Articles

Build: The Socialist Feminism Issue

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Download a printable PDF of the Build: Socialist Feminist Issue here.

WE SHOULD ALL BE SOCIALIST FEMINISTS
Laura Colaneri, Chicago DSA, DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group

Socialist feminist organizing is hard.

Of course, all of our organizing is hard—we’re fighting for a complete societal overhaul in the most powerful capitalist, imperialist country in history, and, as is typical on the greater left and in feminist circles, we all have different ideas of how best to win that fight. But socialist feminist organizing is particularly hard. We face attacks from right wing misogynists, centrist liberal feminists, and leftist “allies” who condemn our organizing as liberal identity politics or bourgeois moralism. We face the suffocating patriarchal tendencies and misogyny that permeate our everyday lives and our organizing spaces. And even when we don't face those challenges, we're still struggling to identify our role within DSA's big tent and determine where we can be most effective in our movement.

The major difficulty of socialist feminist organizing in DSA today is that we must be everywhere at once, inboth internal and external organizing, stretching ourselves thin, without losing sight of the projects that only feminists are advocating for. Every issue that we organize around as socialists, we must also organize around as feminists. Applying a feminist lens deepens our understanding of each problem affecting the everyday lives of the working class and is critical to our fight for just solutions.

Responding to an argument from some detractors on the left effectively illustrates this central problem. Some leftists, who view themselves as “universalists” but whose opponents usually term them “class reductionists” or “class-first” socialists, argue that organizing around “identity politics”—including gender identity, race, sexuality, and disability, among other categories—is “particularist.” Thus, such organizing is not a worthy focus for socialists, who should strive to address “universal” issues that appeal to the entire working class. To them, identity-related categories are merely a way of turning the working class against one another and splitting it into smaller and smaller portions that are ineffective in organizing against capitalism.

Leaving aside the obvious criticism (among many others) that the gender identity “woman” includes close to 50% of the working class population, this idea illustrates a major mistake made by critics of feminism: treating it as though it is a narrowly focused identity rather than using it for what it is: like Marxism, a form of analysis, a way of seeing and interpreting the world. In this sense, the difficulty at hand is that feminist organizing is not actually niche or particular at all. Rather, the feminist project is the exact size of the socialist project. There is not a single issue around which we organize as socialists to which a feminist lens cannot be applied in order to improve our analysis and aid our struggle.

Herein lies the major challenge: organizing around more “explicitly” feminist issues, while also integrating a feminist lens into every structure whether internal or external to DSA. Internally, socialist feminists educate our comrades about feminism and patriarchy. We combat unhealthy organizing spaces and sexual harassment and assault. We engage women and non-binary people and develop them into effective organizers with an eye to the ways that our organizing spaces can be exclusionary to non-cisgender and heterosexual men. We provide (or lobby our chapters to provide) child watch at meetings to make our chapters more accommodating to families. Overall, we strive to make DSA into a welcoming, healthy feminist space, all while women often do more than their share of administrative work in their chapters and reproductive labor in their homes.

Externally, we provide political education to the public. We are pulled in all directions as we strive to share the labor and provide a feminist lens in every one of our chapter’s projects, from electoral to housing to mutual aid. We develop our own projects around issues that matter to us as socialist feminists. Moreover, because society traditionally views these issues as “women’s issues,” it often falls to us to organize around projects related to, for example, abortion access, even though such projects could easily fall under the purview of healthcare organizing.

A further difficulty here is that developing such projects within our socialist feminist groups (rather than within an issues-based group such as healthcare) means that we also run the risk of becoming siloed off from other groups in our chapters if we do not relate our work and our feminist lens back to the overarching issue of healthcare. Ultimately, we do a little bit of everything, and for this reason socialist feminist organizers in DSA face disproportionate levels of burnout as they overcommit themselves for the good of the movement.

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These circumstances plague me as I strategize in my role as steering committee member of Chicago DSA’s Socialist Feminist Working Group and interim steering committee member of DSA’s Socialist Feminism Working Group nationally. I ask myself: What is the role of a distinct socialist feminist group in DSA when, by necessity, we are involved in everything? Can we, as the problematic neoliberal refrain about the working woman says, “have it all?” If not, what dedicated purpose should we serve as organizers? Should we prioritize political education and internal organizing so we can make more socialist feminists in chapters that we have made safe, welcoming, and feminist? If we believe this internal work is essential, must that come at the expense of our developing our own unique external campaigns, thus running the risk that reproductive justice and other “typically” feminist projects fall by the wayside?

I don’t have good answers yet, except that I refuse to sacrifice one for the other. But I do think it’s important that we, as socialist feminist organizers, ask ourselves these questions.

Regardless of the difficulties, socialist feminist organizing in DSA holds a lot of promise. Socialist feminist spaces are uniquely welcoming and provide a supportive environment for comrades who are often marginalized in both their everyday lives and other organizing spaces. They also encourage democratic, comradely discussion and consensus-building in ways capitalist society discourages and chapter meetings might lack.

Day by day, feminists in DSA fight to strengthen our chapters and bring a feminist lens to all the work that we do as an organization. We do this to ensure that DSA advocates for those whom patriarchal, racist capitalism oppresses the most. But to do this effectively, we need every comrade in DSA to bring a feminist lens to their work and their lives, just as they bring a Marxist one, and to challenge the patriarchal, white supremacist aspects of capitalism as an integral part of the class struggle.



Stigma Isn't Sexy

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Stigma Isn’t Sexy

Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) & San Antonio DSA

Sex work is not new. In fact, it’s been around since the start of recorded history. So why is promoting sex worker safety a relatively new political concern? The U.S. is one of the only fully industrialized countries that criminalizes and actively stigmatizes sex work(ers). As a working member of this industry, I have some thoughts.

Law enforcement and government officials have picked a war on sex work (SW) because their blood boils at the thought of our complete autonomy in using sex appeal as a profession and enjoying the full value of our labor. In April of 2018, these officials passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA/FOSTA) to take away that autonomy, misrepresenting the oppressive criminalization of sex work as a solution to sex trafficking. While many SWs knew neither political party was on our side, we were counting on the left to save us from this legislation. SESTA/FOSTA passed by a landslide, with only two opposing votes cast in the name of “internet privacy.”

Since then, many SWs have had to return to pimps and street work, which is exactly what advocates of SESTA/FOSTA claimed it would prevent. At least 67 SWs have lost their lives since its passing, and many more remain missing. Countless people, but mainly sex workers, have screamed, are screaming, and will continue to scream about what would save our lives. Most people, including many who claim to advocate for our well-being, ignore us or silence us, often both. At a time when “believe women” has become a rallying cry, this disregard for the voices of SWs is all the more egregious and personally distressing.

It’s no question that any labor movement claiming to be “large-scale” must include sex workers, but who would it be for and what would it look like? There are numerous exotic dancer unions around the U.S. and laws protecting employees at brothels in Nevada, but how do you unionize when your profession will get you incarcerated or killed? One potential model is Organización de Trabajadoras Sexuales (OTRAS), a union organized by Conxa Borrell, a sex worker in Spain in August of 2018. While sex work is decriminalized in Spain, there is substantial grey area that puts many SWs at risk for fines and imprisonment. After forming OTRAS, Borrell quietly got it approved by Spain’s Labor Ministry, which requires no political oversight.

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Abolitionists who believe sex work doesn’t fit into their country’s socialist ideals have attacked OTRAS, but SWs in Spain are largely immigrants, trans women,and lower income people, so it’s safe to say their views on sex work are rooted in racism and classism. The Prime Minister, who is trying to introduce legislation banning prostitution, is heavily influenced these abolitionists, who threaten the progress made by OTRAS. Unionizing sex work in Spain gives SWs a fighting chance to demand basic workplace rights, healthcare, social security, and pensions. While it is an imperfect model, it’s much more effective than the one we currently have in the U.S. Unionizing will be difficult and it will be dangerous, but sharing information publicly and promoting education about sex work is one of the first steps.

As an organizer who is also an active sex worker, I have encountered positivity, but also just as much negativity. I started Sex Workers of San Antonio in June of 2018 to foster education and visibility in my community. We publicly debuted at Pride Parade 2018, and were surprisingly met with an overwhelming amount of love. Although I later stepped back actively organizing for a few months due to personal health issues, I remained confident in my theory that education is the key to our survival, and talked about sex workers’ rights whenever and wherever I could.

In January of 2019, I was asked to speak at the San Antonio Women’s March. Knowing that many people in the Women’s March movement adamantly opposed sex work, I debated taking the opportunity withmyself for a few days. Ashley Judd, a representative of the March, even called what I do “paid rape.” Such Sex Work Exclusionary Feminists (SWERFs) have long used this language to try and silence us and make us feel inferior, and associating with such people weighed on me.

Ultimately, I decided that being silent was simply not an option. This represented an unmissable opportunity to educate my community, so I spoke. That day, I came out to my mom and to my community as a proud sex worker, and I was met with love. I spoke about SESTA/FOSTA enabling sex traffickers who prey on SWs of color, low income, and trans people. Most critically, I pleaded that SWs are begging for acceptance into groups like DSA or Women’s March, and insisted that we shouldn’t have to build our own table when there are plenty where we should already be seated.

While the feedback online and on news outlets wasn’t kind, I was as inspired as ever to get the ball rolling. I’ve just been approved to lead a Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) chapter in San Antonio, which will give sex workers access to information about medical services, self-defense, and education about legislation that may affect us and how to fight it. Because a huge part of safe sex work is our health, I’ve also been working with Planned Parenthood to give workshops on safe sex work and what that looks like for different people. While Planned Parenthood is SW friendly, they aren’t vocal enough about it just yet, but I’m hoping to change that soon. I’m a proud sex worker and I wish I could scream it louder than I already do, but myorganizing will do that for me.

I was introduced to DSA after the Women’s March, when I was asked to run for a co-chair position with San Antonio DSA. Although I insisted that I wasn’t smart enough and lacked the organizing skills that some members had, which I legitimately thought was true, several members insisted with equal certainty that I was up to the task. In January I was elected as the chapter’s co-chair, and I have been working in the role for almost two months now.

Quickly I learned that if I wanted to create true change for sex workers, I had to start by advocating for us in political organizations. San Antonio DSA had endorsed Sex Workers of San Antonio and welcomed me into a space where my voice would be heard, but I consider those basic expectations. Being an unashamed absolute whore really gets you weird reactions in DSA, and I don’t mean that in an entirely negative way. It’s no surprise that women with known sex appeal who use it for monetary gain aren’t usually taken seriously as a political organizer in a white male dominated space, but there’s a first for everything. White men in DSA have dismissed me. Members have made me feel inferior and asked me inappropriate questions. Some are unable to stop looking at my body when I speak.

I’ve experienced all of this, and more. Internalized whorephobia doesn’t just disappear when you claim to be socialist, and in fact it often allows people to mistakenly feel comfortable that they are incapable of such prejudice. Combating these patterns of behavior and mental frameworks requires that members stop and actively check themselves. Is what you have to say more important than what they have to say? Why? A large part of taking on sex work as a political issue is seeing sex workers as knowledgeable political beings.

San Antonio DSA is relatively new to organizing for SWs rights, but we have extremely high hopes for bringing sex workers into our labor rights working group. We think it would be an informative topic to talk about at one of our Socialist Night School events, directly engaging those who haven’t included SW in their socialism yet.

I’ve only been organizing for about 10 months, so I’m still learning from every meeting and every interaction with members. Having assumed that organizing was relatively simple and mostly direct action, I wasn’t aware of all the networking and classroom style training that was involved. I had no clue that this was a more than full time commitment. I’m very grateful to have a chapter that is patient with me and is actively working to educate me on the logistics and nuances of organizing.

Nobody, including people in DSA, is perfect, and I don’t hold grudges against those who have made me feel inferior at one time or another, but it’s time to let whores into your organizing and invite them to lead the conversation. Invite local sex work chapters to your meetings and see how you can support each other. Hold a letter writing party for incarcerated sex workers (check out SWOP Behind Bars), donate some tasers or mace. Make sure your solidarity includes those whose humanity hasn’t been fully recognized.

Sex workers are organizing for our rights, and if you’re ready to work with us, whether through DSA or not, we’re ready to work with you.


To contact SWOP San Antonio, email: sanantonio@swopusa.org

Connect with San Antonio DSA…
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@SanAntonioDSA
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Pronouns and Praxis

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Pronouns and Praxis

Salem DSA moves members from “pronoun politeness” to solidarity across genders

I’m a queer, nonbinary person. The word nonbinary is a synthesis that works for me, for now, to resolve the contradiction between my experience of gender and the gender I was assigned at birth. I wish I had a more affirmative word, something to contribute to the vocabulary of a future society that includes me, but all I have right now is the negation of a gender binary. To cope, I often remind myself that revolution is at the soul of queerness.

I use they/them pronouns. I appreciate when someone asks me my pronouns, and when others introduce themselves using their pronouns. But simply using my pronouns correctly doesn’t necessarily make someone my comrade—for liberals who understand enough to gender me properly, it seems that respecting pronouns is close to the final frontier in their concept of queer liberation. And while my own concept of queer liberation will always be evolving through lived experience, it sometimes seems that comrades I trust deeply are worried that they will harm me by articulating a position or question about gender. That’s why I’ve been working with comrades across geographical and ideological lines to develop the conversation around moving from pronoun politeness to solidarity across genders. I hope this account is helpful for other new organizers like me: I wanted to transform the conversation about pronouns, but had to transform myself before I could stand with comrades to do that work together.

Approaching gender education simply as a non-cis person in the room

My first meeting with local DSA members was in November 2017, the early Pre-Organizing-Committee days of Salem DSA. I was brand new to politics outside liberalism. Almost a year later, meetings had started to run smoothly, we were making things happen in the community, and I had an informal leadership role in the not-yet-official chapter. In September 2018, I went to a Eugene DSA chapter meeting and co-facilitated a discussion on intersectionality and issues facing trans people. Then for the Salem meeting later that week, I changed the “Introductions” line on the agenda to “Introductions: Name and Pronouns.” Although I and others had given and asked for pronouns during introductions in the months prior to that meeting, this minor act of institutionalization felt like progress.

Because pronouns were getting more attention during introductions, there were a variety of reactions in addition to compliance. These usually ranged from ignoring the ask to nervous laughter. If anyone raised the question, “why are we doing this?” I would give a stumbling explanation of how my experience of gender was a radicalizing force in my life, and how using pronouns was a way of showing solidarity. Then the meeting would have to move on: I was usually facilitating, there was usually a lot to cover, and I usually wasn’t emotionally prepared to justify my existence.

Reflecting on those experiences helped me deal with that anxiety and consider comrades’ discomfort with pronouns in a different light. When I implicitly ask people to use my pronouns in the scenario of a quick roundtable series of introductions, what am I really asking for? Am I asking for an expression of surfacelevel liberal politeness, or an expression of deeply rooted comradely solidarity? Until queer feminist thinking becomes second nature for all comrades, to many, it probably seems I am asking for the former. I feel uncomfortable when I hear that nervous laughter, which I interpret in good faith as masking a fear of being ostracized for not knowing enough about gender and pronouns. But I also feel uncomfortable when asked to make or agree with a politicized statement if I don’t understand the politics behind the ask. Because pronoun use is often wielded in service of shallow liberal politics, I expect that leaving behind this assumption may be one of the first steps a comrade takes in developing a socialist politics of queer liberation.

Approaching gender education with structure and intent

Salem DSA publishes a quarterly newsletter with articles in Spanish and English written by locals about local and national issues. In the January 2019 issue, I wrote an article addressing how gendered oppression and In the January 2019 issue, I wrote an article addressing how gendered oppression intersects with other struggles. I argued that using pronouns can create more space for examining the contradiction between, for example, the socially constructed gender binary and the existence of trans and nonbinary people. This idea drove me to do more research beyond my personal experience of gender. I did this research to prepare to facilitate a local discussion on solidarity across genders, as well as to write this article you are now reading.

My expectation was that I’d get closer to some One True Take about gender, and be able to write a satisfying guide to teaching about pronouns. I wanted to invite a deeper discussion among comrades and normalize queer feminist thinking. But what this process showed me was that I could take the longest and most enlightening personal journey through selfexamination and literature review, and still fail as an organizer if I came back with only facts and figures to ask my comrades to memorize. Giving hurried, breathless tutorials on gender at the beginning of meetings with no room for discussion, and publishing that article in the newsletter, were both methods of positioning myself as the authority on gender. I needed to stop thinking of myself as the person in the room with the best opinions about gender, and cede my ground to make space for a mutual process of liberation from gendered oppression.

Following that insight, our socialist feminist working group is bringing this discussion out of the “I” space into the “We” space. We’re refining a plan to discuss solidarity across genders at our April general meeting. The major question we currently face is how to open a good-faith discussion where all our comrades can sit in the discomfort and vulnerability of not having all the answers about gender. It’s clear that many of our comrades are concerned about offending people with their lack of prior research, and many of us (myself included) still find it difficult to get past years of being told to be “polite.” We’ve been told not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and therefore to expect that nobody should make us feel uncomfortable.

We plan to start this discussion by asking explicitly for suggestions about ground rules and seeking consensus on those rules, so as not to ignore the needs of comrades who feel gendered oppression acutely. We then plan to take a problem-posing approach to the discussion, starting with self-examination. For instance, we will ask: What makes you feel the most connected to your sense of gender? What do you think others expect of you because of your gender? Next, we want to build toward an analysis of gender as a social and historical construct. This broaches other questions: Do we need a predominant idea of gender that rewards or punishes people for their gender expression? How has colonialism impacted the expression of gender on this continent? To complement this approach, we are identifying brief text and video excerpts to help jumpstart the discussion. After we try this approach, we plan to publish an analysis of how these ideas worked out in practice (including that source list, which at time of writing is still very much in progress) to the DSA Discussion Forum. We hope to connect with other chapters and improve the activity for the next iteration. Wish us luck!


To learn more about Salem DSA’s work, contact them at: salem.democratic.socialists@gmail.com

Connect with Salem DSA on…
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Salem Democratic Socialists of America
Twitter:
@salem_dsa

A Basic Hem To Prevent Fraying

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A Basic Hem To Prevent Fraying

When I first presented the idea of sewing lessons to the Queer Working Group of the Mid TN DSA I wanted to share my love and knowledge of sewing with my comrades who never had the opportunity to learn. Fixing something torn or frayed is empowering, it connects us to our labor and frees us from the financially draining and ecologically disastrous cycle of fast fashion.

  1. Select your needle and thread
    Put your needle through your shirt to keep it handy and safe.

  2. Measure out your thread
    From your hand to your heart with an outstretched arm is about a yard and is a good thread length.

    As we discussed the idea we quickly made the connection between the way clothing is designed for fast cheap construction (and strict gender roles) and our daily struggles as queer people.

  3. Thread your needle

    There aren’t really any secrets. Threading a needle sucks and only practice and luck and deep breaths will help.

    Being able to make clothing last longer and fit better was a simple practical step to make our own lives easier.

  4. Tie off your thread

    Bring the two ends of your thread together and slide your needle to the center. Treat the two threads as one and tie a knot near the end furthest from the needle.

    We started to brainstorm lessons, which quickly turned into planning more projects as the wide range of possibilities started to reveal itself.

  5. Fold your hem

    Fold the raw edge of your fabric up so that it is hidden on the inside or back of your project. The width of your thumbnail is a good repeatable amount to fold.

    We could do more than fix and tailor clothes. We could make cloth napkins and reduce our reliance on paper towels. We could make reusable pocket warmers and heating pads and menstrual pads. We could make grocery bags. We could even make pride flags and bandanas.

  6. Stabilize

    You could use an iron or a series of pins if you were setting a long or finicky hem but pressing your fold with your fingertips should often be enough.

    And we could make things for others too – like blankets and sleeping mats and pillows and dolls.

  7. Set your first stitch

    You can rely on the knot at the end of your thread but for extra hold after you set your first stitch slip your needle through the loop created by your knot, trapping your thread.

    We were truly giddy with power. We could do all these things with just a few lessons, some cheap supplies, and a little bit of coordination.

  8. Stitch

    Set your stitches perpendicular and across your raw edge. Keep your stitch height, width, and tension standard and equal. Making pretty even stitches takes more time but symmetry is strong.

    Front/Outside: | | | |
    Back/Inside: / / / /

  9. Tie off

    Start a stitch but don’t pull tight. Slip your needle into the loop three times and pull tight. Set one more stitch and trim your thread, releasing your needle. Tug your hem to test for weak spots or to smooth out any puckering. Bask in your success and teach a friend.

    We could do this together. We could create an all ages queer space based around creation and not consumption. We could empower each other and ourselves to make the world a little nicer. And we did.


Connect with Mid TN DSA on…
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Middle TN DSA - Democratic Socialists of America
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midtndsa.org
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Central Iowa DSA Expose CPC Campaign

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Central Iowa DSA:

Expose CPC Campaign

In November 2018, Central Iowa DSA’s socialist feminist working group started laying the groundwork for our campaign to expose crisis pregnancy centers in the Des Moines metro area. The work of comrades in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles inspired us to take action. The increasingly successful efforts of the Iowa State Legislature to shame and control pregnant people motivated us to begin this work.

In the winter of 2018, the Iowa House and Senate passed a fetal heartbeat bill. Although the Iowa supreme court ruled the bill as unconstitutional in Jan 2019, further attacks are gaining support in the legislature, such as the personhood bill that the Iowa state senate introduced in March 2019. As frightening and often demoralizing as these laws are, we as socialist feminists know that the struggle for reproductive justice is not limited to lobbying and rallying annually at the capitol building. We must expose the oppressive, patriarchal institutions that exist within our community unchecked.

Crisis pregnancy centers have existed in the Des Moines metro for decades. They’re such an unassuming part of the city that most people don’t even know what they are when they drive past them. Branded as a safe, non-judgmental spaces for young people experiencing pregnancy fears or crisis, CPCs such as Birthright are regularly invited into local schools to share misinformation about pregnancy, reinforce gender roles, and foster sexual shame. We’ve heard from several members of the community that the local catholic high school invites Birthright to speak at assemblies every year about the dangers of abortion and the sin of premarital sex, handing out small plastic fetus figurines to students in their skin tone.

A newer addition to the list of CPCs in Des Moines is InnerVisions Healthcare, which runs a high-spirited ad on local hip hop radio stations that makes their fake clinic sound like a fun place to hang out and chill. While tabling at an event last month, one woman heard about our campaign to expose fake clinics and said that when she taught in high schools the kids loved the crisis pregnancy centers because they would give them free clothes, gift-giving being another way they entice young, vulnerable people to come in their doors. Because CPCs target teens, we’ve decided to focus a good part of our organizing energies on talking with and organizing high school students in the Des Moines area.

As a first step to spread the word about our campaign and CPCs in general, in January members of our socialist feminist working group developed an Expose Fake Clinics Zine. We included information about what CPCs are, why exposing them is a socialist feminist issue, a list of local CPCs and a list of places pregnant people can receive actual healthcare and support. We also developed posters modeled after Pittsburgh DSA’s soc fem campaign posters, and we plan on posting those in the next few weeks in highly trafficked areas around CPCs. Included on the posters is contact info for the campaign, for which we developed a new gmail and google voice account so that folks who see our signs can call and share their stories.

This method for hearing from the community has been somewhat successful for our chapter’s housing justice work, and we hope that it will help us connect with people who want to talk about their experience at CPCs. This groundwork organizing will lead to public canvass sessions outside a crisis pregnancy center on one of the city’s busiest streets. In April we’ll be tabling at a local high school’s annual Femi Fest, an event organized by the school’s feminist club, to share the Expose Fake Clinics Zine and to invite students to join us in organizing, postering, and canvassing about CPCs. We will unite the teens for reproductive justice!

Another angle to Central Iowa DSA’s campaign to expose fake clinics is to push the narrative that abortion is healthcare, and that all pregnant people regardless of gender identity have a right to healthcare. Although our chapter is not currently involved in Medicare for All work, we see an opportunity to use our fight to expose crisis pregnancy centers to advocate for M4A as the only way to preserve pregnant people’s right to prenatal care, abortion care, or postpartum care.

Until now, these fake clinics have met with virtually no push back from the community and operate freely, in some cases receiving funding from the Iowa GOP’s family planning bill. As Iowa Republicans are regrouping and planning their next legislative attack on pregnant people, we’re working to connect with people outside of explicitly political institutions right here in our community. We know that regardless of what laws are passed, the rights of pregnant people have always been and always will be under attack unless we organize.

The religious right has won the abortion narrative, claiming to be on the side of “life” and “love”, by being incredibly well organized. It’s time for those on the Left to face the enemies of pregnant people by publicly exposing them in ways they don’t anticipate and by organizing with those who are most vulnerable.


To learn more about Central Iowa DSA’s Expose CPC Campaign work, contact the chapter at: centraliowademsocialists@gmail.com

You can follow Central Iowa DSA on…
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Central Iowa DSA
Twitter:
@DSM_DSA

Interview With Austin DSA: Feminist Action Committee

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Interview With Austin DSA

Feminist Action Committee

In recent years, the Texas legislature has become a testing ground for anti-abortion legislation. Increasingly onerous requirements have drastically limited abortion access, harming women in the process. For the past three years, Austin DSA has been running Bowl-a-thons to raise funds for low-income women who could otherwise not afford an abortion, as part of the National Network of Abortion Funds’ larger program. (website: https://bowlathon.nnaf.org/)

Megan Glenn from Build spoke with Alice Embree, one of the co-chairs of Austin DSA’s Feminist Action Committee, and one of the founding members of the chapter’s Bowl-a-thon program. Alice has been a socialist feminist for decades. She’s a veteran of many fights, working with women who pushed forward the Roe v. Wade case.

MG: How did you get started with the Bowl-a-thon?
AE: My friend, who was in DSA from 1982 on, said, “Let’s start a Feminist Action Committee and do a Bowl-a-thon.” I didn’t know anything about it. That was my intro to DSA’s socialist feminism work. In 2016, we raised about $3,000, in 2017 we raised twice that, and in 2018 we raised about $9,000 locally. And DSA all together raised $90,000 all over the country last year, which is awesome.

MG: What does Austin DSA’s Bowl-a-thon work look like for this year?
AE: This year we are working on about six simultaneous fundraisers for the Bowl-a-thon, and we have four teams. We’re trying to engage the chapter generally, that’s one of the things that’s strategically different this year. Some of our events had brought in the Socialist Feminist Committee and friends, but hadn’t gone deep into the chapter in previous years. So this year we’re doing bake sales, plant sales, poster sales, button sales, parties, a chili cook-off, and we are trying to work with a theater to screen a movie.

Right now we’re caught up completely in the Bowl-athon, but we also have names for a rapid response team that can oppose hideous bills being considered by the Texas legislature, which is always coming up with new ways to screw people out of any rights, including reproductive rights.

MG: What is an example of your legislative work?
AE: So there’s going to be a focus on stopping a fetal heartbeat law, it’s an abortion ban passing as fetal heartbeat legislation, we’ll get active on that. There’s a lot of talk in Texas about what happens in a post-Roe v. Wade world, and I’m one of the few people that can go, “I remember that, I remember it quite well.” I have a friend who received an abortion in a motel and nearly died from it. So I am seriously aware of where they want to take women back to.

I think one of the ways we need to talk about abortion is as healthcare, so that de-stigmatizes abortion. But we also have to emphasize the whole gamut of reproductive needs, whether you can have a child and actually raise the child, and have healthcare when you have the child, and have healthcare for yourself and the child, it’s all connected. Texas has a very low insured population, and terrible stats on maternal healthcare and infant mortality, so we’ll be working on the full gamut of reproductive justice, not just on the access to affordable abortions.

MG: What are some ways reproductive justice overlaps with other issues?
AE: We want to work with other DSA committees. We’ll try to work with the Austin city budget on childcare accessibility and on city funded efforts for childcare. We want to work with the city council to make childcare available during city council meetings.

There’s a big bond that passed for affordable housing, and we may be able to inject child care issues into that, so that there is accessible childcare near the new affordable housing.

MG: So what does that mean when it comes to the Feminist Action Committee and how it relates to the rest of the chapter?
AE: The FAC proposed a Reproductive Justice priority and it passed as one of five chapter priorities. It is very broad, addressing abortion, sex education, parental leave, prenatal care, child care, and free period products. For example, with prenatal health, there’s ways to work with the health justice committee. We can do some good outreach to our housing committee on childcare needs. We can work with our Labor committee on parental leave.

We’re doing a socialist night school on socialist feminism where we’re reading Audre Lorde, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Tithi Bhattacharya. I think the night school is a good door in for people that aren’t familiar with DSA. It will be a great opportunity to connect our work on the Bowl-a-thon to socialist theory. Theory is an area where we hear lots of men’s voices so this is a place of struggle for us as well.

At February’s general body meeting, we introduced our reproductive justice priority to the general membership. At the beginning of the year, Austin DSA passed five priorities for the chapter, and reproductive justice was one of them.

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So we’ll get 20 people in our committee meetings, and then at the general body meetings you’ve got to figure out how the committee will relate to them, and how you’re going to share your priorities. Because some people just come to these general meetings and sit in a room with 150 people, and then they leave. We need to get people engaged, which is the whole point, not just paying dues.

MG: So how did you present your topics at the general meeting?
AE: We did this great thing at the beginning: “What is the cost of having a uterus?” like The Price is Right. They got four guys up there and asked them, “What is the cost of 18 tampons?” and they were like, “It’s $1.” And then, “What is the cost of a first trimester abortion?” “What is the cost of childcare?” And the answers were almost always incorrect. It was a great learning device for people to understand this as an economic issue. There were breakouts on sex education, the Bowl-a-thon, childcare, and other priorities, so it was very interactive and not just somebody talking at the beginning of the meeting.

Last year, we did some great events, and we spread the work on the Bowl-a-ton, and I would look around and go, ok, I know there’s a bunch of people in Austin DSA, and we could have filled up this movie theater and we haven’t. So this year while we didn’t really name it as a strategy, we’re working on engaging with the membership better. I think that’s a very important feature, don’t have your committee work off to the side if you’re doing this. Figure out how to present it and engage your entire membership.

MG: So what role do you think the Feminist Action Committee plays in the chapter?
AE: Well, now the former chairs of the Feminist Action Committee are chapter co-chairs. So that’s an interesting development. I think it changes the tenor and discussion of debates. As I watched women who were in the committee, I felt I could see their ability to lead a meeting and their skill sets grow, their leadership capability grow, their voices grow. They project more. I feel the committee is a place of learning where they can inject skills learned in the FAC into the general body.

From my experience in the 1970s, I would not have learned to use my voice or to use my leadership skills in the way I have without a women’s movement that allowed me to do it. I come out of this organization from the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society, and I joke sometimes, “Damn if we had had progressive stack or a rule that you should let others speak before you speak again, our meetings would have been 15 minutes.”

I joke about it, but it’s really true that the male voices dominated, and the women did not speak up, and the women typically typed, did research, did a lot of the organizing work of keeping the chapter together. But they didn’t have a prominent role, and their efforts were generally ignored. And that set the stage, really, for women’s liberation in the ‘70s.

MG: What are some other things you’ve noticed about earlier feminist movements compared to socialist feminism within DSA?
AE: For me with DSA, I get to see just a tremendous amounts of energy. The thing that blows my mind about DSA is how much work people will gladly, eagerly and with great enthusiasm take on. I go, “Good lord, where has this energy been for two decades?” It’s very encouraging for me to see that kind of ability to go out and do door-to-door campaigns.

I will say very few of these young women have kids, and as feminists, the other thing to inject in DSA is to really be kid-friendly and parent-friendly. Because when you have all those responsibilities, people better understand that you have them, and you need help, and that you often need to drop back. At least when I had young kids I didn’t operate at the same pace of insanity.

People also need to understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You hopefully develop a lifelong set of values and skills in activism, and a bunch of comrades that will be there for your life. And for people that are just coming in, they don’t know that. I’ve seen it, “We’ll just have a general strike and the revolution will happen tomorrow.” I thought that in 1968 and it wasn’t true. This is a long build-out and lifelong dedication.

You’ve got to take care of yourself, because we’ve got a lot to do. That’s something feminists need to bring in to this, I think we have a good attitudinal way of looking at it.


To contact the Austin DSA Feminist Action Committee, email: feminist@austindsa.org

You can follow Austin DSA on…
Facebook:
Austin DSA
Twitter:
@austin_DSA
Instagram:
@atxds
Website:
austindsa.org

Planting Seeds — NYC-DSA's Red Sprouts Childcare Collective Takes Root

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Planting Seeds

NYC-DSA’s Red Sprouts Childcare Collective Takes Root

What were you doing as a 7-year-old from 7-9pm on a Wednesday night? Probably eating dinner and getting ready for bed, maybe watching TV—most likely not listening to your parents talk about bylaws at a DSA branch meeting.

There are many reasons why DSA is not welcoming to parents, but weeknight meetings and lack of childcare stand out as the most obvious. Getting a sitter on a potential work night is difficult, and anticipating one’s schedule in order to request childcare in advance is often impossible. This is why we need free childcare at every single DSA event, regardless of whether or not it is requested.

DSA is bigger than we’ve ever been. These growing numbers are exciting, but they require us to build infrastructure to keep up. We need to welcome people who rely on childcare in order to attend meetings, and we need that labor to be equitably distributed among our membership. As we work to become better organizers, childcare should be a skill that we alldevelop.

Organizing a childcare collective in DSA will advance our efforts to build a base for socialist politics in New York City in several ways. For starters, it will aid in building a more inclusive organization and community that welcomes all of the very many people who would like to organize with us, but aren’t able to due to childcare obligations. This will exponentially broaden and deepen our reach.

Second, we will be able to encourage socialist values among the children we are caring for. We hope to someday treat childcare like Socialist Sunday School—a chance for kids to learn a version of what their adults are talking about in a meeting, but in a fun, engaging, and accessible manner.

Last but not least, our collective can aid in building capacity and developing leadership among newer or less engaged members by providing them with a fulfilling activity through which to engage in DSA’s work and community. We’ve received a lot of interest from new DSA members who are looking for ways to contribute to the larger organization. There were a few concerns that we ran into right off the bat. Luckily, we’ve had nearly six months of meeting as a collective to debate, discuss, and figure out how best to tackle them:

Isn’t this a huge liability? Shouldn’t we be using professional childcare services?
Under our current capitalist system, liability often dominates the way that caregivers are trained. As a political organization, rather than a school or company, DSA is positioned to push back against the professionalization of childcare. Anyone who grew up in a big family can tell you that providing childcare is often just another shared community duty, not requiring professional training or certification. We thus view providing volunteer childcare in DSA events, meetings, and reading groups as a form of mutual aid, as it has been in working class communities for a long time. Red Sprouts is inspired by a long history of radical childcare collectives on the left.

We do want to make sure that we protect our volunteers, or “gardeners” as we call them, so we created a waiver that parents will sign before dropping off their kids (if you’d like a copy of this, or any of our materials, please contact us!). And, of course, to ensure that the sprouts are receiving excellent care, we developed a training based on conversations with current and former childcare professionals on our organizing team, that all caregivers will be required to complete before signing up for childcare shifts. We also made a commitment to always provide childcare in pairs, as is the practice in many afterschool programs and summer camps.

None of this means that we shouldn’t use professional childcare services when necessary. For example, when the organizers of the No Amazon Town Hall reached out to us about providing childcare for a massive event, which was a collaboration with several other organizations, we referred them to a co-op of childcare workers. However, we believe that for many internal DSA events, meetings, and reading groups, caring for our comrades’ children presents a more viable and accessible option.

Care work is systemically devalued under capitalism. As Socialist Feminists, shouldn’t we be paying people for their labor?
Much of the nitty gritty work that we do as organizers is feminized labor—whether it’s taking notes, coordinating food for a potluck, or administrative tasks such as sending out Doodle polls and frantically hunting for affordable meeting spaces (which in New York City is quite a nightmare—ask any branch OC member). We all do this work, not because we’re expecting compensation, but because it’s a part of being a good organizer. How is care work any different?

How do we avoid this project becoming SocFem members providing childcare for the rest of DSA?
We’ve been especially attuned to the gendered nature of childcare from the beginning. The people excited about providing childcare were, naturally, the ones with pre-existing experience. And since care work is an overwhelmingly non-male field, we were worried that our volunteers would be made up of folks who were already doing a great deal of the feminized labor, such as notetaking or administrative work, for the organization. This is why we’ve been targeting cis men specifically. In our pitches at branch meetings and in emails, we’ve called on cis men who are looking for a way to become more deeply involved in DSA’s organizing work to do so by becoming childcare providers, which we think is an especially fun and rewarding organizing activity!

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But I’m a cis dude, and I’m really not good with kids...
Back to the admin labor analogy—most of your fellow organizers are not going to have a lot of sympathy if you tell them that you’re “really just terrible at sending out Doodle polls!” Childcare, like scheduling, is a skill that people learn and develop, with guidance from more experienced comrades (of course, caring for a child is a much more difficult and higher stakes endeavor than creating a poll, as any parent can attest). We reject biological determinism in all forms, but particularly the idea that some people are “naturally” better with kids.

Some folks have had more experience because they became the de facto unpaid babysitters in their families, were encouraged to apply for after-school care jobs, taught Sunday School—the list goes on. We encourage our comrades who feel intimidated by childcare to examine that fear, and then face it head on!

It’s urgent that our cis male comrades develop and hone these skills, because in order for our movement to be successful, we need women and nonbinary folks in positions of leadership, which can be difficult if we’re also doing the lion’s share of socially reproductive labor. It’s no coincidence that some of the most successful workplace struggles of the past year, such as the LA Teachers’ Strikes, or last summer’s Nurses’ Strike in Vermont, were in the realm of social reproduction. Winning movements are led by caregivers and care workers, and we want to give them a chance to lead.

How do we get started?
Thus far, we have been working as a group of about a dozen core organizers, developing training materials and logistical frameworks for providing childcare. We began by soliciting interest from potential caregivers through an online form, while holding meetings with our core organizing team every few weeks.

Two decisions were crucial in our early development. First, we decided to take our time in developing our systems, as not to extend beyond our capacity. It would have been easy to feel like providing childcare was too important to wait, and we did receive some requests from large events before we were ready. In those cases, we recommended professional childcare services. The second strong decision we made early on, mostly on instinct, was to divide into two separate subcollectives: one for developing training, and the other for logistics. Dividing work like this allowed us to multitask, and led to greater leadership development. We plan on adding more divisions of labor, and perhaps forming a subcollective devoted specifically to long term projects like a Socialist Summer Camp or a DSA babysitting network for parents.

In January we reached out to our large list of over a hundred interested gardeners to enroll people in a training. We got about forty people to attend a two and a half hour training, after which we received very positive feedback! We’ve started taking childcare requests from several working groups and branches. Ultimately, we want to provide care at every DSA event, regardless of whether or not it is requested in advance. Our long-term goal is to make childcare skills widely held in the organization, so that volunteering to provide childcare at your working group or branch meeting is akin to taking notes or bringing food. At that point, a specialized childcare collective will no longer be necessary for day-to-day childcare, and we will have the opportunity to move on to larger projects.


To learn more about the NYC Red Sprouts work, contact them at: redsprouts.nycdsa@gmail.com

You can also follow NYC-DSA Red Sprouts on…
Twitter:
@RedSproutsNYC
Website:
redsprouts.wordpress.com

Lessons Of The Oakland Teacher's Strike: Childcare Isn't Nice, It Is Strategic

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Lessons Of The Oakland Teacher’s Strike

Childcare Isn’t Nice, It Is Strategic

Our country is experiencing a reawakening of the organized left. From Oklahoma to LA, thousands of public school teachers (a historically feminized field) are reminding us what it means to build collective power. More importantly, teachers are also redefining where their strikes are fought and what resources we need as socialists to fight with them.

A strong coalition of teachers, parents, community members, and students themselves built the power of the Oakland teachers’ strike. One of the key takeaways the EBDSA Socialist Feminist caucus found is that people don't organize in spite of having kids. 2019 is seeing the rapid radicalization of thousands of people across the country precisely BECAUSE of the crisis of care created by capitalism, and how it disproportionately affects those people (parents or teachers) who care for kids. Our job as socialists is to make sure they have what they need to organize with us.

Although a stunning 95% of teachers voted YES for strike authorization, a high participation strike required equal levels of family support. To paraphrase Pastor Jenkins (who organized the main West Oakland Solidarity School and Bread for Ed food hub at Taylor Memorial Church) “empty schools win teacher strikes.”

Building the support necessary to win required recognizing the role that public schools play in people's lives beyond education, and filling the gaps that shutting those schools would create. In the case of Oakland, this kind of social reproduction framework helped the OEA predict the two key challenges to solidarity between parents and teachers: food and childcare.

After months of canvassing and turning out DSA members to rallies in support of the union, the OEA trusted the chapter with the project of coordinating the teacher solidarity efforts. Oakland unified has 37,000 kids, and 70% of them depend on free or reduced school lunches to fulfill their nutritional needs. This program is the direct legacy of the Oakland born Black Panther Party's Free Breakfast Program.

In other words: EBDSA had really big shoes to fill. Bread for Ed was a massive lesson in coalition building, which forced our chapter to create fast alliances with an diverse number of parent, community and faith organizations. The goal was to feed thousand of kids throughout the city, to make sure food insecurity didn’t force parents to cross the picket line. Through these coalitions and a large number of PTA meetings, teachers were also able to encourage community organizations and parents to set up “solidarity schools”: places where working families could drop their kids off to continue going to work.

Even though most families didn't cross the picket line, only the parents in most need utilized solidarity schools from the get-go. For the most part, parents self organized in different ways. Some people rotated shifts taking care of their kid’s friend groups on different days of the week. Other parents took turns utilizing their sick days to keep their kids at home.

Attendance at solidarity schools grew with each day of the strike, particularly in POC neighborhoods such as West Oakland and Chinatown. A common thing to hear from parents bringing their kids to solidarity schools by the end of day seven was: “We are running out of sick days” or “I won’t have access to childcare next

week”

By the end of day seven, the bargaining team reached a tentative contract. As teachers prepared to vote on a contract that didn’t fully address their demands, keeping strong lines was not the only question on many union members’ minds. Members wrote long social media posts speculating whether parents would begin to cross the picket line, undermining the community support they had managed to build. Teachers decided to ratify the tentative agreement with a narrow majority before that possibility became a reality.

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For the last two years, the East Bay DSA SocFem caucus has engaged in a slow base-building strategy. So far we have not pursued steering committee seats within our chapter. Instead we’ve focused on creating spaces for raising consciousness on socialist feminist issues, and for holding separate organizing meetings where we put those lessons to practice. We also encourage our members to join official committees within the organization. This allows our members to bring the socialist feminist framework we are building into official DSA conversations.

In April 2018, Maura McMichael (one of the co-chairs of the EBDSA Socialist Feminist caucus) joined the Meetings Committee after the caucus identified childcare as a core issue we wanted to address. The chapter had offered childcare for the first time at its 2018 convention, and members we didn’t even know were parents showed up with their kids. This highlighted the fact that every time a parent shows to our meetings without their kids, someone else is not engaging with socialism to take care of them. The next step we took after this eye-opening event was to push for childcare at all of our general meetings.

As much as parents may like the idea of strike solidarity schools and free childcare, they are not likely to trust you with their kids on the first day. “What we have learned is that after seeing you for a few meetings, parents will trust you with their four year-old; two months later, they will bring the two year-old; a couple months later, they will bring the infant” said Maura. ”Next thing you know, mom is showing up to the meetings.” In many ways, providing consistent and reliable childcare without request has allowed for some of the invisible gendered labor behind our membership to be redistributed. By actively disrupting the systemic perpetuation of inequality within our own organization, we have also created the resources for our chapter to get to know our membership better.

In March 2019, our steering committee approved a Childcare Resolution submitted by the Meetings Committee with strong involvement of the SocFem caucus. This resolution expands the childcare program beyond the general meetings. Starting next month, all official chapter committees will be required to offer childcare at their events. The meetings committee will now provide committees with resources, training and leadership development opportunities for those members who volunteer to do childcare. Most importantly, it will help us identify parents as soon as they enter the organization, and connect them with public education organizing. Maura was the main author of the resolution, and has been key to building our childcare program. Building the support and consensus for this resolution began almost a year prior to the resolution passing, and its convergence with the teacher strike proved fruitful to both our chapter and our strike efforts.

As EBDSA SocFem, we believe that providing childcare and more actively engaging with the parents in our membership before they request childcare would have allowed for us to have a more robust and targeted socialist parent network to activate during the teacher strike. As we move forward with our childcare program, we are acknowledging as a chapter that the active engagement and support of our DSA families will strengthen both our chapter in general and our capacity to fight for public education specifically.

The research it took to build our childcare resolution also proved useful to the solidarity schools during the strike. Maura wrote the liability forms utilized at solidarity schools. The same language approved by the OEA will become part of our childcare program starting this month. Models of intergenerational engagement, such as the ones built by Pittsburgh DSA through Socialist Sprouts, allowed for us to encourage high-school students to volunteer at solidarity schools and Bread for Ed hubs.

This strike was an invaluable lesson for DSA members on the strategic importance of care work to building working class solidarity across racial and class lines. Even though the strike ended, the fight for Oakland’s public education is far from over, and the efforts of our chapter have not gone unnoticed. "If we are going to continue doing base-building work with teachers, parents and students” said Maura, “it is crucial for our organization to create the supportive spaces necessary to engage them in the ongoing struggle for public education."

Building the capacity to support working parents takes resources, and time, but it is crucial to forging the kind of unbreakable solidarity that wins strikes. At the end of the day, when the working class trusts you withtheir kids, they trust you with their future.


To learn more about the East Bay DSA Socialist Feminist Caucus, contact the chapter at: ebdsasocfem@gmail.com

You can also follow the caucus on Twitter at: @EBDSASocFem

Period Packs For The Unhoused

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Period Packs For The Unhoused

Build: Introduce yourself – How long have you been in DSA San Francisco?
Tiffany C: My name is Tiffany, and I’ve been a member of DSA SF since November 2017. I’m the current Vice Chair of the Homelessness Working Group, which is committed to fighting systemic violence against the most marginalized members of our community. Over the last couple years, we’ve worked directly with unhoused folks and advocacy organizations to raise awareness of the struggles of homelessness, and alleviate those struggles where possible.

B: What is the homeless situation like in SF?
TC: It’s one of the worst, if not THE worst, crises facing our city. The last point-in-time count in 2017 reported around 7,500 homeless people in San Francisco. That likely underestimates the real figure because the way we determine that number is volunteers going out on foot or by car on one night every two years and counting every person they see that “looks” unhoused. It’s not exactly a scientific method. The waiting list for a shelter bed is over 1,400 people long as of today.

“Dire” is an understatement. Not only are folks exposed to the elements and the physical dangers of being unsheltered, police constantly harass them to “move along” in what we call sweeps. The city frequently confiscates their personal belongings and bare means of shelter (e.g. tents, sleeping bags). Homelessness takes an enormous physical and mental toll on those experiencing it.

B: What’s in the period packs that you distribute?
TC: Pads, tampons, wet wipes, tissue packs, hand sanitizer, ibuprofen, nail clippers, socks, lotion, water and snacks, and a “Know Your Rights” pamphlet created by the Coalition on Homelessness containing information on what to do if belongings are confiscated by SF Police or the Department of Public Works. I wanted to help return a bit of normalcy and dignity to people on the street who can’t just walk into a store and grab some tampons, or lay in bed with a heat pack like I do when I’m on my period. Everything routine for a housed person is infinitely more of an uphill battle for a unhoused person; this is just one example out of so, so many.

B: How did you start the project?
TC
: We’d done service events in the past like providing food. Actually, one of the first activities I participated in as a DSA member was helping cook a big pot of chili and distributing cups of it in the Mission neighborhood right before New Years 2018. During one working group meeting, someone floated the idea of collaborating with the Socialist Feminist Working Group to hand out menstrual supplies, and it took off from there. This was our first Period Packs event in March of 2018. SocFem put together a list of items to include in the packs, based on input from incarcerated students.

We set up a GoFundMe page and put the word out on social media. Within a day we hit our initial goal of $500, which blew me away! We ended up surpassing that and ordering around $800 worth of supplies online from bulk warehouse stores (not Amazon!). Around 20 volunteers consisting of DSA members and “DSA curious” got together on March 3rd, 2018 to assemble and distribute the packs. It was a great, lowbarrier way to get folks plugged into our chapter and our work. We went out in small groups to distribute the packs in neighborhoods known to have more unhoused folks: the Tenderloin, Bayview-Hunters Point, and SoMa.

We also contacted the Coalition on Homelessness for pointers on finding encampments, as folks are often “swept” by SFPD and forced to move constantly, which makes it harder for us to reach them.

B: What has the unhoused community’s reaction been like? The community generally? Local government?
TC: The reception from the unhoused community has been very positive. For Period Packs in particular, there wasn’t a lot of publicizing outside the chapter, so we didn’t hear feedback from the wider community or the local government. We got decent press coverage for our Survival Gear Distribution event of tents, tarps, ponchos, and sleeping bags during the bad rainstorms in early January/February, and for our smoke mask distribution during the wildfires. We actually ended up distributing more masks than the city itself.

The intent behind these service events is to make up, in whatever small way we can, the city’s shortcomings. It’s bittersweet. I feel such a rush of inspiration and affection for my comrades when they organize to distribute masks or tents within a manner of hours, but I’m incredibly disappointed by the utter lack of urgency toward the crisis from those who have the most power and resources. All of our events are powered purely by volunteer effort and individual donations. How much more could be accomplished with the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on board?

B: Do you have any anecdotes from handing out the period packs?
TC
: One common theme we heard over and over when we went out was about police harassment and being swept. One person I talked with mentioned having their HIV medication confiscated.

B: How many packs have you provided to people?
TC
: In March we handed out around 80 big ziploc bag packs, and in August we did around 120 in nicer fabric tote bags.

B: Do you plan on continuing the project?
TC
: Yes! I’m aiming to do another Period Packs event by this summer. We’ve also discussed not just putting essentials in packs, but fun things too, like nail polish, makeup, and face masks. Just a little something, again, to restore some normalcy in people’s lives.

B: If you could request one “ask” from the city or state government, what would you ask for?
TC: My ask would be permanent housing, first and foremost. My biggest wish, however weird it may sound, is that we never have to organize another service event again because every person has their basic needs met. The dichotomy of housed and unhoused people, the haves and have-nots, should not exist. I often wrestle with the question of Period Packs being charity or mutual aid, but no matter what the answer is, I know that we are building solidarity with our unhoused neighbors and comrades.


To contact the Homelessness Working Group in DSA SF, email them at: homelessness@dsasf.org

Bringing Socialist Femmes and Queers Together

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Bringing Socialist Femmes and Queers Together

I came to Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) through feminist organizing. I’ve also been a member of Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) for several years. Through this network, I’ve had the opportunity to be in lots of rooms where the only people present are women. This usually means a group of five to thirty women gathering in a circle. Rather than the typical “stand and deliver” method of facilitating, everyone is equal. Each voice is critical to the conversation. Everyone is there to listen, and no one is trying to control the room.

These experiences have transformed me. They strengthened my self-confidence, and helped me build relationships that have pushed me to expand my awareness of social justice.

When I joined Central Iowa DSA, I was one of the few women and one of few queer people in the chapter. I recognized that the safe spaces WFAN created could potentially bring more women and queer people into DSA. We obviously needed it, as many women and queer people across chapters shared their frustrations with misogyny and patriarchy in DSA, but were unsure how to combat it.

We held several Socialist Feminist Working Group meetings at the end of 2017 and throughout 2018. Based on my experiences bringing together groups of women, we asked that cisgendered male comrades not attend. Our comrades respected this request, for which I am grateful. Since bringing this SFWG organizing approach to other chapters I have found more pushback from cisgendered male members. The first SFWG meeting was purely social and the second meeting was a discussion about emotional labor. I immediately noticed that women who I knew identified as leftists or socialists in Des Moines, but never come to DSA meetings, attended the SFWG. They explicitly told me they came because they wanted to be in a space without leftist cisgendered men.

This is how I began to understand that socialist feminist organizing is critical for base building in DSA.

Other chapters across Iowa were interested in our work. We decided to bring together women from all of the chapters for Iowa’s first Socialist Feminist Convergence in March 2018 in Iowa City, Iowa. The first planning call was myself and...one male comrade. I learned that if we wanted to hold the Convergence at the public library, we would not be able to exclude men. Despite my extensive experience bringing together groups of only women, this was the first time I had encountered this issue.

We allowed men to join the Convergence, but asked that women and gender non-conforming members of the group who wanted to form their own small groups to discuss readings do so. One group of only women and gender non-conforming members read Why I Became a Feminist Socialist by Hillary Wainwright, while other groups that included cisgendered men read What is Socialist Feminism by Barbara Ehrenreich and Buddhism, the Beats and Loving Blackness by bell hooks. We asked the reading groups to share what they learned with everyone. Before breaking into small groups we came to community agreements, which included running the meeting with progressive stack.

The space was meant to prioritize the voices of women and gender non-conforming members, however cisgendered male comrades did feel the need to contribute their thoughts and opinions throughout the day.

Over lunch we encouraged open-ended conversation and brought a craft project, embroidering a DSA logo onto a small patch. We also held a menstrual product drive and made donations to a women’s shelter. In the afternoon we had two facilitated conversations on socialist feminism and housing and socialist feminism and healthcare.

During the last hour and a half the cisgendered men agreed to leave so the women and gender nonconforming members of the group could have their own space. During that time the remaining attendees sat in a circle and shared about themselves and their experiences living as socialist feminists in Iowa. This mimicked the spaces I’d been part of in WFAN and in our Central Iowa SFWG. The vast majority of the women attending wrote that the space without cisgendered men was the most profound part of the day. Many attendees had never been in an organizing space without cisgendered men, and they said there was a fundamental shift in their comfort level and ability to speak up.

Many of the women and gender non-conforming members connected via social media after the Convergence and worked together to provide readings and advice for starting SFWGs in their own chapters. As a result of this Convergence, we held two learning circles on socialist feminism at the Iowa Socialist Summit, including one specifically for women and gender non-conforming members. This also opened the door for more cross-chapter collaboration. Later that same year, the Central Iowa DSA SFWG planned a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project, which brought together women and gender non-conforming members from at least three chapters, and served as a service project for our men’s Anti-Patriarchy Working Group.

Centrist Democrats and Republicans are easy to find in most communities. Whether you live in a deep red, blue, or purple district, holding socialist views can be very isolating. The reality is that many DSA chapters are primarily comprised of straight white cisgendered males, and even if the men present identify as good feminist allies, being a woman or queer person in these spaces can be even more isolating. We must still overcome persistent social and cultural barriers.

In general meetings, women, even the most outspoken women, must overcome gendered teaching styles we’ve all been exposed to. This impacts everyone, not just women, negatively. In “You Just Don’t Understand,” which covers differences in communication styles between men and women, Deborah Tannen tells a story of a woman student doctor who was very bright but asked a lot of questions. Administrators passed her over for advancement, and asked why, they said it was because “she didn’t know much” because she was asking a lot of questions.

Tannen’s research shows that the goal of conversation for men is negotiating for status in the social hierarchy. They do this by “exhibiting knowledge and skill, and by holding center stage through verbal performance such as storytelling, joking or imparting information.” They see asking questions as an indication of low intelligence or lack of understanding.

Because women have learned how to navigate conversations and educational spaces dominated by these patriarchal influences, we tend to downplay our intelligence. For example, we might preface a question with a phrase like: “Well I might be stupid but I have to ask…” In reality, several people might have the question, but the woman student is the only one willing to risk asking. Even if we as organizers don’t see DSA as an educational environment, many people joining DSA are new to organizing and consciousness-raising. It is a learning space for them.

I would go even further than saying women-only and queer-only spaces still matter. Spaces explicitly focused on discussing feminism and the role of patriarchy in all of our lives matter. Spaces for people of all gender identities to discuss the role of dismantling patriarchy matter. Within months of Central Iowa DSA’s SFWG beginning, we noticed that some of our cisgendered male comrades also wanted a space to discuss feminism, so they started their own anti-patriarchy working group to facilitate safe spaces for vulnerable conversation.

By creating this space to focus on discussing feminism, we are clarifying that feminism is a critical component of our organizing, not simply an afterthought. We’re creating space where members of various gender identities have room to learn and grow from where they are at.

As members of all gender identities spend time and expand their understanding of feminism in these spaces, we will build a stronger organization where we can all grow as feminists and act on what we learn in every organizing space. Our success in becoming a truly socialist feminist organization will determine our success in bringing about socialism in this country period, and we are doing the work to make this transformation happen.


To learn more about the Central Iowa Socialist Feminist Working Group, contact the chapter at: centraliowademsocialists@gmail.com

You can follow them on Twitter: @DSM_DSA

Reading Commentary: The Fifth Season

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Reading Commentary:

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin’s 2010 debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, swept that year’s Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre awards and positioned Jemisin, in the ahistorical rhetoric particular to American arts and letters, as an overnight sensation. (Never mind that “overnight sensations” almost invariably have behind them decades of unrecognized work; never mind that Jemisin spoke and speaks candidly about the struggle of writing while holding a full-time day job for access to health insurance and subsisting in a large American city.)

It’s Jemisin’s second book this socialist feminist recommends to you now. It’s also a book that smashed the typically impenetrable boundaries between “genre fiction” and “serious literature” established by, and so profitable to, institutional publishing. The Fifth Season is the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy, and the dedication reads, “For all those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.” Like Ursula and Octavia before her, Jemisin did not come to the fantastical to play nice. Escape is not on the agenda.

In The Fifth Season and its sequels, we are in a speculative future, long past the damages done to our known world by climate change. “This is how the world ends—for the last time.” In this world, beyond any conception of known political economies, structures of inequality persist, and those most exploited are those least informed. Fulfilling the best of the promise of Le Guin and Butler, Jemisin’s “fantasy” is in imagining not merely the dystopian futurist injustices but the anti-hierarchical, democratic, and communal points of resistance. In any world, our greatest conjurers of possibility tell us, life is only life when social relationships are valued above individual power.

Which is not to suggest conflictless utopia: Jemisin’s extraordinary narrative achievement is revealing the rifts in one’s one communities, the tensions innate in people, messy and impulsive and primal as we are, attempting to survive together. What matters, for that imperative pursuit beyond survival and into life, is how those tensions are acknowledged, responded to by the community. When violence—physical, political, sociological, diagnostical—is the motive for social organization, no community will ever know equality, but communities can overcome structural violence by recognizing and truthfully confronting those impulses. Difficult, perhaps even impossible, work—but therein lies the revolution.



Haleh Roshan is an Iranian-American writer and DSA member in New York City.
Hang out with/commission her:
@halehroshan

Big Witch Energy

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Big Witch Energy

I don’t know how to charge crystals in the moonlight
or which talismans will ward against harm.

I’ve never collected herbs in the wilderness, cast bones,
or read the leaves. But when your heart beats, my heart beats.

I have spent a lifetime collecting the wisdom of mothers. I
have sought sisterhood longer than I have drawn breath.

I don’t know which invocation will connect me to
the earth. What is my place in this choir?

The moon is bright and the wind is fierce. The ocean
roils. I am made of fire, wind, and ocean.

I deserve the space I occupy. Hold my hand. We
bring light and life to the world.

Our bodies are made of fury. I will sacrifice my
body for my sisters, if needed. I will become smoke.

If spellcraft is a matter of intention, know this: all of
my fire, all of my wind, all of my ocean is ready for war.

Know this: a circle neither begins nor ends. I will
draw circles and sing until there are no more songs to sing.

By JD Hegarty

Build #6 - April 2019

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Download the printable PDF of Build #6 here.

Empire thrives on making us feel alone. The ruling class wants us to believe there is no help when they evict us from our homes. They want us to believe we should feel ashamed of the abuse they inflict on many of us. They have ingrained these types of myths into our consciousness. Capitalism wants us to believe that the only way to live freely is through self-sufficiency.

Some of us work 80-hour weeks, in addition to shouldering domestic responsibilities never meant for a single person, and we are often made to feel guilty for reaching out to our loved ones for support. In many of our roles, we are forced to solve problems individually, rather than collectively. Capitalism locks us into lonely and miserable lives. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34. Alienation and loneliness are features, not bugs, of capitalism.

As socialists, we know the solution to these structural problems is not individualized. Yelling at individual men will not single-handedly abolish patriarchy. Instead, we focus our energy in implementing policies that lift up women and gendered minorities. Since capitalism profits from making us feel powerless, organizers have one of the greatest tasks of all: showing our communities how powerful we can be through collective action.

When we organize, we are building cultures of care. We are fighting for our neighbors, our coworkers, our families, our friends, and ourselves. Within DSA, we are building structural solutions to the ruling class’ destruction of our communities. We have neighborhood hangouts, craft nights, and beer caucuses to build relationships so that we can fight alongside each other. We fight for tenants unions, learn how to talk to our coworkers about socialism and healthcare, and remind each other that we can be loud together until they can’t ignore us.

The most beautiful part of socialism is that it is impossible to do alone. Socialism is the antidote to the disease of alienation capitalism. We refuse to allow Empire to convince us that we have to go through this dark world alone. When we organize together, we show the deepest type of love to one another: solidarity.

When we do nothing, the same forms of oppression we are trying to fight replicate themselves in the very spaces we hope will foment and facilitate revolution. The first people to get pushed out are typically the most marginalized among us, who are typically doing the draining work of keeping our organizations afloat.

A lack of community care is how movements are destroyed. As organizers, we are constantly on alert and witnessing burnout in our work. Party machines and non-profits view volunteers as transactional. We must reject this approach. Our goal is not to schedule as many people for a phone bank or canvassing shift as possible. This framework that views people as disposable also allows ableism, xenophobia, transphobia, and multiple forms of oppression to thrive.

We all bring skills, gifts, and behaviors that can uplift and support one another. We must harness this potential to revolt against the ways in which capitalism wants us to relate to each other. It will be messy and challenging, but it will be worthwhile. Pour energy and resources into implementing strong harassment policies and community standards; they protect us and hold us accountable.

We want to win, but we cannot win alone. Taking community care seriously and integrating it into all of our organizing is of the utmost importance. We have a responsibility to each other, and developing community care is not only important for our day-to-day survival, it is necessary for our liberation. We engage in the struggle because we have no other option. Our lives depend on it. We organize because we care so much about each other and ourselves. We deserve lives full of laughter.

Sometimes we cry through emails, or while on mute in conference calls. It is so hard to communicate with each other when we all have our unique lived experiences. We study socialism because we know that we can figure out what brings us together and what connect us. By engaging in the struggle, we can discover that the oppression we face is not the only thing linking us together. We also share a deep desire to live in harmony. To bake, to knit, to paint — to live beautiful and wonderful lives together; this is the world we want.

We have seen glimpses of this better world. We have fed each other on the picket line. We have won races that seemed impossible. We have hula-hooped with each others’ kids. We have raised more money for abortion care than we thought was possible. The hell world we live in is engineered to keep us down. But, we are fighting back.

We are lifting each other higher than the ruling class could ever know. We are building something new.

 
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Stomp Out Slumlords

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Metro DC DSA reflects on the highs, lows, and lessons learned

Metro DC DSA is a large chapter, but we sometimes struggle to find our place in the snarl of nonprofits, political institutions, and community organizations at work in the nation’s capital. Stomp Out Slumlords (SOS), a campaign that began as a collaboration between an experienced organizer and a housing lawyer but has since drawn in dozens of DSA members and sympathizers, has quickly become one of our most successful projects. In November 2018, SOS was highlighted when DC Jobs with Justice, a local coalition of labor and community groups, recognized MDC DSA for its local activism. The campaign’s work has only expanded since then, but it hasn’t always been a straightforward process.

In the pieces below, SOS organizers look at their corners of the project and reflect on the lessons they’ve learned in the past two years. We hope they’ll be useful for other chapters as they work out ways to build working-class power in their own communities.

LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
Ray V., project impresario

Our initial project idea in the spring of 2017 was simple: mobilize tenants with eviction cases to flood the landlord-tenant court in an effort to grind the machinery of eviction to a halt.

The numbers initially seemed impressive. We found one person can knock doors for a maximum of about 50 households threatened with eviction in an afternoon. This included time to get into apartment buildings and have worthwhile conversations with the people we contacted. If we turned out 10-20 people every two weeks (canvassing more frequently than that led to burnout) and canvassers worked in pairs (which we always do), we reached about 300-500 households per canvass.

But we’re lucky if a third of those people are home when we knock. At that pace, we can only expect to talk with about one-tenth of the roughly 30,000 households sued in landlord tenant court every year in Washington, DC. Our data analysis suggests that for every ten face-to-face conversations we have, one tenant who would have otherwise missed their court date shows up. Although we were making a positive difference in people’s lives, this effort alone could not create a critical mass of people to drastically alter the court’s daily operations.

Nonetheless, our Know-Your-Rights canvass provides an entrypoint into embryonic struggles breaking out all around us. When we canvass, we meet tenants who have sued their landlord, started petitions about building conditions, or joined a tenant association. A surprising number of tenants we talk with have been sued for deliberately withholding rent in protest. Gradually, we’ve adapted our strategy and oriented our work towards supporting these struggles. We help angry tenants formulate demands to unify their neighbors, foster organization, and plan collective action to take on the landlord. We are also supporting organizing projects in five properties across the city, developing a training program for our cadre who are learning to organize on the fly, and beginning to think about building an umbrella organization to unite militant tenants from different buildings, all while continuing our canvassing and court support programs.

Still, one thing hasn’t changed: our overriding goal from the beginning of the project of connecting with ordinary Washingtonians who aren’t predisposed to come to DSA meetings, helping them unite in collective struggles to transform their material circumstances, and thus gradually rebuilding the working class as a political subject.

ON THE GROUND AT COURT
Allison H.

Landlord-Tenant Court is one of D.C.’s many windows into a failed system. 95% of tenants who attend their hearings do not have a lawyer representing them, while only 5% of landlords arrive unrepresented. Each morning starts at 9AM with roll call. The clerk reads off the names of cases being heard that day. If you do not say you are there, or your name is Trujillo and the clerk does not know how to pronounce it, you receive a losing “default” judgement.

SOS’s bread and butter has always been Know-Your-Rights canvassing, but in 2018 we added court support as a new component. Court support volunteers attended roll call on dates when we knew large sections of tenants we’d canvassed were scheduled to appear. Attending roll call was initially meant to be our final “touch” in the campaign to overload the court. In this last push, we could encourage tenants to speak with the free pro-bono attorneys who staff the court each day, and remind them to opt for consent agreements over highly-constructive consent judgments. (In a consent judgment, a tenant signs away their rights and can be evicted immediately if they fail to hold up their end of the deal.)

This strategy failed for two reasons. First, the U.S. Marshals who work as Landlord-Tenant Court security guards decided organizers distributing legal information flyers was “solicitation” and kicked us out of the building. Nearly every time we go to court, guards force any volunteer who wears something less formal than a suit or is too conspicuous while speaking with a tenant to leave. Second, we misjudged tenants’ frustration with the court’s grim, faceless bureaucracy. Tenants often chose to negotiate directly with their landlord’s attorney rather than wait for hours to get advice from an overworked advocate.

Much as we reworked our initial plan to overload the court, we’ve also had to rework how we connect with tenants while there. Our outreach at court is now much more targeted. We only speak with tenants living in buildings where we are building relationships. This allows us to connect them with ongoing organizing in their building, rather than simply offering to show them where they can wait in line for a lawyer (though we occasionally do that as well). Court support remains one of the more frustrating aspects of our project, and one I hope to spend more time refining in 2019.

FROM CANVASSING TO ORGANIZING A BUILDING
Sam M., with Stephanie B.

Working with SOS was my first experience with real organizing. Naturally, it was also my first experience with the highs and lows of organizing, its successes and failures. I started canvassing with SOS in October of 2017, and began organizing in a building that December. The newness was certainly conducive to a practical kind of humility! There were missteps and many low moments I could mention. Here, though, I’m going to share a high point. This one stuck with me.

It was our first major meeting after a big victory. The landlord had agreed to change management companies and do serious renovations and exterminations of the building. The turnout was one of our biggest yet: over forty tenants. A city councilmember attended and was promptly asked if he could help with the dog shit in the corridors. (Dearest reader, he could not.)

A parallel victory was that the tenants managed the entire meeting. Two of our lead tenants in the building ran a tight ship, and my fellow organizer and I were only there to help take attendance and minutes. We both spoke just once to answer direct questions. After the councilmember retreated, the question was put: how do we want to be treated by this new management company? This sparked a heated discussion, which flared up when one tenant questioned another tenant’s account of being mistreated by security. Just as the meeting was about to disintegrate into recriminations, one of our core tenants in the building intervened.

She had canvassed with us for several months now, but had been generally hesitant to take the lead talking to to her neighbors, even with a little gentle encouragement. Here, she spoke concisely and without hesitancy. “We can’t fight each other,” she said. “It’s not tenant against tenant, it’s management we need to be directing our anger at. Yeah, it’s not your job to pick up trash, but if you do a little, people will do it too. We do have security, but we have to watch out for each other too.”

The conflict was quashed, and people were feeling it, with later complaints mostly directed against management. After the meeting, she made her way over to us. “I found my voice,” she said, grinning at me, and I beamed back.

“YOU WOULD HAVE ACTUALLY THOUGHT THEY’D LIVED HERE”
Reactions collected by Paul B.

(who swears he couldn’t get them to come up with any constructive criticism)

These are reflections from a group of tenants whose organizing efforts we started supporting and advising on a month and a half ago. They’d just had a very successful turn-the-tide sort of meeting with the building’s owners and management staff.

Marlo:

“What I found useful the most was your input about what our rights were, about how unity would be a huge part of getting a great response. I think the teamwork ethic that you guys have was impeccable. The fact that you guys showed up to do a canvass…was a great gesture on your part.”

Lowell:

“You’ve always been in contact by email. Any questions I have had or that I wrote to you for the group there’s always been a response. You guys always respond in an hour or so. It’s not like the next day. You guys came out and helped us with the canvassing which we were definitely new to and I think we learned a lot from you guys and we became confident with doing it. You’ve been there since the beginning with us.”

Charmaine:

“I think your approach was perfect. All of us were a little uncomfortable going to the tenants knocking on folks doors, even though a lot of the residents you might see in passing, but your presence helped us to be able to accomplish what we set out to do. Not only that but your input, how you guys showed up, how you helped with the baby sitting, suggestions that you made like to offer snacks, things we weren’t even thinking about.”

Charmaine:

“You pretty much prepared us for this which is an excellent thing.”

Lowell:

“Even with the success of our last meeting, I mean, Anna and Mackenzie, you would have actually thought they’d lived here because they were that happy.

THE DATA THAT MAKES IT POSSIBLE
Jasper C. and the SOS Data Team

It was fortunate that in Fall 2017, months after the SOS project began, the DC Superior Court system opened an online court portal to make public court information more easily accessible to the public. In the first few months of the project, SOS volunteers went to the court in person to ask for court records, but now this task could be done from the comfort of one’s own home.

Address pulling and creating walksheets is one of the more essential tasks for our anti-eviction canvassing, but it can quickly turn into dull and repetitive administrative work. Even with the online docket browser, transcribing 600 addresses from PDFs into a spreadsheet by hand can feel overwhelming. And that’s when the DC court website isn’t taking 30 minutes to load a page. We are working on automating parts of this task. First, we’ve gotten better about splitting up transcription work on a shared spreadsheet. A pool of about 30 volunteers chips in 1-5 hours early in the week before a canvass, each picking away at the pile of cases that need information filled in.

One volunteer also created a web scraper that moves the process even further along before a human touch is needed. The scraper pulls the tenant’s and landlord’s names off the webpage, and even downloads the docket PDF containing the tenant’s address. The DC Court system runs on an unholy combination of javascript and enterprise server-side software that can’t be automated with simple scraper tools, so we actually use a headless browser to get the website to cough up its secrets. Put plainly, it isn’t just a matter of pointing the computer to the correct URL and siphoning up the HTML data. We must have the computer simulate the whole webpage behind the scenes and click through the interface like it is a “real user” indistinguishable from one of our DSA comrades.

Doing addresses for the SOS campaign is an exercise in not losing the forest (the larger project of shutting down the eviction system) for the trees (which management companies are we looking at this week?). When making walksheets, one must choose walkable clusters of eviction cases while also relying on field reports and institutional knowledge of likely bad actors. Sometimes we go off of tips for badly managed properties, and sometimes we just go after known slumlords. Careful human judgment and streamlined automation work in tandem to prepare our organizers to hit the streets.

BUILDING ORGANIZERS,
NOT JUST ORGANIZING BUILDINGS

Greg A.

When I moved to DC in 2017, I started organizing with Stomp Out Slumlords because it seemed like the kind of campaign you could just slot into: show up, grab a partner and a walksheet, and go. I didn’t realize that the easier a campaign looks on the front end, the more work it takes behind the scenes.

The decisions you make as you’re doing that work cause invisible ripples that can transform the campaign’s entire culture. Early on we thought we could do without meetings; today meetings are a core part of the work, as a venue for political education and an opportunity for the various parts of an increasingly sprawling and specialized project to intersect. We also dealt with burnout by canvassing less often and streamlining our preparations. Recently we’ve focused on building group cohesion, as we’ve come to recognize that people who like and trust each other are more likely to show up and “do the work”—but we try to branch out beyond the traditional happy hour format by organizing museum outings, potlucks, and housing-specific reading groups.

Yet challenges remain. The more tight-knit a subgroup gets, the harder it is for new people to plug in. Worse, the overrepresentation of cis white men can become amplified over time: not everyone feels equally comfortable socializing in a group when they’re distinctly in the minority, as women can be at our large canvasses and social events, though not in our building organizing group.

To survive, we can’t get complacent and take refuge in inertia (“as long as one remains a monk, one goes on tolling the bell”). Nor can we rely on the same people month after month. We’re building for the long haul, which means that sometimes we have to sacrifice immediate efficiency for the sake of training new leaders. Eventually, we hope to organize enough buildings that tenants themselves will take the reins. If we haven’t built an open, flexible organization by then, our efforts will have been wasted. There’s a whole working class out there to organize.


To learn more about Metro DC DSA’s Stomp Out Slumlords campaign, contact the organizers at: tenants@mdcdsa.org

You can also follow Metro DC DSA on…
Facebook:
Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America
Twitter:
@mdc_dsa
Meetup:
meetup.com/mdcdsa
Website:
mdcdsa.org

 
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Building Independent Working Class Power With TANC

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Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC) grow working class power in East Bay

INTRODUCTION

The evidence that working class people are losing a battle with capital is everywhere. We feel it in the marked deterioration of our lives — in declining wages, the elimination of social programs, and painfully skyrocketing rents. Less evident, but more decisive, is the impact of decades of counter-revolution on class struggle itself. Active class struggle has waned since the 1970s as the popular institutions that once supported this struggle have drastically declined. Organizations that promote liberal practices, reinforce capitalist logics, and strengthen civil organizations embedded within the capitalist political parties have replaced these popular institutions.

Many popular movements in the United States have forgotten where the source of our class power lies. Entire generations can’t remember what class struggle looks like. We have lost the blueprint. The steady rightward drift of US politics demonstrates the inadequacy of non-profit advocacy organizations, electoral campaigns, and bureaucratic business unions. The toothlessness of this kind of politics has driven many working class people to give up on politics altogether.

Taking revolution off the table has made politics a morbid affair. We have trouble imagining we can shape history. History becomes an inevitability. It is something that happens to us. Yet, as long as class divisions exist, the working class can once more become a threat to capitalist domination and take an active role in shaping history.

BUILDING POWER VS. ACCESSING POWER

The current left has two main organizing orientations:

  1. accessing the institutionalized power structures, or

  2. building independent bases of working class power.

Attempting to access institutionalized power through existing structures sets us up for failure. Because these structures are reliant on the capitalist class for power, they are necessarily disconnected from and opposed to the interests of the working class. Further, because this reliance on capitalist power and disconnect from the working class produce opportunism and careerism as a fundamental operating principle within institutionalized structures, individuals operating within them are unable to organize effectively for working class power. In contrast, building independent structures enables the working class to effectively organize ourselves to exercise our dormant power.

Reform-oriented politics are often presented as “harm reduction.” Here, reforms are desirable to mitigate the damage that capital inevitably produces. Yet, this notion that working class people can legislate from the helm of the capitalist state begs the question: if we can institutionalize reforms, why stop at the reduction of harm? The absurdity of this question lies in a misunderstanding of what reforms are.

Reforms are concessions. Ruling classes throw reforms into the path of movements building towards working class emancipation as a way to manage, and sometimes neutralize, mass organized discontent. Hence, directly seeking specific reforms is to misunderstand that reforms are a byproduct of revolutionary power. We call for an offensive, rather than inherently defensive, type of politics. Revolutionary organization thus requires a program of harm production. Our aim is to become an existential threat to accumulation and empire-building. We joined the DSA to do just this. We want to reconstitute our class, the working class, into a fighting force. After all, only through organizing towards the realization of the most radical demands have we won sustainable victories for the working class. We want to build the power necessary to strike terror into the hearts of the ruling class. This will be achieved once we have the organizational capacity to shape history, rather than submit to it.

COMMUNIST CAUCUS & TANC

We formed a caucus — Communist Caucus — based on this strategy of building independent working class power. We chose this name in Marx’s spirit because we understand communism not as an abstract idea, but as a living movement to abolish the present state of affairs.

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Our wonderful city of Oakland is in the midst of a brutal housing crisis, with more people being priced out of their homes and living on the street every day. Working class people are crushed inbetween bosses and landlords who conspire to keep wages low and raise rents. There is ample opportunity for struggle. As we grapple with finding stability and safety, we thus view tenant organizing as a clear approach to build working class power that can oppose bosses and landlords. We created an organization called “Tenant and Neighborhood Councils” (TANC) because we, as the working class, need institutions that can grow our power.

TANC is a militant housing organization which aggregates and elevates class struggle around housing. We organize around reducing housing costs and improving the conditions of tenants. We envision that TANC will become a mass housing organization, composed of working class people who act as militants, teachers, and leaders, eventually becoming a force capable of decommodifying housing and doing away with landlords entirely. While we are not there yet, in TANC’s first year it has already become a site of independent working class power.

LAURA THE LANDLORD

We wanted to address an issue affecting all working class people in the Bay Area: rent. As it turned out, a member of Communist Caucus had a notoriously oppressive landlord, Laura, whose constant harassment of tenants had already been written about in the local paper. Organizing against her seemed like a great starting point.

We hosted a BBQ at a public park to gauge tenants’ interest. Our objective was twofold. First, we wanted to facilitate connections among tenants to discuss their issues around rent, housing, and the landlord. Second, cookouts are fun, and because we are all alienated, it is crucial to build trust in simple, supportive ways.

To spread word about the BBQ, we canvassed Laura’s tenants. We identified Laura’s holdings through public records at city hall; she owns over 40 properties, with each property worth an average of $1 million. We went door-to-door with flyers for the BBQ, and a print-out of the newspaper article about Laura’s history of harassment. A common response was a mixture of shock and relief—“it’s not just me?” Tenants told us seemingly endless stories: Laura regularly went through tenants’ trash at night, discriminated against Black tenants, even took pictures of tenants through their windows. People were unhappy with Laura, but without a common cause and organization, they lived with her bad behavior.

The BBQ was a great success: over 20 tenants attended. Throughout the event, one pressing issue emerged from the conversations among tenants: Laura regularly denied subtenant applicants. When somebody moved out, Laura required that the replacement tenants have high incomes and white collar backgrounds. Tenants often could not find such a person, forcing to pay for the empty room. This meant an effective rent increase not regulated by rent control; evidently, Laura hoped to evict through attrition.

A collective issue thus identified, the real question was what to do. We decided to call a formal meeting of all tenants so we could study the situation and plan next steps. We invited tenants we met at the barbeque to canvass, so they could agitate and practice organizing other tenants. We continued building a contact list and getting more people involved in our organizing efforts. However, a problem soon arose: right before our meeting, we discovered Laura had gotten hold of one of our flyers.

Laura sent a letter to every tenant, urging them not to organize against her. She claimed she and her husband were a small “mom-and-pop” business. They also claimed they would resolve all of the tenants’ issues. The letter’s tone was a surprising contrast from the accusatory letters she normally sent, and it included a gift card for a local candy shop. But it had one concerning element: Laura promised she would attend the tenant meeting so as to engage in “dialogue.”

We decided it was too soon to confront Laura directly. We sent her a letter requesting that she not attend the tenant meeting. She ignored us, insisting she would attend regardless. To facilitate the tenant meeting, we formed a security team which rerouted tenants to meet at an alternate location as they arrived, and successfully ensured no one was spotted. When Laura showed up, Communist Caucus members confronted her with a letter stating she was not welcome. She refused the letter and left, only to return two more times. Finally, a non-affiliated comrade on a motorcycle telling her she was not welcome chased her away (*). Laura erratically sped down the street, flying over speed bumps at 50 MPH.

Ultimately, Laura’s candy-laced letter only emboldened the tenants further. The meeting was a success, as more tenants participated in the meeting than the barbeque. At the meeting, tenants drafted a letter demanding Laura immediately end her harassment and accept all pending tenant applicants. Within one week, Laura caved to the tenants’ demands. She decided that going forward she would only give “recommendations” for new housemate applicants. She didn’t want to deal with us anymore.

We had won our first fight.

Throughout our experiences with Laura and other landlords, we developed a model of supporting tenant organizing by offering infrastructure such as research, canvassing, and tenant inquiries; hosting cultural events and BBQs; establishing communication channels between tenants; facilitating tenant organizer trainings; producing media such as posters and a reader with theory on housing, history, and local struggles; and shielding tenants from retaliation however possible. We call this project “Tenant And Neighborhood Councils” or TANC. In a future issue of Build, we will provide more detail about the structure of TANC, lessons we’ve learned through struggle, and a few of our future plans for DSA.


To learn more about TANC, visit them at baytanc.com or contact: tenantorganizingeastbay@gmail.com

You can also follow them on Twitter: @TANCBay

(*) Identity of the mysterious motorcycle riding anarchist is unknown. Whoever you are, we applaud you!

Mutual Aid with Heart of the Valley DSA

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Comrades helping comrades in Benton County, Oregon

I have long advocated for the concept of mutual aid.

Like many leftists, I believe strong networks of community support and mutual aid are essential to any revolutionary movement. At meetings of Heart of the Valley (HotV) DSA in Benton County, Oregon, I pitched it incessantly, and tried to make it central to the chapter’s praxis. However, until I needed it myself, I didn’t truly understand what that rhetoric meant.

On December 17th of 2018, my girlfriend, two other comrades, and I, got into a confrontation with several local neo nazis, which ended with them attacking us. The details of the assault aren’t important, but by the end I had a severely injured knee and one of the nazis was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Another comrade, who was on their way to join us, called Cameron Greene, a HotV DSA member and Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild. He dropped everything and drove to the scene. He helped prepare us for arrest and excoriated the cops who were intentionally misgendering the three of us who are trans women.

The police arrested us and took us to holding, where they locked us in separate interrogation rooms for the next several hours. The police told us that we would be cited for DISCON-II, but said more serious charges were on the table if the nazi died. They stripped us naked, photographed our bodies, and took our DNA samples. The police also took our clothes, phones, and wallets, and dressed us in thin sweatsuits. Finally, they took our mugshots, and we were released, one by one, into the freezing rain. I was the first one out, and had to walk several miles home on a barely functional knee.

Like any good leftist, the first thing I did was get on Twitter to see if folks were talking about the incident. I saw that comrades across the country were sharing a fundraiser for our legal defense and medical bills. It was surreal to see myself in the same situation I’d seen so many other antifascists endure. For years, I’d shared similar posts on social media, but now I was beginning to grasp what it meant to be on the other side. Even though I was still freaking out, I felt the energy of comrades across the world gathering behind us.

The next morning, I awoke in immense pain, unable to stand up. My girlfriend contacted some of our DSA comrades, who quickly came over. They helped me out of bed and provided a phone to call into work and explain my situation. They also brought us much needed food and drove us to urgent care. While I was in the doctor’s office, two comrades dug old cell phones out of storage and filled them with prepaid plans so my girlfriend and I could reach our friends and family.

Our local paper, the Corvallis Gazette-Times, began publishing articles about the incident that day. We were dismayed to learn they publicly deadnamed and misgendered the three of us who are trans. Outraged comrades from the DSA and other groups came to our defense and inundated the paper with comments and phone calls. Eventually, they issued a milquetoast retraction. The article led to my girlfriend getting fired from her job, which severely reduced our household income. However, our comrades were there to make sure we didn’t go hungry and could live as normally as possible.

Over the next several days, we began receiving information that neo nazis were trying to doxx us. They published the addresses and other personal information of several people on sites like Stormfront and The Goldwater. Luckily, we had well armed comrades willing to spend lots of their time with us and ensure we felt safe. Folks also provided home cooked meals and transportation around town, which was a lifesaver because I could barely walk or ride a bike. We were very rarely left to suffer alone and knew we could always reach out for support.

During this time, Cameron helped coordinate legal representation for us. We got the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), an activist legal group to work on our defense. The lawyers were incredibly helpful and considerate. They provided us with all the information we needed to know about our uncertain futures as well as good advice based on their years of experience.

The fundraiser continued to near its goal, largely from the contributions of Corvallis locals and the International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund. We also received significant financial help from Bitter Half Booking and Eugene Pyrate Punx, who each put on a benefit show to raise money for us. Thankfully, the money helped cover all of my medical bills. It also paid for our legal representation and kept our lives stable through the loss of my girlfriend’s job.

On the day of the arraignment, the defendants met with our legal counsel and arrived early at the courthouse. Upon entering, we found several comrades from different organizations waiting for us. They talked with us and gave us emotional support as we waited for our turn on the docket. As the time approached, more comrades arrived, eventually filling the entire courthouse. In total, there were probably 70 people from DSA, IWW, Our Revolution, CCDS, The Communist Party, local unions, and more. They all shook our hands and reassured us. Seeing the immense solidarity from our community was incredible. It was clear that the love and compassion within the local left dwarfed our sectarian differences. When we were finally called into the courtroom, our lawyers received papers letting us know that the DA would not be pursuing charges against us. A huge cheer roared through the courthouse, and a sea of relief washed over us.

The struggle isn’t over. We are still working to combat white supremacy in our community and taking legal action against our attackers. However, we survived this traumatic experience thanks to the kindness and love of our comrades in DSA and the greater left. The mutual aid we received was truly incredible and helped us make it through some of the worst times of our lives. Without the help of our comrades, I can’t imagine how much harder the situation would have been.

After this experience, I am left with the realization that our chapter hasn’t just built campaigns and programs. It is a community that loves and supports its own. Mutual aid isn’t just about collecting and redistributing resources and labor; it’s about creating relationships between people willing to struggle alongside each other through the adversity capitalism creates. We exist in a lonely, scary, fucked-up society, and in the end all we have is each other. If we stick together in solidarity, we might just have a chance to create a new world.

What I think is most remarkable about Heart of the Valley DSA is that we show up for each other. Even though we have huge differences in opinion and countless personal quarrels, we will always be there for each other and anyone else who wants in.


To learn more about HotV DSA’s work, contact the chapter at: bentoncountydsa@riseup.net

Follow them on…
Facebook:
Heart of the Valley DSA
Twitter:
@hotv_dsa
Website:
bentoncountydsa.com

#BoycottTheTen

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#BoycottTheTen

The Working-class and Homeless Organizing Alliance (WHOA) Boycott & Greensboro DSA

The Working-class and Homeless Organizing Alliance (WHOA) boycott, colloquially referred to as “the boycott” or “#BoycottTheTen,” emerged from a fight over panhandling ordinances in Greensboro, North Carolina. In Spring 2018, Greensboro’s City Council considered amending existing regulations to bar so-called “aggressive panhandling.” During this process, community organizations brought attention to the fact that the existing regulations were unconstitutional due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Reed v. Town of Gilbert. In turn, the City Council sought to implement ordinances that would allow police to arrest and push houseless residents out of the downtown area. Our branch, Greensboro DSA, realized we had to take action.

The initial drive for aggressive panhandling ordinances came from a covert lobbying effort. The main backers were Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI), a local organization that administers our Business Improvement District (BID), and the local developer class. Through its connections to commercial landlords within the BID, DGI petitioned local downtown businesses to contact the City Council to demand more anti-panhandling ordinances in response to a growing “aggressive panhandling crisis.” In turn, businesses asked employees to come forward with sexual harassment or misogynistic behavior by houseless Greensboro folks in the downtown area. This was an abhorrent attempt to paint all houseless neighbors and panhandlers as abusers in order to sweep them out of public spaces.

Greensboro’s City Council and mayor are all “progressive” Democrats; yet, the local developer class heavily influences our elected officials, to the tune of $90k in campaign contributions in 2017 alone. Through public records requests, our friends and comrades in the Homeless Union of Greensboro (HUG) uncovered DGI’s lobbying campaign.

These records included emails from businesses to the City Council containing horrid characterizations of houseless people. Nonetheless, in hearings on the ordinances, the Mayor and City Council members consistently fell back on businesses owners’ requests to justify the ordinances. We realized we were in a tough spot; five of the nine City Council members supported the ordinances and we needed to do more than just speak out at City Council meetings. We could not boycott DGI or the developers, as they did not sell things we could buy. That left the businesses organized by DGI to pressure the City Council, so we started discussing boycotting these businesses.

Members of our chapter did not unanimously support this approach at first. While these businesses had said truly awful things about the houseless, they were still local businesses. People viewed them far more favorably than say Marty Kotis, Greensboro developer and noted reactionary. We also knew the coalition of community groups opposing these ordinances, such as DSA, HUG, and other organizations, was running out of leverage to push any of the 5 pro-ordinance City Council members.

Our chapter’s housing working group started planning a boycott, and other organizations soon noticed. We formed a separate organization to house the boycott so community members across the left could help with planning. Thus, the WHOA was born. We created a list of the ten businesses that had directly asked the City Council to pass the ordinances. We then drafted a set of demands these businesses had to agree to in order to be removed from the boycott. These demands included renouncing the ordinances, calling for their repeal, and calling on the City Council to support reforms such as increased spending for social services and passing a homeless bill of rights. We had two weeks until the vote on the new ordinances. If they passed, WHOA would launch the boycott.

We planned to cut up turf, canvass, and reach out to workers at the boycotted businesses to get their support, but word came in that the vote was being moved up. The threat of litigation pushed the City Council to pass a temporary bill through an emergency session. We had to move or we wouldn’t be able to garner the attention needed for the boycott to succeed. Consequently, we launched our petition, started pushing our networks to support the boycott, and began the campaign with an announcement at the City Council meeting where the vote took place. Pushback against our efforts was swift. The City Council condemned our campaign and owners of the boycotted businesses flooded WHOA’s social media inboxes with angry statements about how they had always supported the houseless, despite backing what amounted to state violence against them.

With a small cadre of organizers committed to canvassing, we formalized our petition’s demands and hit the streets. We started with canvassing downtown pedestrians. Considering the nature and targets of the aggressive solicitation ordinances, starting here made the most sense. WHOA canvassers quickly detected a racial dynamic in who supported the boycott and who dismissed it. The average white downtown resident was not interested in supporting the homeless struggle, and many were actively hostile to the boycott effort. In contrast, most black downtown residents supported the boycott and signed the petition. Greensboro is a deeply unequal city, with high levels of gentrification and eviction that primarily affect black, working-class neighborhoods. We should have expected that many people we engaged with would be agents of the very gentrification process we were fighting.

This dynamic highlighted that the fight against anti-homeless discrimination is a fight for racial justice and centering it was key in building public support for the boycott. Most importantly, through our canvassing and on the ground work, we engaged with those suffering from homelessness. We connected with people in the downtown area, who faced the biggest brunt of gentrification and over-policing, and directly used those conversations to inform and shape the boycott’s demands.

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We next took the petition to neighborhood blocks surrounding the area, canvassed on college campuses, and visited the City Council at least once a month to keep pressure on its members. We acquired over 700 signatures of people pledging to honor the boycott within a few months. Proof that our agitating was becoming effective came just before the holidays, when council member Michelle Kennedy formed a campaign with five of the anti-homeless businesses listed in the boycott, as well as others, called “Givesboro.” The Givesboro campaign sold discount cards to benefit Kennedy’s Interactive Resource Center (IRC). This was an obvious attempt to repair their tarnished anti-homeless image while still turning a profit. We launched a counter campaign named “Greedsboro,” and while we successfully fought back with flyering and agit-prop posters, the bulk of our organizing energy was about to be redirected into a movement of related struggle.

On September 8th, 2018, the police murdered Marcus Deon Smith, a black homeless man experiencing a mental health crisis. The police hogtied Smith, and he asphyxiated. In a press release, Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott lied about the details of Marcus’ death, claiming he was suicidal and collapsed. WHOA’s work on the boycott was pushed to the backburner as we began working with a broad coalition to demand an end to police brutality in Greensboro and justice for Marcus Smith.

A critical mistake we made was not engaging the public better outside of the petition. Instead of inviting those who pledged to the boycott to join us directly in canvassing, thereby amassing “people power,” we focused on inviting them to WHOA meetings and events. Creating a deeper engagement with the community that focused on building the movement through shared work — versus being mediated through organizational channels — would have made the boycott stronger. Knowing the pitfalls from our original petition/boycott efforts, we have folded those experiences into our present work.

While the boycott work is now dormant and the fight against the anti-homeless ordinances remains, we do not see #BoycottTheTen as a loss. WHOA is now being recognized in other ways, and it is a permanent and active fixture among the left organizations in Greensboro. We have built an effective organization that can continue to struggle against anti-homeless and anti-worker efforts locally. #BoycottTheTen was the first fight in a long struggle, and we’re more determined than ever to win that fight.

La Lutte Continue!


To learn more about Greensboro DSA’s work, contact them at: gsodsa@gmail.com

Follow them on…
Facebook:
Greensboro DSA
Twitter:
@gso_dsa
Instagram:
@gso_dsa
Website:
dsanc.org

You can also follow WHOA on Twitter:
@gsowhoa

Political Education: Reading Group

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Political Education:

Reading Group

Morning. We assemble in the College of DuPage’s empty cafeteria. David, the co-organizer, arrives first. A few pink post-it notes stick out from his copy of Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, on the horrors of colonialism and the psychology of the oppressed. Ken, a Green, arrives second, always with coffee.

The rest file in from the parking lot. Barry, a veteran of the Communist Party and Amazon warehouse worker, now diligent organizer of the West Suburban chapter’s labor group, walks in talking to Giselle, a former Trotskyist. Nick arrives, then Tim. William, who is not a member of the DSA, but discovered the event through the Facebook page, drove all the way from Chicago to attend today’s meeting. The commute was rough, he says. Ken offers solidarity and banana chips.

The group has met monthly since we founded it one year ago. Four people attended our first meeting to discuss the Communist Manifesto. It is now common for twelve people to attend, although usually the number averages at eight to ten, weather depending. This is ideal. We’ve found larger study groups to be unwieldy, with too many opinions and not enough time to discuss how the material connects to the individual, which is vital.

The atmosphere is less than academic by design.

As moderator of the group, I depend on a reading group model resembling a Socratic circle rather than an academic lecture. Having experienced a trial by fire in my personal introduction to Marxism (where a list of books was presented to me, and when I read all fifty, only then would I be considered a Marxist) I understand the value of a kinder approach to people unfamiliar with the language of theory. After all, with minor exception, most of us have only been with DSA no more than two years. Rather than any member feigning absolute authority on the topics of socialism, the reading group evolves and grows with the contributions of each member. We’ve found enormous success in adopting this model and encourage other chapters to consider something similar.

We typically use two hours to discuss material no longer than two hundred pages in length, one hour being devoted to a summary of the book itself, the other hour reserved for asking how this can be applied to our current reality. How would Fanon analyze the unfolding situation in Venezuela? How has DSA organized around anti-imperialism? The reading is always topical. We vacillate between the classic and contemporary, depending on the mood of our members. Our meetings are a lightning storm of opinion, but everyone affords a tremendous amount of respect and love for each other. This prevailing attitude of respect, where every person is permitted to toy with enormous ideas without being chided or dismissed, is critical to allow thoughtful discussion, but it must be intentionally cultivated.

Everyone is heard. Highbrow elitism is not permitted and theory is not used as a cudgel against newer members. We learn together. At the end, we always finish the same way. First, five minutes are dedicated to selecting the next reading. Second, a joke. Then we part ways until we meet again next month.

Our reading group has been an enormous success in providing a space where our community can discuss radical ideas and members can develop their own politics. Despite what our ruling class would have us believe, most Americans have an appetite for radical solutions to the crises of capitalism. The effective reading group is not an echo chamber, it is active outreach. Beyond developing our membership into more informed socialists, the objective of a reading group is to expand the imagination of what is possible in our time.

By reading, we draw from the well of lessons and mistakes made by the great luminaries of human liberation, their trials and errors, and their achievements. More than just a meditation on what has been done, reading is an examination of what can be done, and what there is to do. There is tremendous power in this.

Some closing wisdom for chapters developing Marxist reading groups of their own: levity, levity, levity. Avoid becoming overly didactic. Facilitate a space where people can express their principles and reservations honestly and openly. Bring babka. Forgive. Give space for people to disagree, and meet them where they are. Avoid becoming tangled unnecessarily in the leftist squabbles of yesteryear. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg had drastically conflicting tactics for realizing socialism. Read both. Never start with Das Kapital. Theory in service of people, not people in service of theory. Be the group that anyone could walk off the street and be a part of. Be the reading group you needed when you first began your journey.

Socialists across history have valued their reading groups, and for good reason. The work of the Marxist reading group may not put anyone on a poster, but it can be a powerful force in an organization slowly discovering the potency of a revolutionary socialist message.

A reading group can be an immeasurably rewarding experience. To paraphrase a bearded weirdo, the purpose of philosophy is not just to interpret the world, but to change it. Do the good work, and happy reading, comrades!


To learn more about West Suburban Illinois DSA, contact them at: info@westsuburbsildsa.org

You can also follow them on…
Facebook:
West Suburban IL Democratic Socialists of America
Twitter:
@WestSuburbILDSA
Website:
westsuburbsildsa.org

Season of the Bitch

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A Socialist Feminist Manifesto

Season of the Bitch (SotB) is a leftist feminist podcast comprised of 6 hosts, referred to as The Coven, talking politics and culture. It is just like any other leftist podcast, except there are no cis men. The following was written by Zoë Naseef, but inspired and approved by the rest of The Coven. Creating a socialist feminist podcast pushes me to explore different topics and question what I already know. Leftist spaces (and podcasts) can feel trepidatious for women, nonbinary folks, and trans people. A large theme for me in organizing work involves feeling unheard, undervalued, and excluded. We are constantly learning and growing in our lives; as workers, mothers, daughters, sisters, patients, friends, and comrades. SotB is an intentional space for us to explore different topics from a socialist feminist lens and know that we will always be heard, supported, and valued. The following truths we hold to be self-evident:

1 NO SORRY.

“No sorry” is a trademark among the Coven. As 6 people who were socialized as girls and women, we were taught early and often to apologize for our existence, to stay quiet, to doubt ourselves. With our podcast we are learning to be unapologetically ourselves, one episode (and group chat) at a time. It often feels strange and unfamiliar to me to own my actions instead of apologizing for them. “No sorry” means reminding myself that what I have to say is valuable and worthy of people’s attention –– including when I find myself feeling guilty for inserting a personal anecdote into an episode or second-guessing whether I should have said something that didn’t feel utterly groundbreaking. The more positive feedback I see about the podcast, the more I understand that being unapologetically ourselves is revolutionary.

2 REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

Sorry, not sorry... but cis men are canceled. While we limit hosts and guests to women, non-binary people, and trans folks, cis men are encouraged to listen. Representation is about intentionally creating space for people who do not get as many opportunities to have a platform in the dominant culture. Our listeners know that we run on accessibility and inclusion. We strive to be inclusive of race, sexuality, ability, and class by having diversity amongst the hosts and by finding guests who can speak from diverse perspectives and experiences. It is always inspiring to talk to people who are experts in their field and who also just so happen to not be men. We often talk about how lucky we feel that we get to talk to so many amazing people, especially when the world feels particularly dark.

It’s not just our listeners that learn from the podcast –– with every episode, I learn more about the topic we are discussing through my own research, from my co-hosts, and from our guests. We hope cis men will listen and learn from us too, since feminism creates a better world for everyone (more on that later). However, the show ultimately answers to a deep-seated desire to see ourselves represented, which is something that cis men can empathize with but never fully understand. White cis/het men rarely know what it is like to watch a movie or listen to a podcast where there is no one you identify with as part of the cast, and similarly do not understand how validating it is when you finally get to see yourself reflected in the media you consume. This probably explains why we get a lot of positive feedback from fans similar to ourselves, who were thirsty for a leftist podcast not dominated by men.

3 DISMANTLE THE HEGEMONIC CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY.

Not all of our episodes concern explicitly socialist or explicitly feminist topics; we cover a wide array of subjects, but always approach them with a socialist feminist analysis. The capitalist hetero-patriarchy affects all aspects of our lives, so we try to draw out these themes and connections across many different topics.

One of the greatest threats to capitalism is the collective organizing and action of women. It is no coincidence that the development of capitalism came alongside the development of notions about gender and the nuclear family that served to ensure that (white, middle- or upper-class) women remained in the home, where they wouldn’t be able to talk to each other, compare experiences, or conspire against patriarchal oppression. It is similarly by no coincidence that when women seek more collective power today we are met with tidal waves of shame, attempts to silence us, and attempts to placate us.

4 RADICALIZING IS ABOUT SIMULTANEOUSLY LEARNING AND UNLEARNING, AND OH HOW FRUSTRATING IT CAN BE.

I grew up the daughter of a civil rights activist/union organizer and a life-long feminist, so understanding radical politics feels like second nature to me. However, that did not stop the world from socializing and imprinting on me the way it does to all girls (and those assumed to be girls). This connects back to focusing on not over-apologizing, but it has also helped me realize some of the other behaviors I learned from my socialization. For example, when I listen to the podcast I notice that I preface things I am very confident in with “I think” or “maybe” because I am so afraid of sounding overly confident, even when I am.

For me, learning theory is a lot easier than unlearning the ways I was socialized to atone for myself. The work required to learn and unlearn can feel Sisyphean, which is to say highly frustrating and repetitive, but another trademark of Season of the Bitch is how strongly and passionately we have each other’s backs. In one of the early episodes that I co-hosted, I told The Coven that I was feeling imposter syndrome about being a host. Hearing other hosts agree that they have felt the same way gave me more strength to believe in myself and what I have to say.

5 MONEY IS A CATCH-22.

We would love to grow as a podcast and build a larger platform. One of our major roadblocks is lack of funding. We are all busy working various jobs, in various time zones, which makes it hard to put as much time and effort in the podcast as we would like. Our episodes get an average of 3,000-6,000 listens, though we only have about 300 Patreon supporters (whom we appreciate dearly). We are not able to pay any of the hosts yet; only our editor gets a small stipend for her labor.

We continue to brainstorm ways to grow and make more money. However, this quickly becomes a catch 22: we can’t offer a lot of exclusive content that might attract more Patrons because we need the support in order to provide more exclusive content. It can be disheartening that male driven podcasts make significantly more (like, very significantly more), but the podcast is our labor of love and we keep pouring our hearts into it. I do not want to understate how much we appreciate the kind emails, tweets, DMs, etc., that we get from our listeners. It is really motivating to know how much people relate to and appreciate our work. But we live in this hell hole of a capitalist society and therefore we would love to be getting financial support so we can continue to grow.

6 SOCIALIST FEMINISM IS THE FUTURE.

Please do not question us on the matter. Everyone would benefit from more socialist feminism in their lives. If you find yourself wondering “What? Why? How?” try listening to our podcast. If you find yourself saying “yes duh we all need more socialist feminism,” you should also listen to our podcast.

7 LOVE YOU, BYE.

The closing of every episode is this reminder of radical love and friendship. We have heard from listeners that something that stands out about Season of the Bitch is how clear it is that we all genuinely love each other and are excited to record every episode. Being the podcast that deeply loves each other, and deeply hates capitalist patriarchy, is a reputation we proudly accept. Love you byeee byeee love yooou okay love you byeeeee love uuuuuu bye.


To learn more about Season of the Bitch, contact the hosts at: seasonoftheb@gmail.com

You can follow them on…
Facebook:
Season of the Bitch
Twitter:
@seasonoftheB
Instagram:
@seasonoftheB
Website:
seasonoftheb.com
Patreon:
patreon.com/seasonofthebitch

Recipe: Elizabeth's Carlota de Limon

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Communist Cookbook

Elizabeth’s Carlota de Limon

This recipe means so much to me. My mom made it for me and my siblings for almost every special occasion growing up. I learned the recipe about ten years ago and have continued the tradition for my family. This past holiday season, I made it to share with my comrades for the first time. I was delighted they loved it as much as my family. Making and sharing food is such a beautiful way to share our history, culture, and nostalgia with new friends and comrades. I’m so excited to share this with you all. I hope you enjoy making, sharing, and eating this too.

P.S. It goes great with coffee!


EQUIPMENT

  • 13x9” cake pan

  • Large mixing bowl

  • Something to mix with: sturdy whisk, blender, hand mixer, standing mixer

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature

  • 10 oz sweetened condensed milk

  • 1 cup evaporated milk

  • 2 packet of Maria’s Cookies (or any dry, thin, vanilla biscuit)

  • 1 cup lime juice (4-6 limes)*

  • 12 oz canned peaches

  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans

  • I like mine very tart. I suggest taste testing as you add lime juice.

SUBSTITUTIONS

  • Walnuts or coconut flakes instead of pecans

  • Fresh or canned pineapple instead of peaches

  • Fresh berries


DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine the room temperature cream cheese, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk. If using electric mixer, use medium setting. Mix until smooth. Mixture will be runny.

  2. Slowly add lime juice, turning electric mixers to the lowest setting. Mixture will start to thicken as you add juice. Be careful not to overmix or mixture will become runny again.

  3. Cover the bottom of a 13x9” pan with a single layer of cookies. Scoop 1/3 of the cream mixture and spread evenly. Add 1/3 of the peach slices and sprinkle 1/4 cup walnuts evenly. Repeat once.

  4. Add one more layer of cookies and cream. Use remaining fruit and nuts to decorate the top.

  5. Refrigerate at least 4 hours.

  6. Enjoy!