Text from a zine created by OKRA, a local affinity group from Washington, DC in preparation for the Counter-Inauguration. Provides over-view of DC geography, and political economic history and a perspective on impacts on mass mobilizing on local communities. Enjoy!
A project of OKRAokra (at) mutualaid.org//////////
This letter is our effort to help raise awareness of the history,geography and people of DC, as well as the struggles carried out here.We see this mass convergence as an opportunity to make connections betweenlocal, national and international movements; a time to consider theimpacts of mass mobilizations on local communities; to consider how we canwork in solidarity with local struggles; and develop new tactics andstrategies of resistance.We hope this becomes an opportunity for activists to consider the presenceof white supremacy within mass mobilizing efforts and social justicemovements, and strengthen strategies for challenging this legacy.OKRA is an affinity group of primarily white DC residents in their 20'sand 30's. We are also activists and organizers interested in connectingwith others to create/strengthen a long-term strategy for challengingwhite supremacy and other forms of oppression.* Does a group like this exist in your town/city?* What might a group like this add to organizing efforts in your town/community?
When people come to DC from out of town, they see a landscape of monumentsand big, stoic buildings that house our nation’s powerful elite. A daywalking around all of DC’s four quadrants (NE, SE, NW, and SW) will giveyou a very different portrait of our nation’s capitol. Each quadrant hasmany distinctive neighborhoods and communities. The population of DC is60% African American and is home to a large community of immigrants fromLatin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Despite this diversity, DCremains a very segregated city, both racially and economically, andservices follow accordingly.There is a public health crisis here in DC- with folks living in the mostdensely populated areas with the highest concentrations of poverty facingthe bulk of this burden. In the past ten years the District governmentshut down one of the only public hospitals left in the country. Thishospital, DC General, was the only hospital and emergency facilityservicing this area. DC has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the entire nationand one of the highest rates of infant mortality.Clearly, there is a massive disparity between the rich and poor in ournation’s capitol. This past summer, the DC Fiscal Policy Instituteconducted a study that cited, "The top 20 percent of the city’s householdshave 31 times the average income of the 20 percent at the bottom" The poorhave less average income than in most of the country’s 40 biggest cities,and the rich have more.
Washington, DC, is like no other city in the world. It is the capital ofthe United States; the seat of the federal government. It is also the homeof over 600,000 people. Its citizens have voting rights similar to thoseof US colonies like Guam and Puerto Rico. Though DC has 1 vote in theElectoral College ( DC residents didn’t get to vote for President until1964), our US Representative cannot vote in Congress. For much of DC’shistory Congress had control over DC’s budget, city council and executivebranch. Congress voted to establish Home Rule for the District in 1974,allowing DC residents to vote for members of the city council, schoolboard and mayor. Up to that time, the House of Representatives DistrictCommittee- controlled by white southern racists- was the main roadblock ingaining voting rights and home rule. Since in 1974, Congress has, attimes, appointed a board that controlled much of the District governmentand rendered the mayor’s position a ceremonial role.DC’s political reality is exasperated by its difficult financialsituation. DC cannot levy property taxes on the federal government,embassies, or many "nonprofit" organizations like Fannie Mae and the WorldBank. Nor can the District levy any commuter tax on the hundreds ofthousands of people that commute into DC for work every day but contributenothing to the tax base. DC has the burden, but none of the benefit, ofbeing the home of the federal government.Currently, gentrification is systematically displacing the people andculture of Washington, DC. This impacts communities of color the most. Thecultural heritage that has made DC a world-renowned epicenter for AfricanAmerican art, intellectual thought and politics is being pushed out by amassive recruitment of new residents that have higher incomes and requirefewer services. With this influx of new residents there is also an influxof high-end businesses, some local and some corporate, that are notdesigned to appeal to the needs of current residents. This threatens thesurvival of long-time, small businesses as well as the economic andcultural diversity of our neighborhoods. While patronizing businesseshere, consider which businesses reflect this gentrification process andtry and support long-time, local shops.*How can your group be working in solidarity with DC organizers aroundaddressing these disparities while visiting DC?*How can you be an ally to DC when you return home?*Are any of these trends present in your own town or city?
With its history and position as the seat of the federal government,Washington, DC was the site of many historic demonstrations, marches, andrallies. From 1903, when Mother Jones lead children to DC to demand an endto child labor, to 1963’s historic March on Washington, to 1998’s JerichoMarch to free all political prisoners, DC has a long been the site ofnational and international political protest. These struggles, often leadby people of color and poor people, have created the foundation for modernsocial justice movements in the US and continually inspire people to cometo the seat of power to protest.Since the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in 1999 in Seattle,Washington, mass actions and demonstrations in DC have increased. Many ofthese demonstrations have been planned by people from the area but areheavily attended by people from out of town. In the realm of national andinternational politics, DC continuously becomes a stage for politicaltheater and must provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate theinflux of visitors.Though the majority of people at mass mobilizations (IMF/World Bank,Counter Inaugurations or Anti-War protests) are not from DC, this does notmean that DC residents are not organizing and fighting againstprivitization, militarization and corporate control of their communitiesevery day. Nor does it mean that DC residents do not support the causesthat demonstrators are out protesting. In fact, 91% of DC residents votedagainst George Bush. Though DC is home of many national non-profitorganizations and institutions that work on social justice issues that arenational and global in focus, there are also a whole host of grassrootsorganizations working on issues directly related to Washington, DC. Fromjuvenile justice to a campaign to stop a publicly financed baseballstadium in Southeast DC, District residents are organizing every day tomeet the human needs for all residents.Be conscious of these realities. Educate yourself about the organizationsand groups organizing in DC and familiarize yourself with some of theissues that are most pressing here in the District. There are enormousconnections between the struggles faced by residents and thenational/global system of oppression that many of us mass mobilizers cameto speak out against.*Which groups are most impacted by Bush’s policies?*What are their demands?*How can you support the call for these demands? *Did you ask what supportwas needed around local organizing efforts before planning an action ofyour own?*How can your community better connect and network w/DC organizers?
Mass mobilizing can present an opportunity for voices to be heard in unityand solidarity, for people to connect with struggles faced by people intheir regions, countries and around the world. It is a moment to put fortha vision for the world we want and dream for. Unfortunately, corporatemedia has a history of marginalizing the people most affected by Bush andthe global elite’s polices, ie., people of color, queer people, non genderprivileged people, low income and homeless communities, disabled people,young people, etc. This marginalization prevents all voices from beingheard in unison. This fractures our movement and short-changes our hopesfor full participation. It is our responsibility to send messages that areproactive, critical and demanding. But we also need our messages to berepresentative of those who are facing the brunt of the oppressivepolicies we wish to end. We must consider the space we occupy in themedia’s lens and consider whose voice is getting heard and whose voicesare still being excluded.* Do you ever step back from an interviewers mic or camera to make spacefor some one else’s perspective?*How can you as an individual create opportunities for other voices to beheard?*How can we hold the media
This is the first inauguration since 9/11 and it has been designated as anational security event. The security force for this event will be likenothing DC has ever seen before. Downtown and the area around theNational Mall will be fully militarized. This affects everyone, residentswhose homes are in the militarized area and people working on January20th. It particularly affects homeless people who live downtown and sexworkers who are at an increased risk for police arrest and violence- inaddition to the violence they face everyday. In preparation for thesemass demonstrations, the DC police force has acquired more high tech gear,weapons, training and "less than lethals" (rubber bullets, wooden dowels,and other projectiles that are, by design, not intended to kill). Thoughthis equipment is acquired for use at demonstrations, the gear and tacticsdo not go away after the last activist is out of jail or has left theNational Mall. What the police acquire here will likely be used again onthe people of DC, especially communities of color and low-incomecommunities that bear the brunt of police repression long after theprotesters have left. Just this past fall, a woman celebrating the playoffwin of the Boston Red Sox died when she was struck with a "less thatlethal" weapon that had been acquired by the Boston police for theDemocratic National Convention.Once protesters are arrested and in jail, the police will try to pitarrested protesters and those already in the system against each other.The police will use race, class, gender and sexuality as intimidatingfactors. Thus, it is of vital importance that protesters extend theirsolidarity to everyone they are locked up with, not just the people whoare in for "political" reasons. The police will often privilege whitepeople, people perceived to be heterosexual, people easily defined aseither a man or a woman, and documented citizens. They may offer a "postand forfeit" option to protesters arrested on minor charges; one can pay asmall fine and forfeit a trial but walk out of jail with no major mark onone’s record and no court to come back to. This is specific to DC and isnot offered to someone who gets picked up in a neighborhood for disorderlyconduct, it is only offered to protesters. And there will be unprecedentedmedia, resources and attention given to protesters in jail that otherfolks on the inside do not get, and we need to learn to work for justicefor all prisoners, not just the ones arrested for protesting theinauguration. How can we be allies with DC residents, and communities inour own town that deal with police brutality all year? How can we act insolidarity with other people in the jails who weren’t arrested at theinauguration protests?
NYC and Boston each received $50 million in federal funding to providesecurity for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. However,the federal government has refused to reimburse DC for the costs ofsecurity, including hiring police from other states, estimated at $11.9million. DC has been requested to cover those costs from funds alreadydesignated for other purposes. When protesters leave town, DC will go backto "normal." Millions of dollars will be spent by the DC government on theunnecessary security for the protest for the inauguration, money thatcould have gone to housing, education, and health care. The communities inDC fighting for survival will still be here. We hope that while you are inDC, you take the time to think and find out a bit about local groups andstruggles. If you are talking to the media, mention how residents of DChave even less of a voice in this rotten political system than otherpeople in this country do. While planning action, understand that those ofus who live here will be dealing with the clean up and aftermath formonths and possibly years.We hope that this document does not become the rhetoric for a movementthat is not actively working towards and making space for racial justiceand equality as one of the main tenants of social justice work and in oureveryday lives. In regards to challenging white supremacy and other formsof interconnected oppression white folks must be committed topersonal/organizational reflection and action. This can mean steppingaside and taking cues instead of giving them, educating yourself, workingwithin your own community to challenge oppression and building bridges andconnections with local groups and communities of color on mutual terms.Very importantly, we need to educate ourselves on many fronts and seek outa whole host of opinions, feelings and possible solutions. There is muchmore to add to this perspective and we hope you and your group expand thisdialogue at home and with the folks you meet here in Washington, DC. Weshare this with you in hopes that they provoke discussion and groupstrengthening. This pamphlet is a step but not the answer. Please beforthcoming with criticism, support and ideas. This is essential to ourlearning and forward movement.Thanks for coming to our city, and we hope this sparks some discussionamongst your friends and comrades.
Good luck and stay safe.
See ya in thestreets.
In Love and Solidarity,
Okra Affinity GroupContact: okra (at) mutualaid.org


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