The Direct Action & Research Training Center (DART) was established in Miami, Florida in 1982. Its founding purpose was to recruit local churchgoers into congregation-based community organizations dedicated to combating alleged racial inequities (particularly police brutality) in the Miami criminal-justice system.
In the years since then, DART has extended its activism to numerous areas in addition to criminal justice. Further, it has grown into a wide-ranging network consisting of nineteen affiliated organizations spread across Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Virginia. These member groups, says DART, include “Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other congregations with a shared value for justice and fairness.” DART’s mission today is to “engage [these] congregations in pursuit” of a society “where God’s bounty is plentiful and shared by all, and justice flows down like a mighty river.” By DART’s calculus, the “poverty, violence, corruption and despair” that currently plague American cities are the lamentable by-products of “fallen systems” — most notably free market capitalism — that people must strive to “redeem.”
Though DART professes to “set aside labels like red/blue, conservative/liberal, black/white/Hispanic, etc. that divide a city,” the organization’s ideological orientation is unfailingly leftist — as evidenced by its consistent calls for increased government spending as the preferred means of bringing about societal redemption. In recent years, for instance, DART has worked to secure higher levels of public funding for a host of initiatives designed to redistribute wealth and issue other compensatory benefits to recipients who are disproportionately poor and nonwhite. These initiatives include the taxpayer-financed expansion of: community medical and dental clinics; Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Programs for youngsters; early-literacy programs and pre-kindergarten public education for three- and four-year-olds; substance-abuse treatment services for young offenders involved in the juvenile-justice system; technical training classes for “at-risk high-school students”; job training, housing assistance, and substance-abuse rehabilitation programs for adult prison inmates; “affordable housing” rental units and rent-assistance subsidies for the poor; public transportation access to areas where social-service offices are located; translation services to help “people with limited English proficiency” communicate effectively with police if they are apprehended; and the creation of a Green Jobs Training Corps “to put people on a pathway out of poverty and into sustainable careers in the new green economy.”
In 2001, DART launched its own Organizers Institute to train professional community organizers to advocate on behalf of concerns such as those listed above.
DART requires that each year, its member congregations: (a) specifically identify their major concerns and priorities for the immediate future; (b) form research committees to determine viable solutions; (c) identify the individuals in their communities who possess the authority to implement those solutions; and (d) hold a large public meeting called a Nehemiah Action Assembly, where members from all of DART’s congregations gather to “hear testimonies as to how these issues affect people’s lives and negotiate solutions with appropriate authorities in attendance.” This modus operandi stands in contrast to that of activist groups which seek to promote their agendas by means of street protests, picketing, political lobbying, and letter-writing campaigns; DART categorically refuses to engage in those activities.
Each local DART organization is led by 400 to 750 unpaid religious and community leaders who serve on governing boards and/or act within their respective congregations as part of a Justice Ministry Network. It is their job to “articulate community needs” and “work toward pragmatic solutions focused on the common good.”
DART’s member organizations do not accept any government money. Rather, they derive their funding from congregational dues (which all congregations must pay, on a sliding scale related to their size), an annual Investment Drive, and foundation grants. One particularly noteworthy funder of DART is the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
DART’s executive director is John Calkins, a former Peace Corps worker who launched his activist career in 1968 by participating in a protest march against proposed budgetary cuts to welfare programs.