Broad-based Coalition Building.
As case studies demonstrate, successful efforts to pass
or defend rent control require broad, multi-racial coalitions. In
some instances, untraditional allies have been enlisted to lend critical
support. Allies have included public officials, small homeowners,
labor unions, student groups, mental health organizations, elderly groups,
women's organizations, the faith-based community, and national organizations,
Organized and Mobilized
Communities. Winning rent control will take dedicated leaders
with a commitment to organize. The New Jersey Tenants Organization
developed several key organizing principles, that have
succeeded in more than municipalities. (See below.)
Sustained Community Engagement.
Rent control campaigns are a lengthy process, often followed
by drawn-out court challenges. And, the struggle does not end with
securing the law; rent control face repeated attacks years later with measures
or amendments introduced to weaken its effectiveness. Sustained community
engagement is essential. Some cities have established permanent tenant or
housing organizations to facilitate ongoing participation.
Strategy. Strategic use of the media, including radio,
television, newspapers, newsletters, and the Internet, is essential
to educating the public about the issues, building public will in support
of renter stabilization and countering anti-rent control propaganda.
economic and political opportunities is critical. Good timing is absolutely
necessary to a successful campaign to pass or defend rent control.
Jersey Tenant Organization Organizing Principles
- The goal of organizing is to win power .
Power should not be viewed as a negative thing. It is essential that you
have enough of it to accomplish your goals.
- People are best organized when common problems
affect their self-interest. When quality of life is at
stake, people are more willing to organize. All organizing materials (meetings,
newsletters, flyers, press releases, etc.) should stress the practical
value of organizing and the specific problems you hope to solve.
- Your major task as an organizer is to build a strong democratic
organization that can channel its members' energy in effective ways. People
sit up and take notice when a strong organization mounts a public campaign
for social justice. The old saying "there is strength in numbers" is one
that should guide you. While your opponent may have more money, you can
mobilize more people. Collective action increases your power as tenants.
- Be creative and flexible in the methods that you use. Use tactics
that work, throw out tactics that don't. Tactics should be chosen
wisely and abandoned when they no longer serve. Tactics that prolong conflict
without resolution become unbearable burdens. You want to use some tactics
that work quickly. Try to win short-term victories while working
for long-term solutions. Quick victories build the membership's morale
and give the organization the spark to take the struggle to the
next level. Tactics may include direct action, such as sit-ins, marches,
rent strikes, and legal challenges.
- The Need for Tenant Unity. Your opponents will attempt
to break your unity; you must be prepared to maintain it. Remember that
all actions must have wide support. Unity multiplies your power. Division
always reduces your chances of winning.
- No Nonsense. Adopt a serious attitude in your
dealings with public officials. Do not accept promises if past agreements
were broken. Make public officials earn your trust. They are not
your friends unless they prove it. Do not make excuses for their lack
of commitment or failure to act as promised. This will undermine organizing
efforts. Be formal when communicating with public officials until they
have earned your support. Remember, if you want them to take care of business,
you must demonstrate that you mean business!
- Use the Media. Keep the press informed of all your
activities and cultivate a relationship with the reporters who cover your
campaign. Issue press releases and hold press conferences when you have
important news. Keep the focus on the human drama. Your goal is to win
support from the larger community, and you can do this by showing that
what you are doing will provide real help to real people. Keep you message
simple and genuine.
- Know More! Learn all you can about rent control.
Understand the legal constraints in your city or state. Develop a critical
understanding of how your municipal government works. Know the key
players and elected officials and the interests they represent. Point
out opponents' weaknesses and mistakes. Develop an understanding of the
issues that will be debated and be prepared to counter arguments you will
- Understand the Electoral Process. Elected officials
are empowered to legislate rent control laws and therefore, one
of your primary targets. It is important to understand every aspect of
municipal elections, including the initiative and referendum process (if
used in your community). Be prepared to get involved in local elections,
keeping in mind restrictions on the electoral activities of 501 (c)(3)
- Do not shy away from conflict. Your opponents will
not just hand you what you want because it is the right thing to do. Their
interests are different than yours and they act accordingly. Conflict
is normal in organizing for social change. Be resolute and remain calm.