affairs, places of worship (with permission, of course) and town halls. Others have even incorporated their grassroots organization as a registered non-profit, making all donations tax-deductible under state and/or federal law. However, this type of registration may place certain limits on the organization’s ability to lobby for legislative reforms so it may be wise to speak with someone knowledgeable on the issue. You can ask supporters for in-kind contributions—things like office supplies, computers, printers and ink. You can ask local printers for discounts. Be creative, and remember to use every opportunity to ask for money.