SURJ Denver Principles

Interrupt racism and call white people into anti-racist action:

We commit to the practice of identifying when to move to interrupt racism and when to make space for individuals and communities of color to act for themselves, and to be aware of our potential “white savior” aggressions. We will each invest in our own arsenal and practice of effective interruption, education, and engagement strategies. We humbly recognize all white people as our people, and seek to move away from the cultural tendencies amongst white people to shame or blame each other as a way to distance ourselves from “other” white folks. We do, however, want to bring as many white people into this movement of taking action for racial justice as possible, and so our strategic focus is on working with white people who are already in motion.

Take risks, learn, and keep going:

We know that we will have to take risks.  Every day, people of color take risks in living their lives with full dignity, and right now we are in a moment where people of color, especially youth of color, are taking risks everyday.  We challenge ourselves and other white people to take risks as well in order to stand up against a racist system, actions, and structures every day. We know that in that process, we will make mistakes.  Our goal is to learn from those mistakes and keep showing up again and again for racial justice and for what is right.

Don’t let whiteness get in the way: 

We are being directly asked to turn it up and go big. We will collaborate through complex, emergent, and “imperfect” situations. We will not let the white culture of perfectionism get in the way of us taking bold action. Many of us are accustomed to accountability protocol that assumes a lot of time and capacity for consultation. In this moment, where we need to move quickly, we will continue to attempt to apply our accountability protocol to learn how to show up well in fast-paced situations.

Specifically, we will not allow the white culture of “frantic-checking-in” to lead us to asking more time and capacity from organizations and individuals of color than they have agreed to give, and not let our own self-consciousness turn into the white culture of deference that freezes us.

We are willing to navigate contradiction and willing to make mistakes.

Mutual interest:

We use the term mutual interest to help us move from the idea of helping others (or just thinking about what is good for us) to understanding that our own liberation as white people—our own humanity—is inextricably linked to racial justice. Mutual interest means we cannot overcome the challenges we face unless we work for racial justice.  It means our own freedom is bound up in the freedom of people of color. For Anne & Carl Braden, it was mutual interest that caused them to desegregate an all-white neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky in 1954.  It was a belief in what was right and the idea of showing up again and again for justice. We commit to building connections with other white folks to call them into racial justice work through mutual interest. 

Accountability through action:

We acknowledge and commit to resisting the white impulse for white people to try to get it right: to have the right analysis, language, friends, etc. We commit to showing up when there are racist attacks, when the police attack and murder people of color in the street, their homes, our communities. We seek to maintain ongoing relationships, individually and organizationally, with community leaders and organizations led by people of color.  It is our work to organize other white people and we are committed to moving more white people to taking action in our local, regional, and national communities for racial justice. 

Honoring frontline leadership:

We commit to learning from, supporting, and following leadership from the front lines; in this struggle that means POC organizations who are locally and nationally connected to this movement. We follow the guidance from organizers of color and their groups specifically on strategy, goals, vision, tone, and message of actions. Receiving such guidance is a gift of capacity and time from these groups and individuals, and we are committed to taking direction while learning from them how much time they wish to give to solidarity groups trying to do this work. In this moment of ad-hoc group formation and self-organization, we commit to building infrastructure that allows for organizational and relational accountability.

  • We will distinguish between consultation with individual organizers of color and ongoing group consultation (while recognizing that some POC-led groups are also in formation stages), and seek a diversity of perspectives, strategies, and tactics. 
  • We will seek to hold a critical understanding of the historical origins and current forms of colonization and racism in order to acknowledge the nuanced ways that colonization of Indigenous and Native peoples, the current manifestations of anti-Black racism, and all other experiences and forms of racism are connected and yet distinct within structural racism.
  • We recognize the importance of caucus conversations and being aware of and addressing the ways privileges and oppressions intersect for individuals and communities. We work to build a coalition of white people engaged in racial justice action while intentionally building accountable relationships with people of color and engaging in collective multicultural and multi-racial anti-racist spaces.
  • We aspire to show up in clear integrity and action logic in our role as a racial justice solidarity group, be clear about why white people are taking action as white people, and represent ourselves authentically so we can lift up POC voices in tone, content, media, and demands. We will engage in political education with each other and other white people to center targeted POC groups in solidarity actions. We will articulate our own role in this movement so that white people do not adopt POC messages and approaches that do not apply to white folks and thus erase the racial context (i.e. “I am Mike Brown”, “I Can’t Breathe”, etc.).

Solidarity is a verb:

We make solidarity real through action and behavior. Accountability is a relationship. There may be moments where we are out of alignment, and we commit to our own course-correction with each effort, action, meeting, mobilization, and agreement.

  • We will leverage the access that we have individually and/or collectively to various resources to help advance the goals of POC-led movements, including from allied organizations who may not be central to this fight but can lend critical skills and capacity.
  • We are committed to, as Loretta Ross says, weaponizing our privilege—not  weaponizing our consciousness—by committing to bold actions that redistribute money, information, access, skills, space, social networks, and other commodities. We will answer calls of solidarity from people of color and directly impacted communities to make bold moves and funnel resources to the people and movements that are at the center of this work. We agree to be accountable, intentional, and transparent with our use of resources.
  • We will be bold when confronting injustice. We will not initiate violent or destructive actions, but will consider following POC-led calls to action in whatever shape those may take to leverage our white privilege in direct actions in explicit ways aligned with POC strategies. We will not get caught up in tactical discussions that keep us from action, and will ensure through relationships that our actions are in full solidarity with the POC-led organizing visions. We do not take a stance on tactics that other groups choose to use in their circumstances. We will constantly evaluate and learn from our mistakes and strengths, and share learning with others.

Long-haul relationships:

We understand that taking accountable action in this movement requires long-term political relationships (both organizationally and personally) and building trust through long-term commitment and shared struggle. We know that in movement work and “movement moments” like this, it is the alignment that comes from long-term relationships that helps us navigate complexity and challenges.

Stay human, stay grounded:

We commit to staying grounded in our reasons for joining this fight. Our own liberation is bound to the liberation of folks of color. We will stay present with our own humanity, honor the humanity of those with whom we collaborate, be humble, listen, connect, and feel. We will stay emotionally connected to the gravity of the wars on people of color, and not get lost in the logistics of action planning.

  • Sustainability: Many of us are sprinting and in rapid-response mode. We will rotate roles so we can care for ourselves and each other to keep actions going. We will ask for what we need from each other to stay healthy and committed to the long-term fight, in this moment where we are pushing ourselves to continue acting in a consistent and strong way to harness the exponential potential of this moment. We know that in order to achieve national and local demands of communities of color (such as the Ferguson Action demands), continued work over the long haul is required. We will find ways to embed this work in our day-to-day lives even when the media stops highlighting it.