Access the full report, Maximizing the Moment: Investing in Power-Building to Advance Racial Justice in Metropolitan Washington, DC.

Community Organizing Works.

As a group of Washington, DC area funders (Consumer Health Foundation, Diverse City Fund, Hill-Snowdon Foundation, Meyer Foundation, Weissberg Foundation) focused on deepening our understanding of community organizing and promoting it to our funder colleagues as a highly effective, time-tested strategy to advance racial justice, we were looking at the start of 2020 for a way to continue to spread this simple but powerful message.

At that time, not many people had heard of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And despite years of warnings from scientists about the likelihood that an airborne virus could unleash a deadly global pandemic, fewer still were prepared for the ways the virus would upend every aspect of our lives.

Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple crises that have grown out of the pandemic have ended up being an unlikely amplifier of our message. In the tally of such things as who contracts and succumbs to the virus (and now who gets vaccinated), who is forced to choose between feeding their family and keeping their family safe from COVID-19, who can take advantage of virtual school, who suffers at the hands and knees of racist policing, and whose votes are encouraged and whose are suppressed, the pandemic has disproportionately and devastatingly hurt Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x, and other communities of color, as well as spur an increase in race-based hate and violence against Asian communities. By shining an unflattering light on these deeply entrenched and racialized inequities the pandemic has brought into clear focus the urgent need for structural change to achieve racial justice.

History has shown that this type of sweeping change – whether it be the push to clean up the environment, provide fair wages and safe working conditions, or expand voting rights – comes from the dogged work of mass movements. A key component of these mass movements? Community organizing.

Organizing puts the people and communities most directly affected by racial injustice at the center of the work. They name the challenges their communities face. They identify the solutions. Trained organizers may help develop their leadership skills in things as granular as how to run a meeting to as grand as how to articulate a vision and strategy for change, but it is community members themselves who lead the charge and build their own power.

This report spells out in more detail why community organizing is such an effective strategy, describes the extraordinary work and hard-won victories of community organizing groups in the Greater Washington, DC region, and proposes concrete steps funders can take to support and strengthen the community organizing groups and infrastructure around the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV).

The report also explores some of the unique challenges that community organizing faces in our region, especially in DC, where the more than 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia lack voting representation in Congress.

We invite you to join us as we deepen our knowledge of community organizing and support its essential role in strengthening our democracy and advancing racial justice, as well deepen our understandings of how communities in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia are adapting and responding to a global pandemic, fighting anti-Blackness and oppression in our region to build more equitable systems, and tackling social injustices head on by redefining what it means to thrive in the DMV.