IJ Expands Its Grassroots Activism
Using strategies learned from the fight against eminent domain abuse, like the one in East Harlem, N.Y., above, IJ’s Director of Community Organization Christina Walsh will map out a grassroots plan for each of IJ’s pillars of litigation.
By Christina Walsh
At the Institute for Justice, our efforts to vindicate individuals’ most basic rights don’t stop at the courtroom doors. For the past six years, the Castle Coalition has empowered and mobilized local groups to accomplish a critical goal: breaking up the unholy alliance between tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers. As you have read in Liberty & Law, we have helped defeat eminent domain abuse nationwide by organizing communities and turning ordinary citizens into extraordinary activists through our training and publications.
Based on that success, IJ has now strategically expanded our grassroots activism to support each of our four pillars of litigation. The Castle Coalition’s six years of grassroots experience in the trenches of the property rights debate have taught us important lessons that we are excited to apply to IJ’s battles for economic liberty, free speech and school choice. Looking back on the Castle Coalition’s successes, early organization and public demonstrations have proven instrumental in beating back government abuses of power.
Community meetings serve as a way to organize local groups and teach them how to win, and also perhaps just as importantly, that they can win. Nothing shows that better than IJ’s recent experiences in community organizing. This summer we traveled the coast of California, meeting with threatened property owners in Seaside, Baldwin Park and San Diego. Each city provided different opportunities for activism, and we were able to map out a grassroots strategy in each. Just over a month after IJ launched its new Texas chapter, we hit the road to San Antonio and Houston to give property owners media and organizational training. In Asbury Park, N.J., we spoke at a community meeting of Main Street business owners who were threatened by the city’s development plan. We educated them about what they could do to fight, and more importantly, what others have done successfully to win. Sure enough, they packed the next city council meeting, and the plan was dropped—and nobody had to go to court.
It was at meetings like these that IJ first became involved with two of our current cases in Long Branch, N.J. and Clarksville, Tenn. The Castle Coalition attended MTOTSA’s (Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue) first organizational meeting in Long Branch, after which the group’s grassroots battle to save their beloved oceanfront homes began. In Clarksville, we spoke at and helped plan the Clarksville Property Rights Coalition’s first rally. Subsequently, the city sued Coalition members for an ad they ran in the local paper opposing the development plan, and we agreed to defend them against this ridiculous lawsuit.
Rallies are very effective at raising awareness in the court of public opinion and demonstrating mass outrage. We have already held two rallies this year opposing government-imposed taxicab monopolies. In June, IJ Staff Attorney Bob McNamara led a rally of nearly 100 drivers at the Connecticut state Capitol; two months later we were in Denver, where IJ Staff Attorney Valerie Bayham organized a rally of scores of drivers who have been barred from starting their own taxi companies.
Our activism and community outreach efforts raise public awareness and thereby open new battlegrounds for IJ independent of our litigation to help more people who suffer under government’s overreaching arm. And we will continue to stand on the front lines of those battles, shoulder-to-shoulder with the courageous activists who refuse to forfeit their rights to own property, speak, go to the school of their choice or earn an honest living.
Christina Walsh is the Institute’s director of community organization.