New Recruits

Home and small business owners gathered this week in Phoenix for the Castle Coalition’s second-ever regional conference. The first, held in Newark, N.J., in December 2005, brought together activists from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. As part of the “Hands Off My Home” campaign, a $3-million initiative launched by the Institute for Justice in response to Kelo, the Castle Coalition has decided to take its grassroots training workshop on the road—arming conference participants with the tools and knowledge to defeat land-grabs by tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.

“The frontlines against eminent domain abuse are growing in numbers and force,” said Castle Coalition Coordinator Steven Anderson, who has crisscrossed the nation during the past year spearheading the largest political effort to protect homes and small businesses from eminent domain for economic development.

The intensive, one-day conference, a microcosm of the Castle Coalition’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., focuses on providing activists with the most effective strategies to stop eminent domain abuse. Topics in Arizona and Newark included the ins-and-outs of building a grassroots coalition, the importance of arguing your fight in the court of public opinion, tips and pointers on preparing for legal action, and energized brainstorming sessions on taking the fight beyond the particular communities involved. The regional nature of the workshops allowed for the unique opportunity to strategize reform at the state level.

“In the wake of Kelo, it is imperative that we take the overwhelming public opposition to the Court’s decision and channel it toward productive citizen activism,” said IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court and spoke at the Newark conference. “The regional conference held in New Jersey—one of the biggest abusers of eminent domain in the nation—was a crucial step in motivating and training people to stop takings for private gain.”

Denise Hoagland, an activist from Long Branch, N.J., who has led a comprehensive grassroots campaign to save her beloved home from the government’s wrecking ball, shared her experiences with the other workshop participants. Vibrant energy spread throughout the room, as activists exchanged ideas and strategies throughout the day to protect their property.

Randy Bailey, who staged an effective political and legal battle to save his brake service shop from being taken by the City of Mesa, Ariz., and handed over to a privately owned Ace hardware store, shed similar insight at the Arizona conference.

Among others, participants in Newark included Patti Hagan and Candace Carponter of “Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn,” a community organization fighting developer Bruce Ratner’s efforts to condemn and demolish a historic New York neighborhood for a stadium and a private mixed-use development; Mary Cortes of the Cramer Hill Residents Association, who is challenging a redevelopment plan in her neighborhood that threatens 1,200 homes and businesses with eminent domain; Debra and Victor Lewis of Bloomfield, N.J., whose charming and thriving bridal shop is slated for condemnation; Rosemary Cubas of the Community Leadership Institute in Philadelphia, where the mayor’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative has designated more than 5,000 properties subject to eminent domain; and a number of other committed activists.

Participants in Arizona included Judy Peters, Susan Wheeler—who helped defeat Scottsdale’s bogus blight designations—and Debbie Richards and Erick Baer, who are currently fighting eminent domain abuse in Queen Creek and Phoenix, respectively.

These conferences are the first in a series of regional conferences that will take place in hotspots across the nation. Over the next few months, the Castle Coalition plans to hold similar training workshops in Washington, Florida, Missouri, California and Ohio.

“The nation is energized to stop eminent domain abuse,” said Anderson. “Our activists are carrying the torch on a daily basis. They are committed and ready to protect private property for all Americans. By working together, it is a battle we will win.”