In the case of eminent domain, the meek definitely do not inherit the earth. If you want to prevent the condemnation of your property, you will have to turn up the heat and make the condemnation into a major political and public relations headache for the powers that be.

This page suggests some of the actions you can take to draw attention to your situation. But you will undoubtedly think of other plans. The more creative you are, the more people will remember your event.

Community Action

Speak out at public meetings

Attending public meetings can be boring and repetitive, but it is important to let the bureaucrats know that they will not sneak this project by without their citizens noticing. Bring as many people as you can to every single meeting, and speak at each one. Some meetings obviously will be more important than others, and some meetings may have legal significance. Be sure to find out the impact of each meeting. In a few states, for example, you must present evidence against a project at some meeting if you wish to challenge it later. That is not necessary in most states, but it is important to get this information in advance—see step one. You can also use put various documents into the record at a public hearing. That means that the city council or redevelopment agency (whoever is holding the hearing) must consider your items. A picture can speak louder than words, so you may want to take pictures of your home or business, your kids playing on the lawn, your employees at your business. You can give the city a videotape of the area or other documents showing what a positive force your business is on the community. Be creative.

Start a petition

Your petition should have a short statement to which people will be signing their name, like “I am opposed to using eminent domain to take [your area] and give it to [the private developer].” There should be a space for people to identify their city and state as well. Petitions do not have legal status, but they can be useful in a few ways. First, a petition will give you a sense of if public sentiment is behind you. Second, if you get a large number of signatures, that in itself is newsworthy. Finally, if you get a large number of signatures, that may give politicians some pause. If you get a lot of signatures for your petition, be sure to introduce it into the record at one of the public meetings and give copies to the government officials who will be voting and, of course, the press.

Put up signs

Design a simple sign to put in the window of local businesses and homes. Such signs can have no more than 5-10 words. They must be short and sweet.

Hold a rally

If you think you have enough people, organize a rally in front of city hall, or in front of the offices of the government body doing the condemnation. Be sure to get any assembly permits that you need. Distribute flyers before the event. Carry signs—again, no more than 5-8 words. You should have only a few speakers, and each should speak for no more than a few minutes. They should tell who they are, what their personal attachment is to their property, and why they want to stay.

Organize other events

Be creative. There are all sorts of events you can hold, depending on the project itself. For example, in New Rochelle, the city had plans to condemn homes and businesses for an IKEA. The activists organized a demonstration outside the Swedish embassy. They also held a “drive-in,” where they demonstrated the effect of increased traffic in the area based on the amount of increased traffic estimated in the development plan. In New London, activists invited members of the press to tour the area, and one of the restaurants to be condemned created a special menu on which all items were named after people involved in the project. In Mississippi, activists held a prayer vigil before an important day in court. In Minnesota, one elderly woman invited the members of the city council over for tea.

Form a Community Development Corporation

In Pittsburgh, after forming a community group, the members decided to form an official Community Development Corporation (CDC). The CDC had the advantage of having a more official status. The CDC then proposed its own alternate development plan for the area—one that did not involve eminent domain.

Media

Write letters to the editor

After any story that you think you might have something relevant to say about, you can write a letter to the editor. The best letters are short, making one or two points in clear, attention-getting language. Follow this link for a few sample letters.

Write Op-eds

An [GUEST COLUMN] opinion-editorial or "op-ed" is a longer piece, published in the opinion pages of a newspaper. It can range from 400 to 800 words, depending on the newspaper. You can make about three points in an oped. It needs a snappy introduction, colorful language (But don't be shrill), and simple points. Although an attorney's oped can focus on the law, a layperson's oped should focus on the injustice of what is happening. You want the oped to be about what you know and have experienced personally. That makes it much more engaging for the reader. To submit an oped, call the paper's editorial page op-ed editor and ask what the rules are for submission, how long the piece can be, and to whom you should submit it. Follow this link for a few sample opeds.

Contact your local paper

Newspapers are almost always interested in the issue of condemnation of property for the benefit of other private parties. Try to find an interested reporter that you have a good relationship with. Focus on essential facts-too many side issues will just get the reporters confused. You should pick a few good spokespeople to talk to the media. That should be someone whose home and/or business is being condemned. When you first call a reporter, be sensitive to the fact that they might be on a deadline to complete another story. if they are, ask if there is a better time to call back. (typically, the worst time to call a reporter is late in the day.)

Place an ad

An advertisement can be a great way to increase the visibility of organized opposition to eminent domain. It can bring new people into your coalition, tell people their property is in danger, and also increase media interest. And of course, it can also help bring a large number of people to a crucial public hearing.

Issue a press release Media Advisory

At least 24 hours before any event that you hold, you must issue a press release media advisory. The release advisory should go out to all local media. It can be no longer than one page and should contain the following information: (1) date, time, and location of the event-surprisingly, many press releases media advisories accidentally omit one of these key pieces of information; (2) a short description of the issue, including what government agency is doing the condemnation, who will benefit, and who will lose; a short description of the event and who the speakers will be, if any; (4) a contact number for questions. You can usually find fax numbers and email addresses online, but try to do some research so that you're sending the information to the person who actually covers these sorts of events or assigns coverage. Follow this link for sample press releases. Follow this link for sample press releases.

Make a press packet

Your press packet will be a set of documents that you send to the media whenever you want to introduce someone to the issue. The point of a press packet is to give enough information for someone to be able to write a story based on what you have given them or at least be able to write most of the story, with a little bit of follow-up. Your press packet might have (1) past and current press releases; (2) summary of the situation in a few pages; (3) copies of past news articles about the issue; (4) pictures of people whose property is being condemned, preferably in front of their buildings; (5) studies, reports, or statements issued by policy groups; (6) map of the area; (7) contact information for your spokespeople. Your press packet will probably not include all of these, and it may include some other items, depending on your situation. Follow this link to see sample press packets.

Political Action

Letters

Although they are not always helpful, it never hurts to send letters to your state congressperson and senator and to any other political figure you think might be sympathetic.

Lobbying for new legislation

If you get some political interest, you can work to get a different eminent domain statute passed. Almost any restriction on eminent domain will be an improvement over the total discretion usually given to government agencies. One way to cut back on eminent domain is to limit the definition of “blight” or “redevelopment”. Colorado and Illinois both have recently limited that definition. Another way is to simply limit the use of eminent domain for private parties. Follow this link for examples of eminent domain and blight statutes.

Start a Voter Initiative

Unlike petitions, voter initiatives or referenda do have legal status. Not all states or localities have a mechanism for conducting voter referenda, but they can be very effective. Usually you will need to get 10-15% of the voters in your area to sign the petition in order to get something on the ballot. Also, the rules for conducting these can be very strict. For example, there are very specific items that need to be on each signature page and that must be submitted when the signatures are turned in. If you do not follow every requirement exactly, your initiative may be disqualified. To find out about voter initiatives, you can look on the internet, contact your state legislator, or contact a supportive city councilperson. Initiatives are sometimes governed by state law, sometimes by county law, and sometimes by city or town law, so there may not be a central place to check. And, of course, where you do the initiative may also depend on which body is doing the condemnation.

Property owners in Baltimore County successfully used a voter referendum to defeat a proposed condemnation. Seventy percent of voters voted against the plan.