Creating Democracy Core Principles

Building a movement for justice

We want a movement that is democratic, liberatory, and committed to justice. We want a people's movement, a BIG one. And we want it NOW. This is how we win. It is how we've always won. To do this we need to drop our jargon and get real. We need to speak to where our neighbors and friends and family members are at. Speak to their concerns in their lives. We need to begin with the perspective that they have been lied to their entire life and don't know it yet. We also need to be humble. We will have to guard against erecting barriers that make it harder for people to get involved. If it's going to be successful, it will have to prepare to grow, FAST. We need to stop waiting for our tax-exempt non-profits to do this work, for they alone cannot build this movement. They have constraints. We don't.

Organizing in our communities for concrete improvements

To build this movement, we draw on the legacy of community organizing that has been a part of every movement for justice throughout history. We will learn and teach. Develop leaders and train trainers. Knock on doors and host living room conversations. While we organize in our communities, we won't ask people to defer their dreams, we want a movement that makes our lives better now. Sometimes it will be improvements we can touch like food, housing, and jobs on the road to fundamental social justice. And sometimes they will be intangible improvements like deeper human relationships and the experience of collective liberation.

We want Fundamental Social Justice

We want a better world. We've been asked, “If you mean revolution, why don't you just say revolution?” We don't want to just talk to people who already agree with us. We don't want people to think we're simply referring to repressive armed insurrection starting tomorrow. That would more likely drive people away. It's also far easier for a massive social upheaval to be destructive and unjust than liberatory and democratic. We want to be forced to articulate what we want, not just what we're against. Not temporary reforms and band-aids on a sick system, but fundamental justice from the ground up.

Ending oppression

You probably already know that though we have a Black president, racism is alive and well. This is not to deny that we have won hard fought victories against institutional and cultural white supremacy. Rather that our work is not yet done. We want to END oppression. All of it. From the oppression of our young and our elders to the binary gender system. From Patriarchy and Homophobia, to class oppression and capitalist exploitation of the poor by the rich. We want a world where people with different abilities are included not excluded. Where we fight for collective and individual self-determination. We need white people struggling for racial justice accountable to communities of color, and men organizing for gender justice accountable to women. We need to remain open to learning about forms of oppression that are currently invisible to us or don't exist yet. We need to pay attention to who's at the table while avoiding tokenizing representation. We can't be paralyzed waiting to get it perfect. We're going to mess up, but we can't let that stop us from trying to do the right thing.

Capitalism corrupts democracy

The powerful and the wealthy want us to believe there is no alternative. They want us to believe that the only alternative is a soviet-style dictatorship. Well, it's not. We can decide better than a clumsy, unjust market system how to build a better world. We want a democratic and just economy. One that doesn't give more benefits in one day to someone who works less than 40 hours a week in a cushy corner office than it does to someone who works an entire year growing our food. We do not accept that starvation, poverty, and war are a necessary evil. They are just evil. We are both members of and allies of the working class, the working poor, and the unemployed and we want to organize in our communities both inside and outside of unions for the benefit of all regardless of class or union membership.

Practicing radical democracy

The alternative to the few people making decisions for the many whether in politics, in our economy, or at work is us making decisions for ourselves. In order to do that well, we need to practice. Most of our institutions including our jobs and even our core political institutions allow for minimal or no democratic participation. When we say democratic we're not referring to a choice between two candidates once very 4 years. Nor do we automatically mean a simple majority rule or parliamentary procedure as our congress practices it. We mean radical, participatory, deliberating democracy where we learn from each other and learn to work together to build a better world. While we believe the ending of oppression is dependent on deeper democratic practice, democracy alone cannot guarantee justice. Numerical majorities if not checked, can 'democratically' perpetuate oppression of numerical minorities, especially when that oppression is woven into the cultural and institutional fabric of society. That is NOT what real democracy looks like.


One problem with existing institutions is the lack of accountability. Anti-oppression advocates and allies are not commonly accountable to oppressed communities, rather oppressed individuals. Some of the only accountability work we do includes protesting outside or occupying the offices of power holders. We need to build more useful forms of accountability when we're holding each other accountable. We are unpracticed and have a lot to learn about accountability. Can we hold our organizing accountable to oppressed communities while taking lessons from the restorative justice movement? Can we build accountability mechanisms that allow us to depend on each other and learn and grow. Is it sufficient assume the best and verify when needed? These are questions we need to answer as we make the road by walking.

Power aware leadership development

Power imbalances exist in all of our relationships. In our continuing struggle for justice, we want to continue to learn about power and how to wield it accountably and avoid it's unjust abuse. The power hoarding of unaccountable “leaders” both in mainstream politics as well as within our moments has led some to conclude that leadership itself is the problem. What then arises is informal and unaccountable leadership which hides it's power behind informality with phrases like ”we don't have leaders.” But the alternative to unaccountable power is not a denial of the existence of leadership, rather the development of a movement full of leaders and shared leadership. Leaders who remain on guard knowing that the abuse of power and privilege is most invisible to those who have power and privilege. Leaders who and are both supported by and held accountable to the movements they are apart of. They need their comrades and allies to challenge them and to support them. By rotating leadership positions can all learn from experience the special challenges leadership brings and better hold each other accountable, and better support each other. Echoing the farmworker movement cry of “every worker is an organizer”, we believe every movement participant can be a leader.

Supporting whole people and whole communities

To understand the world and try to make it new, we often use books and the tools of academics. If we limit ourselves to these tools, they can leave us stranded in the dead-end of neck up organizing. We need to organize from whole body, embrace our perfect and flawed humanity as we remake our communities whole. Whole communities are intergenerational with kids parents and elders. We need space for fun and celebration as well as grieving and healing. As full humans we are spiritual and religious, imaginative and intellectual, loving and caring. We are also ridiculous and hilarious. As residents of the existing world we humans are also often walking wounded physically and emotionally. Our movements will be stronger, not weaker if we bring this awareness and practice into our organizations and meetings while we fight our concrete fights and win our concrete wins.

Learning and experimenting

These principles are intended to bring coherence and guidance to what will hopefully be diverse styles and methods of organizing. We don't have a monopoly on truth, revolution, or social change. Nor do you. We should listen to bell hook's advice and strive for solidarity rather than unity. If we're going to win, we're going to have to be nimble, adaptable, and push ourselves to keep growing. That includes our ideas and language, our practice and our analysis. We need to learn to think critically and draw lessons when we inevitably screw up. We gotta get better at working across differences and trying new things. Attempting to force a single issue above all others will fail just as sectarian politics has failed generally. We all have a lot to learn. Let's get started.

creating democracy – March 9, 2009