Guiding Principles

Overarching Framework

Lost River Racial Justice is dedicated to small town and rural multiracial organizing to dismantle white-supremacy and transfer power and resources to people of color communities. We are based in Brattleboro, VT. We draw our name from the Abenaki name for these lands where we live and work.

We are currently a majority-white organizing group and an affiliate of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). We welcome all people to join our work, and we strive to maintain strong accountable relationships with people of color-led organizations.

We recognize the important role white folks have in educating our/themselves and taking action to end racism and work towards liberation for all people. Living in predominantly white communities and predominantly white states, it is imperative for us to build relationships within white communities that use our collective power and privilege to support and uplift people of color organizing and people of color communities, voices, and experiences.

Guiding Principles

1. Collective Liberation

“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
–Lilla Watson, Murri (Australian indigenous) visual artist, activist, and academic

We approach this work from a belief that none of us are free until all of us are free. We recognize that the same systems and institutions that uphold white supremacy also uphold and overlap with classism, misogyny, ableism, ageism, heteronormativity, cissexism, sizeism, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression. We understand that Black chattel slavery and settler colonialism–the historical foundation of white supremacy in the land known as the United States–were created in ways intertwined with capitalism.

As we struggle for racial justice, we also work to challenge all intersecting systems of oppression. We are committed to making our organizing work as accessible as possible to people of all (dis)abilities. We center the involvement and leadership of families, of poor and working-class folks, and of women, queer, and trans people. Our political and strategic decisions are guided by feminist and anti-capitalist as well as anti-racist principles. In this way, we work for our collective liberation.

2. Community Well Being

We understand that community safety is not predicated on structures instituted by the state, such as police and prisons, but on community support and accountability. Community safety practices must address not only violence in its overt forms, but more generally a community’s ability to meet the needs of its members, to nourish and support one another in building structure and practice to uphold each other’s well being and humanity. Understanding that each of our struggles is linked, we recognize that every person needs respect and dignity for our community to be well and just. 

We know that the abolition of police, prisons, and the criminal justice system is vital to our community’s safety and the work towards collective liberation. Following in the vision of BIPOC-led racial justice organizing in our community, we envision abolition as a process of defunding and tearing down criminal justice systems that shorten the lives of Black, brown, and poor people and redirecting funding towards building up systems that reduce, prevent, and better address harm. This language was inspired by, and our thinking was guided strongly by the writings of Mariame Kaba such as her book  “We Do This ‘til We Free Us.”

3. Show Up, Do Our Best, Keep Learning

We resist perfectionism, which is characteristic of white supremacist culture and tends to lead to inaction and shame. We know that we will make mistakes, and that we cannot delay action until we feel 100% ready to be sure of getting it right. Instead we strive for action that is “good enough” – that has an overall positive impact, and in which the inevitable missteps that occur are ones we can correct and learn from to strengthen our work and the movement.

We know that educating ourselves and others about systemic racism, history, social movements, and other topics is critical, but not enough by itself to create change. We choose to emphasize praxis, or ideas in action. We see learning and action as intertwined, not competing for our attention but rather furthering and strengthening each other in every moment.

We embrace a diversity of tactics, knowing that all tools, tactics and styles have their pros and cons, and that different situations call for different creative responses. We learn from each experience and adapt to improve our ability to choose the best tactic for the next unique situation.

4. Organizational Accountability

a) External Accountability

We work in a rural, predominantly white region and our organizing nucleus is (currently) made up of all white people. In order to ensure that our work truly serves people of color and challenges white supremacy we develop and maintain long-term accountable relationships with organizations led by people of color. We seek to center the goals and needs articulated by our accountability partners in our work, and to move power, resources, and leadership from white to non-white people and communities.

b) Internal Process and Structures

We believe that our work together and our organizational structure should model the values and goals we wish to create in the world. To ensure power is shared, promote skill building, and invite fresh ideas we hold permeability (ease of members moving in and out of leadership positions) as an important element of our structure. A dedication to transparency contributes to our own internal and external accountability. We utilize participatory and consensus decision making to allow for a variety of perspectives and voices to be heard. Because organizational sustainability and longevity are necessary for our work to be accountable and impactful we realistically look at our individual and collective capacity when setting goals. To include people with varied capacities and abilities we prioritize an organizational structure that allows for many ways to participate and levels of commitment.

5. Localism/ Rural-Centered

We participate in the global and historical struggle to end white supremacy by beginning our organizing in the small communities and rural areas where we live and work. In the US many of our models of racial justice organizing are urban-focused, while rural and small-town organizing is less widely recognized. We believe that rural communities  bring important strengths to our shared struggle. We draw on the interconnectedness and interdependence of small communities; the skill sets and resourcefulness of farmers, builders, educators, health practitioners, and other rural people; a land-based sense of place; and the chutzpah of folks accustomed to co-creating our local laws, institutions, and cultures. We refuse to be separated by artificial state boundaries from our comrades who live near us, recognizing how this tactic has been used against rural communities to divide and separate. We believe we are better equipped to organize our own communities than urban leaders tend to be. By organizing ourselves to overcome individual and collective experiences of isolation we can help build more racially just communities here and beyond.

6. Redistribution of Power

The power and resources accumulated and hoarded in wealthy white communities in the United States is directly related to the violence and harm brought onto indigenous peoples and people of color communities by way of genocide, slavery, stolen labor, land theft, redlining, the current-day prison system, and other institutionalized forms of violence. Power and resources take the form of land, wealth, capital, knowledge, skills, time, and physical and emotional labor. We recognize that capitalism and class structures have historically and currently worked to place white working class communities in false opposition to communities of color, while maintaining the power and resources of wealthy white people and corporations. Because we know there is more than enough to go around, we work to move power and resources back into indigenous and people of color communities in order to support their self-determination and leadership. As a group with all-white leadership it is our responsibility to shift the power and resources that we have access to into the hands of communities and organizers of color.

7. Decolonization

We recognize that all indigenous peoples in the occupied land-base known as the United States have the right to self-determination and access to clean and safe land and water. Those of us who are descendants of white settler-colonialism must work to unlearn and dismantle the ongoing colonialist practices of exploitation, domination, entitlement, and individualism that foster disconnection from each other and the land. We recognize that decolonization is not a metaphor, but instead must be a set of actions, active working to dismantle a system that has invisibilized and worked to erase indigenous engagement with land-bases, organizing, and communities.

The values and ideas highlighted in this principle draw from the writing of Black Mesa Indigenous Support, and specifically Berkley Carnine and Liza Minno Bloom’s article Towards Decolonization and Settler Responsibility: Reflections on a Decade of Indigenous Solidarity Organizing, as well as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article Decolonization is not a Metaphor in 2012’s Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society