An advocacy group aims to dismantle the modern-day colonialism of the US territories by raising awareness. Right to Democracy was recently founded by Adi Martínez Román and Neil Weare. Martínez Román already founded two prior organizations, the Resiliency Law Center and FURIA, Inc., which focused on empowering her community. Weare founded Equally American and its predecessor organization, We the People Project, which capitalized on litigation to gain national awareness of these issues.
With a mission to confront and dismantle the undemocratic colonial framework that impacts 3.6 million people in US territories and a vision that people in US territories should have power and agency over the decisions that impact their lives – there should be no colonies in the United States, the group has already started establishing itself with events in the territories.
The US’ five territories have vastly different needs and differences, yet they face the same uphill constitutional troubles. Martínez Román noted the importance of “More than a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s about identifying our common ground…We’re going to respect the differences between each of the territories and within territories — because there are very important differences even inside the territories themselves — to try to find those common ground solutions or strategies between us that agree that there is this colonial systemic change that needs to happen”.
Right to Democracy aims to tackle these challenges with its five goals.
- Bring about a reckoning to address 125 years of colonialism and undemocratic governance in US territories.
- Overrule the Insular Cases and dismantle the racist colonial framework they established to advance self-determination and equality for the 3.6 million people living in US territories.
- Build a coalition that unites rather than divides each of the five US territories by bridging differences between people who disagree on political status or politics to find common ground.
- Ensure the United States’ commitments to democratic principles and international law are achieved in US territories by making decolonization a mainstream issue that demands action.
- Center diversity as a strength in everything we do by co-creating meaning together.
The two founders aim to use litigation and legal work alongside community outreach to create unity between all five territories and the mainland.
Weare, the other co-founder, commented on the frustration of the United States’ inability to recognize the colonial problem by saying, “If the United States as a country actually recognized that it had a colonial problem that was urgent to solve, then the possible solutions to that problem are much more creative and much more available. But because the United States does not recognize there’s a colonial problem, finding a solution is very difficult”.
The organization aims to take a more specific approach with “Insular Cases.” These are a sequence of court cases that allow Congress to decide which constitutional rights apply to citizens of the territories. These cases include Borja v. Nago, Fitisemanu v. United States, Tuaua v. United States, and more.
In addition to litigation, Right to Democracy implements “community lawyering.” This method strays from the traditional format where the lawyer and experts fully control the case.
According to Martínez-Román, “Community lawyering is: We actually build the case with the participation of the client. It is centered on the client, and it promotes the community of the client to get involved in the litigation process. … Even the theory, the legal theory, is built together,” she added. “It’s fed by the actual meaning in the life of the clients. And there is more impact in terms of the community itself, as the community gets empowered by their building of knowledge of their rights, and being able to exert some political power and pressure over the public officials.”