Articles

Build #4 - January 2019

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Download the printable PDF of Build #4 here.

“We have a world to win.” Here in 2019, this phrase seems like a relic of the past. When Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, the possibility of a socialist order seemed closer. The revolutionary wave that rocked the world at his time rose even higher into the next century, with socialism posing an ever-present existential threat to a capitalist global society.

Now, we stand in the ruins of the movements that preceded us. Countries, unions, and parties that once fought for socialism have either crumbled, ceded their power, or embraced their former enemies. ‘Revolution’ has become a word for idealists. And as the threat of climate disaster envelops us every more rapidly, the very world we’re supposed to fight for seems to be disappearing before our eyes.

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What is the role of an organization like DSA in these times? Like a spirit refusing its own death, radical movements from BLM to DSA have swelled as political and economic degradation breathed life back into the very concept of socialism in the United States. It is a refusal of the “end of history” that the imperialist West’s ruling class triumphantly declared with the fall of the U.S.S.R.

With 55,000 members, well-known officeholders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ever-increasing publicity, and the right wing’s fear-mongering, the organization has raised the red banner of socialism in the U.S. for the first time in the living memory of most current DSA members. But as we have grown over the past two years, the fundamental question looms ever more urgently: What is to be done?

If you posed this question to three different members of DSA, there is a decent chance you would get three different answers. Some conceive of socialist politics as a matter of internal will and democracy, a question of creating a prefigurative space for socialism. This incorporates a desire to adjust bylaws by personal preference, focusing on internal taste and debates, and sidelining outward political activity. Such a conception of socialist politics looks at DSA and asks, “what do the members of DSA want it to be?” Another perspective conceives of DSA as advocates for neighborhoods and interest groups outside the organization, leading mobilizing or advocacy campaigns to local officials on their behalf. Here, the question is, “what does the working class want?”

But these questions don’t necessarily address power or societal relations at the bedrock level, and more importantly, how to change them. There isn’t a socialism to yet be found within an organization or a community, not even DSA. Our project isn’t to unearth an already existing socialist society hidden beneath us, but to make our present capitalist society become our future socialist one.

To accomplish this, we must engage with our political reality. This requires studying the existing dynamics of exploitation and domination within and across our communities, regions, and countries. One function of a socialist organization is to forge networks which tie together and sharpen our individual understanding of localized struggles into a collective understanding of a universal struggle. This collective understanding must consider the consequences of our actions, and what they mean for the strategies we’ve created.

Our chapter in Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky has won amazing victories. Members have saved the north building of Cincinnati’s downtown library from privatization, and successfully pressured officials to open two syringe exchange programs in the cities of Newport and Covington in Kentucky. Today, the chapter presses on with its work to open exchanges in Ohio, and continues to provide support for public employees in the region’s library systems.

As we analyze our past work and plan our future work, however, we do not value the raw achievement of immediate objectives as our guiding star. Rather, we orient our work around a more comprehensive focus which asks:

How are we connecting with the working class to forge the struggle against oppression into an ever-larger collective effort?
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A socialist organization cannot be designed in the abstract, nor can it be a community shaped solely by the interests of its existing members. A socialist organization is a tool that must constantly adapt in an effort to answer the elemental question: “What is needed for the working class to prevail in its struggle against oppression?” We must always place our work in a historical context, asking what must follow and how the struggle continues. Only by answering these questions can we build the strategic horizon necessary to cogently define our priorities and create effective organizational structures.

Our hope is this and future issues of Build can stimulate us to ask what our current situation is and what we should do in light of it, so we can, to borrow yet again from Marx, “make the petrified conditions dance by playing them their own tune.”

Solidarity, comrades. We have a world to build.

Bronx/Upper Manhattan: DSA Community Garden Program

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Bronx/Upper Manhattan:

DSA Community Garden Program

At 9 a.m., Maggie arrives at the garden with a cart containing homemade gardening supplies. She opens the gate and our day begins. Six of us from DSA are there to paint a supply shed and mount it on a brick foundation. Front to back, the 4,956 square foot community garden is incredibly well-kept. Even the bees politely stay in a small area designated for honey collection. Knowing Maggie provides much of the labor needed to maintain the garden, we know she could probably handle the shed too, even if we’re not quite sure how. Then again, we’re in “Maggie’s Magic Garden.” Some things here may just be a mystery.

As the day progresses, however, we see why we’re here. In the morning, tenants from buildings surrounding the garden stop by in their pajamas to drop off organic waste for composting. Maggie’s friends periodically visit to talk about preparing for the fall. Parents stroll by with their kids, marvel at the greenery, and ask when the garden is open for a future visit. The garden is a hub of community activity. We’re here in the middle of it all, laying bricks.

In June 2017, the Bronx/Upper Manhattan branch of NYC-DSA began coordinating action days at community gardens in Harlem and the South Bronx. Using the maps and contact info in NYC Greenthumb’s citywide community garden directory, we emailed numerous gardens in Harlem and the Bronx to introduce ourselves, describe DSA’s purpose, and offer assistance with their work. From the responses of garden stewards, we focused on four candidates comfortable with DSA politically and interested in hosting us to work. Next, we arranged in-person meetings with the garden stewards to learn their backgrounds and programs. Finally, we set Bronx/Upper Manhattan: DSA Community Garden Program16mutually agreed on dates, and promoted it to our members as an opportunity to engage with our communities. We’ve been continually scheduling action dates ever since.We chose to organize around urban gardens for four main reasons.

First, community gardens demonstrate the real-world practice of socialist principles. Over the past three decades, the capitalist class has advocated policies which increasingly incentivized the construction of luxury residential properties. Simultaneously, the capitalist class has also promoted the individual, rather than the collective, as the dominant force in politics, economics, and culture. Through these efforts, the capitalist class has isolated, disempowered, and displaced residents in New York City’s working and middle class communities.In contrast, community gardens endure as communal spaces in a rapidly gentrifying and hollowed-out urban center. Neighborhood residents frequently provide most of the labor and materials required to operate and maintain the gardens.

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This unifies the community in a collective effort for everyone’s benefit. The result of these efforts is nutritious produce, which starkly contrasts the unhealthy food typically sold at privately run stores in many lower income neighborhoods. As socialist organizers, supporting such positive real-world examples of our principles in practice is indispensable for political education.

Second, community gardens offer an opportunity to build the power of underserved and vulnerable communities. Our most frequent partner is Maggie’s Magic Garden, which has been primarily operated since 1993 by Maria Magdalena Amurrio, an immigrant from Bolivia. Another of our partners, La Finca Del Sur, is a cooperative owned by Latina and Black women in the South Bronx. As women, people of color, and immigrants, the stewards of these gardens belong to some of the most exploited groups under racial capitalism.

Further, because the gardens mainly answer to the long-term residents of these communities, who are primarily in the working class, they can play an integral part of the fight against high-cost housing developers. By supporting these gardens, DSA is not only strengthening working class communities, but also building the power of particularly vulnerable groups within those communities.

Third, community gardens offer a critical way to build DSA’s organizational power. Our task is to organize a mass movement which restructures society around socialist principles. Although garden work may not help us immediately recruit hundreds of new members, we are building the trust in DSA necessary to develop meaningful relationships with other local organizations and residents. In the long-term this trust will allow us to recruit the larger and more diverse membership DSA needs to credibly act as organizers of the working class.

We have already seen success in this area with the gardens 18themselves. The longer we’ve worked with each, the more they’ve been willing to offer the use of the gardens for meetings, flyering, and other events. As time goes by, we aim to maintain a consistent on-the-ground presence that enables us to continue growing our relationships and our membership’s diversity.

Our belief in the importance of this trust also underscores our preference for this type of work over electoral work and certain canvassing projects closely associated with certain officials. Every election, political actors sell promises to working class communities, especially those of color. Because these promises frequently go unfulfilled, these communities can be understandably wary of such actors.

Instead, through direct action in gardens, we can immediately demonstrate palpable solidarity with those we hope to organize. If DSA doesn’t support these populations where they live and struggle, how can we or they expect our electoral efforts to lead to anything different? We see our community garden program, and other community work, as a foundational crux for building a credible, diverse, and genuine working-class movement.

Chickens are workers, too.

Chickens are workers, too.

Fourth, we’ve found garden work is a nice shake-up for members! The hands-on activities and outdoor setting are a refreshing change from the formal meeting-and-trainings focus of more professional DSA events.

Organizing a mass movement to implement socialism will be a long, complex process. The first step is laying a durable foundation able to support the tremendous burden imposed by our struggle for liberation from the catastrophe of capitalism. In Harlem and the Bronx, we’re building that foundation from the ground up, brick by brick.


To learn more about this community gardening program, contact the NYC-DSA Bronx/Upper Manhattan Branch at: bronx.uptown@socialists.nyc

You can also follow them on…
Facebook:
Bronx/Upper Manhattan DSA
Twitter:
@UptownBronxDSA
Instagram:
@UptownBronxDSA

#ExposeFakeClinics: Discussing Reproductive Health Care

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#ExposeFakeClinics:

Discussing Reproductive Health Care

In Fall 2017, the Socialist Feminist Committee of Pittsburgh DSA launched a local Expose Fake Clinics campaign to spread information about crisis pregnancy centers in the Pittsburgh area. We joined a national campaign driven by the Abortion Access Hackathon and Lady Parts Justice League, along with over 50 partner organizations across the country, ranging from Arkansas Abortion Support Network to Austin NOW to Reproaction.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are obstacles to comprehensive reproductive health care that thrive thanks to gaps in our health care system and anti-abortion misinformation. Though they advertise themselves as locations to receive free services, they truly function as anti-abortion counseling centers. Their agenda is to pressure people to carry a pregnancy to term, and they use a number of different tactics to accomplish this goal.

CPCs open near and mirror the appearance of real abortion clinics. They perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and use them to coerce patients. Many are not medically licensed, and give misleading pregnancy-related information, such as telling patients to wait several weeks before scheduling an abortion, and using debunked studies on the effects of abortion services. Such practices delay access to legitimate health care, increase the cost of services, and block pregnant people from making fully informed decisions about their care.CPCs have vastly increased in number in the last twenty years, significantly outnumbering real abortion providers. Many states fund CPCs under the guise of family assistance and religious outreach, while religious programs privately fund others. Meanwhile, actual abortion and reproductive health care providers struggle to stay open.

A Reproductive Justice Analysis

As our committee explored the issues surrounding health care access, we determined a reproductive justice analysis was necessary to accurately connect the topic to every social issue that affects people seeking health care. The concept of choice alone was insufficient, and a range of social justice issues connected to the topic of reproductive health.

The SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective coined the term “Reproductive Justice” in 1994. They defined it as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” A Reproductive Justice analytical framework requires studying power systems, addressing intersecting oppressions, centering the most marginalized, and building coalitions to work across issues and identities.

We use this framework to address the topic of reproductive health care resources. CPCs impose upon and obstruct an individual’s right to maintain personal bodily autonomy. They also take advantage of many people’s lack of accessible health care options, which has a greater impact on marginalized groups, namely people of color.

Our reproductive justice analysis requires that we recognize a wide array of social justice issues and inequalities that affect access to comprehensive health care. As we engage with others regarding CPCs, we strive to move beyond the language of choice to acknowledge the interconnectedness of issues affecting people’s care. For example, racial disparities in the ability to obtain comprehensive reproductive health care are rampant across the U.S. As a result, black mothers are over three times more likely to die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth than white mothers.

Among the additional issues we address in our conversations about fake clinics are a lack of affordable child care, prenatal care, and paid sick leave; opportunities to work for a livable wage; the quality of early childhood education; freedom from personal and state violence; the availability of public transportation; and a disparity between urban and rural areas in the number of facilities offering comprehensive reproductive health services. We also discuss Medicare-for-All and the exorbitant cost of healthcare in the United States.

Exposing Fake Clinics

Our primary goal is to help people learn how fake clinics act as obstacles to comprehensive reproductive health care. To accomplish this, we spread information in several ways. Because CPCs thrive by dominating search results for abortion services, our first step was creating a website. We aimed to help local people learn what to avoid as soon as they begin seeking reproductive health care.

The more our site is shared and clicked, the higher it appears in search results, so we hosted a website launch party to kickstart traffic. The party featured a photo booth where people could dress up in disguises with a sign that read, “Fakes Recognizing Fakes.” We encouraged people to increase the site’s visibility and link our local efforts to the national campaign by sharing their photos on social media using the hashtag #ExposeFakeClinics. In the week after the party, the site received 1,500 visits. Now, when patients search for abortion services in the area, our website appears near the top of the results, alongside the misinformation distributed by CPCs.

Simultaneously, we also created pamphlets with information about fake clinics: what they are, how to spot them, and where people can go instead to get services they need. Two local artists contributed to this effort, with one designing the pamphlet, and the other creating an informational comic. At our committee and chapter meetings throughout the year, we solicited members to circulate these pamphlets around the city, including coffee shops, libraries, and residence halls. Essentially, anywhere and everywhere that people might see them.

Our next step was street canvassing, which involves standing outside CPCs and initiating conversations with patients and passersby about the reproductive health care people deserve. Our street canvassing campaign focuses on two local CPCs, Women’s Choice Network and Birthright, both of which target students at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. These CPCs lure students to their facilities by promising free ultrasounds and STD testing just a few blocks away. We combat these subversive tactics by arming people with the facts. By speaking with people on the street and sharing our pamphlet, we help them learn to identify and avoid CPCs. We also alert people to legitimate reproductive health care options, and share ideas about how to take action against CPCs in the area and support access.

Simply disrupting the quiet presence of these fake clinics has been surprisingly impactful. The CPCs we visit are located on streets that get significant foot traffic, especially from college students, but otherwise have inconspicuous signage and attract little attention. One clinic is located on the ground level of an apartment complex. After politely asking us to leave the premises, the landlord informed us that the clinic had promised it would not attract protesters as part of the unofficial terms of their lease. In fact, before our canvassing efforts, many tenants were unaware they shared space with a fake clinic. Some have since disclosed to us that the CPC has been a topic of conversation at tenant association meetings.

The other clinic we visit is located in an office complex and shares an entrance with numerous other organizations. Again, many workers were unaware they shared space with a CPC. Agitating these tenants and pressuring the landlords who allow these places to operate are part of our ongoing efforts to shut down these imposters. The fact that so many tenants who share spaces with the fake clinics are oblivious to their presence demonstrates not only how CPCs thrive in the shadows of deception and ignorance, but also our campaign’s ability to expose them and their subversive tactics.

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Coalition Work

Our chapter is working with our local abortion fund and independent reproductive health clinic, as well as other medical funds in the state. Last year, our committee raised over $12,000 for Western PA Fund for Choice, whose funds go directly to patients to pay for transportation, childcare, 13lodging, and medical costs for abortion services. We gathered these funds throughout the year, namely with fundraisers in April and December. These fundraisers also provided a platform to raise awareness about the cost of abortion, how the U.S.’s lack of free childcare and paid sick time affects people, how transportation issues serve as an obstacle to health care, and how CPCs get in the way.

As we continue our anti-CPC work, we are also building Pittsburgh DSA’s organizational capabilities and relationships. Because reproductive justice is critical for the successful implementation of socialism, DSA must organize a vigorous program around reproductive health care access and the issues important to those it affects most. Our anti-CPC work is one piece of this program. Until reproductive justice is secured for everyone, we’ll continue finding new ways to fight for bodily autonomy, fully informed choices regarding reproductive health, and the freedom to parent in safe and sustainable communities.


To learn more about the campaign to expose fake clinics, contact Pittsburgh DSA’s Socialist Feminist Committee at: socfem@pghdsa.org

You can also follow them on…
Facebook:
Philly DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group
Twitter:
@PhillySocFem
Instagram:
@PhillySocFem
Website:
socfemphilly.wordpress.com / exposefakeclinicspgh.com