Q&A

What are the Neighborhood Action Councils?
What is the Neighborhood Action Coalition?
What are NACs for? What do they do?
But what about differences between neighborhoods? How can NACs be accountable?
My neighbors and I want to organize our community. What do we do now? Who tells us what to do?
How are NACs different from past Neighborhood Councils?
How can Neighborhood Action Coalitions achieve such ambitious projects?
How can NACs be representative of marginalized communities when people in marginalized communities often have the least free time to organize?
Who is most targeted by the state or by the Trump administration?
What do NACs NOT do?
How does the Neighborhood Action Coalition make decisions?
How do NACs decide what projects to work on?
How does a Neighborhood Action Council model resist the abuse of powers from a corrupt government? In short, how do they shake a Trump presidency?
Why not direct energy straight to protests in the streets?
How do NACs put pressure on the state?
How do NACs work outside of their own neighborhoods and not insulate?
How big are NACs?

What are the Neighborhood Action Councils?

A Neighborhood Action Council (NAC) is a way for you and your neighbors to come together, build community, take care of each other’s needs, and defend each other’s interests.

NACs are autonomous communities of resistance, formed to provide immediate services and protection for politically targeted communities through localized direct action. At their most basic, they are neighbors, allies, friends, and families coming together to care for one another. From this firm footing, they are a vehicle for projecting the power of everyday people into society.

NACs exist as a result of failed political systems that have disenfranchised communities for far too long. With the threat of an authoritarian regime, NACs provide self-sustaining alternative governance — resisting cuts to services from a corrupt leadership and safeguarding the most essential liberties of individuals.

Autonomous NACs can protect targeted communities from state-instigated violence and violence from local hate groups. NACs are open, independent, participatory, and democratic. Everyone can show up and participate. Everyone gets a voice in decision-making. To make sure that each NAC takes other neighborhoods’ needs and perspectives into account, the NACs will all choose representatives to a citywide umbrella coalition whose role is to facilitate communication (not tell the individual action councils what to do).

What is the Neighborhood Action Coalition?

A regional Neighborhood Action Coalition is an umbrella that lets all the individual NACs work together. By using a federation model, NACs can have both the independence to work on their neighborhood’s specific issues and the accountability to support each other’s differing needs. Each NAC will send a team of two representatives to the coalition in order to communicate, coordinate, and work together. Ideally, these representatives should reflect the diversity of genders, ethnicities, races, religions, and backgrounds that we are trying to protect, while empowering new leaders to step forward in their own communities. The coalition will also help sister-neighborhoods remain accountable to one another and their commitments.

What are NACs for? What do they do?

What do you and your neighbors need? NACs can do two things: They can help directly meet people’s needs when the current system fails to, and they can help keep communities safe by challenging threats exemplified by the Trump administration.

In practice, that means that NACs do what you and your community decide! So, for example, to serve its neighborhood, a NAC might:

  • Defray people’s medical costs if they lose their insurance
  • Support people at risk of deportation or religious discrimination by showing up in rapid response to a visit by a persecutor
  • Put together a rideshare program for disabled and/or isolated people
  • Create a carpool system for those in need of help attending social service appointments
  • Create a free grocery, host community potlucks, or address any other day-to-day needs that people need help with

At the same time, to defend neighbors and the larger community, it might:

  • Shelter and support undocumented immigrants and others threatened with deportation
  • Demand that businesses have gender-neutral bathrooms
  • Create a community patrol to respond to hate crimes and protect people from neo-Nazi violence, intervene in conflicts with police and provide immediate aid
  • Organize support for a local Black Lives Matter demonstration or take action in solidarity with a defense of native lands

However, in the end, nobody else can tell you what your NAC should do. These are ideas, not directives. The whole point of building the power of the people is to give everyone a say together — whatever ideas the coordinating entity might have matter much less than what individual communities want, need, and create. What do you think a NAC should be for?

But what about differences between neighborhoods? How can NACs avoid group isolation and remain accountable to other groups?

There are a few mechanisms to help avoid problematic factionalism between NACs. First, the structure of the Neighborhood Action Coalition makes sure that every specific NAC communicates with and listens to the others instead of ignoring their concerns. Second, the Coalition between more-privileged and less-privileged areas will keep the former accountable to the latter. Coalitions can help some NACs communicate a call for support from one neighborhood across the network of other neighborhoods in a region. Individual NACs create solidarity within neighborhoods. The Neighborhood Action Coalition creates solidarity across them.

My neighbors and I want to organize our community. What do we do now? Who tells us what to do?

Different communities may face different threats and obstacles. Therefore, no one person or organization is “in charge” of this idea, and each community group is free to create the solutions they need (and ask for assistance implementing them). The role of the Neighborhood Action Coalition is communication and coordination of information and resources, not commanding or directing any one group or groups. The solutions that we need will come from communities on the ground — up from the grassroots level, not dictated from the top down.

That being said, we have thought of a few simple “homework assignments” each group can take and experiment with in their own neighborhood. This list will grow as more people are mobilized and our communities begin to build their power together.

  • Set up a public meeting in an accessible location and invite your neighbors to talk. This can be as small as a potluck dinner party for your block, or a large public event or forum — maybe in a cafe, a library, a school, a community center or a place of worship.
  • Knock on 10 doors. Introduce yourself, ask your neighbors how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, and how you can support them. Listen to their stories, hopes, dreams and fears without judgement; know them, care for them, invite them to organize with you.
  • Have 1 difficult conversation. Talk to someone you know who is feeling hurt, confused, scared or angry because of the results of this election. Especially people who may have voted differently from you, or are feeling shocked by the protest movement that has grown in the aftermath. Support each other in having these tough conversations. No one should feel alone in this work.
  • Bring back a suggestion for action to a Coalition meetup. What do you need help implementing? What would you like to share with other communities?

How are NACs different from past Neighborhood Councils?

Traditional Neighborhood Councils are groups that meet to decide how to influence city councils in support of a reform or improvement in their area, without a broader reference to global socio-political issues. While many traditional neighborhood councils do good work, a common critique of traditional neighborhood councils is that they adopt NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) politics, due to their localized interests. They are also often made up of a small group of individuals with the most flexible schedules who might not represent the demographics of a neighborhood in terms of class or race.

A Neighborhood Action Council has an explicit reference to global socio-political issues, particularly with regard to fighting acts of hate and discrimination. Neighborhood Action Councils acknowledge this work as needing to come from the home, into our closest circles and extend outward. They hold that hate and discrimination are the result of isolation and fear of strangers, so they seek to build community projects that connect people beyond these bonds. While traditional Neighborhood Councils may focus on influencing local policy makers as their primary method of change, Neighborhood Action Coalitions are primarily built around a “Do It Yourself to Support Your Neighbor” model. The idea is to take action before asking if we can, and build power in communities that trickles up rather than waiting for it to trickle down. It’s community change in the most direct way, at the most grassroots level. For example, while a traditional Neighborhood Council might write letters to the city to petition for the creation of a recreational facility or after school program in their neighborhood, a Neighborhood Action Coalition would organize to build facilities and programs of their own by pooling resources and volunteering time. While Neighborhood Action Coalitions may have a great impact on politics and influence on policies of the future, this is not their first goal, as their projects skip this step.

Finally, while Neighborhood Councils are traditionally organized with the broad and sometimes nebulous message of advocating for the greater good of “neighborhoods,” Neighborhood Action Coalitions have specific missions in supporting targeted communities against hate and persecution. They take our current political state in context and prioritize the needs of those living in the most fear.

How can Neighborhood Action Coalitions achieve such ambitious projects?

We know that when people work together, they can harness unimaginable resources. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges, but since this is a time in which a growing number of people in our communities cannot count on the federal government to provide necessary services, filling those gaps through ingenuity will be essential. The model of neighbors working together for shared services and societal change is the basis of politics. And NACs have the potential to be more efficient than most governmental or nonprofit organizations, if people are trusted to identify their needs and the best, quickest ways to fulfill them.

That said, we have some tools that might help get you started:

  • A secure invite-only website to reach your neighbors
  • A set of principles for NACs and Neighborhood Action Coalitions
  • Suggestions for “homework assignments” and getting started

How can NACs be representative of marginalized communities when people in marginalized communities often have the least free time to organize?

One way to ensure that NACs have the energy behind them to keep moving forward, and support the involvement of people of all classes and communities, is to set up a support network for Community Sponsored Organizers. Community Sponsored Organizers are people who a NAC will democratically select based on their organizing potential, to help lead projects and connect the dots. CSOs may be sponsored by communities through various means, such as subsidized rent from someone in the community who has an extra room, meal support from various members of the community, or even crowdfunding through a joint project.

Another way to encourage accountability to marginalized communities is to frame projects around the stated needs of those most threatened under our current system. That way, even if a member of that marginalized community is too busy to attend all of the meetings or do all of the work, their needs are still driving the direction of the NAC.

Who is most targeted by the state or by the Trump administration?

As of the writing of this document, we are just in the early days of Trump’s transition — but his campaign and transition make it clear that he intends to target people of color, immigrants and refugees, women, LGBTQ people, and Muslims.

What do NACs NOT do?

  • Discriminate on the basis of identity, race, ethnicity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, or class.
  • Endorse political candidates — although candidates and politicians may be free to join NACs as individuals, and individuals are free to support candidates if so driven.
  • Claim one particular political party or ideology.
  • Take instruction from larger organizations — although they can sign on to larger coordinated efforts if members agree to.
  • Register as a nonprofit — although NACs may work with nonprofits.
  • Take grants from the government — although members may work with government-sponsored initiatives aligned with their principles.
  • Have a single leader, or have one spokesperson that speaks for the Coalition.
    Instead, NACs have many. One powerful way to diffuse power and create non-hierarchical and safer engagement structures is to ensure that no one person represents your NAC. This could mean ensuring no one person’s name is on events or announcements, using an impersonal email for public-facing documents, and having at least 4 people attend any meetings with press and public officials.
    While natural leadership should be encouraged, movements or groups that rely too heavily on one person risk failure in the event that this person is taken out of the picture for any reason. NACs should rather build a structure where if one “head” is cut off, 100 more grow. Or for a more pleasant metaphor: When one seed is buried, a garden sprouts up.

How does the Neighborhood Action Coalition make decisions?

The Neighborhood Action Coalition is not a binding or executive group, and has no mechanism to make formal decisions. Neighborhood Action Coalitions have two goals: 1) to connect NACs in their broader region with resources, information, and opportunities for action; and 2) to provide a forum to amplify the voices of marginalized and targeted individuals and communities.

It is expected and encouraged that representatives of NACs may collaborate and come to consensus around opportunities to take action, but any NAC or individual who does not agree with that consensus is under no obligation to take an action to which they do not consent. Unlike traditional political groups who take long, drawn-out endorsement processes and then expect their members to act according to the consensus, NACs may host discussions on forms of engagement and vote on actions, but not demand that any dissenting voice or faction take the majority action.

How do NACs decide what projects to work on?

Projects should be led by the needs of the people whose persons and families are targeted by hate groups, destabilizing political cultures, and unjust public policies, and ideally by those people directly. If a support project has not been directly requested by a targeted community, the first test of whether a project idea is worth deploying is to run it by members of the community that it seeks to serve. If people in that community feel it is worthwhile, then go for it!

Projects should have enough energy and people power behind them to meet their scope. Take a realistic temperature check in your NAC of how many people are actually committed to your project before embarking alone. If it is a long-term project deemed a good idea, with just little capacity for support at first, consider parking it until you can recruit more support. While a diversity of tactics may be respected within one NAC, groups proposing a project should give honest space to hear out concerns about problematic consequences of their plan.

How does a Neighborhood Action Council model resist the abuse of powers from a corrupt government? In short, how do they shake a Trump presidency?

First, a NAC creates a firewall of community defense against immediate and projected threats of state violence and austerity. People play by the rules of the political process because they seek something to gain that they feel is necessary for their community. By turning inward and creating self-sustaining safety nets within local communities, NACs strip the state of some leverage in soliciting the obedience of the people.

Second, by fortifying communication and creating mutual bonds between neighbors and neighborhoods, we create a powerful rapid-response network to respond immediately, with coordinated, creative strategy, to authoritarian policies and threats of state violence.

Why not direct energy straight to protests in the streets?

There’s an argument to be made that we’ve tried the model of randomized mass protest against unpopular decisions by the state. The protests against the Iraq War were the largest in history and arguably made little impact on the decisions of those in power. The phrase is often cited that “power concedes nothing without demand” but it may be, in fact, that power concedes nothing, period. In this case, it is on us to take our power back, and direct it to the communities where it belongs.

Furthermore, in the context of a hostile Trump administration — one that promises to split up families and suppress political opposition — protesting may not always be a safe or viable option for engagement. There is a need for direct action to provide services and act in collective defense to catch people who fall through the cracks — something most protests are simply not equipped to deliver. That said, a protest coordinated by a NAC could be an effective means of expression given a trained and coordinated team of medics, legal observers, strategists, and media spokespeople who might come out of the existing infrastructure of the community groups.

How do NACs put pressure on the state?

Through a diversity of creative tactics. We believe that there is no certain path to change, and that success depends on tackling the system from all sides — inside, outside, left, right, top and bottom — without wasting our energy on arguments over what works best.

How big are NACs?

While it is up to groups to decide their own rules of scale and membership (as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of identity/gender/sexual orientation/race/class), an optimal number for coordinated work is around 45-50, with 150 being understood as a tipping point for organizational health. Groups approaching that point may consider breaking into two groups based on interest projects or regional proximity. On the other end of the scale, organizations that are too small risk insulated thinking and may need more diversity, by nature of scale. NACs as small as 10 members in a stabilized period of recruitment may want to consider joining a nearby NAC, or focusing heavily on outreach.

Have any more questions? Email seattleNAC@gmail.com to start a conversation.
Ready to get involved? Click here to find or start an Action Council in your neighborhood.