Articles

Silicon Valley DSA: Losing Our Voices, Finding Our Footing

picketers.png

Silicon Valley DSA:

Losing Our Voices, Finding Our Footing

Halloween can be awkward for adults. If you don’t spend the evening with kids or live somewhere that trick-or-treating is popular, it can be an anti-climactic evening with too much fun-size candy left over. For Silicon Valley DSA, Halloween looked different this year. It was Day 28 of a strike by workers at the Marriott in downtown San José, California. After several days of emoji-laden text banking, nine of us donned costumes and joined the small evening crew of strikers on the picket line to “scare” Marriott into agreeing to a fair contract with its workers. This wasn’t our first time on the line, and by now they knew our faces, if not our names. Together, we chanted:

“Dirty rooms and spooky lights, Marriott workers strike all night!”

Since Wednesday nights were slower for the hotel, the picket line also had fewer workers. This was especially true on Halloween, which many workers preferred to spend at home with their families. With this in mind, Silicon Valley DSA’s labor working group mobilized for the event as a low-key, new member-friendly show of solidarity, costumes encouraged. Soon Sonic the Hedgehog and a walking pile of dirty hotel bed sheets joined the march, while a wizard flyered guests to encourage them to check out. Several new faces who came just to see the picket instead stayed for hours. As workers choreographed their chants, we practiced spooky voices on megaphones. What could have been a “ghost” picket shift with five workers not only felt like a real party, but also exemplified our tactics for strike solidarity.

“What time is it? Check out time.”

In late 2017, roughly half a dozen members of Silicon Valley DSA (SV DSA) established the chapter’s labor working Silicon Valley DSA: Losing Our Voices, Finding Our Footing21group. Our charter recognized worker-led unions as critical for building workplace democracy, finding that such organizations best empower workers to control the products and circumstances of their labor. In addition, we believed DSA’s position enabled us to play an important tactical role in the labor movement through strike solidarity. Our organizational independence from unions provided valuable leeway for devising ways to make strikes more effective. We could also serve as community members in delegations to management, and escalate actions or media pressure when unions could not, due to strict labor laws.

“Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power. What kind of power? Union power.”

A year later in October 2018, nearly 8,000 Marriott workers struck in seven cities across the country, including San José, in the city’s first-ever downtown hotel strike. Our working group seized the opportunity to put our charter’s principles into action. Supporting unionized service industry workers in their fight for a fair contract was essential for us because it aligned with our goals while pushing us to build meaningful and durable coalitions. Although our group knew open-ended strikes (i.e., until demands are met) are rare today and picket lines are often mythologized, they rely on basic tools to succeed. These tools include: withholding labor, maintaining a physical presence on the line, and creating disruptive noise and spectacles that inconvenience management.

“¿Qué queremos? ¡Contrato! ¿Cuando? ¡Ahora! What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now!”

We also knew solidarity would have felt performative if we only attended big rallies. Instead, a small but consistent DSA presence on the picket line helped us learn first-hand what the Marriott workers specifically needed and how to best fill those needs. In small moments talking with workers, they taught us what “One job should be enough” (the strike’s nationwide slogan) meant to them. Workers focused on the struggles imposed by the rapid increase in the cost of housing in San José and the threat of automation. Through these interactions, we got to know the workers as not just employees striving for fair labor conditions, but also as our neighbors and friends.

“Marriott, Marriott look around: San José is a union town.”

bullhorn.png

Based on these conversations and our background labor organizing knowledge, we strategized around three main goals: (1) supplying financial support for strikers, (2) supplying food for the picket line, and (3) creating spectacles to make the picket line more enjoyable for workers and more disruptive for the hotel. Because UNITE HERE! Local 19 was a relatively small local with less strike experience, its staff was excited to collaborate with us on inventive solidarity actions. Experimentation may not be possible for every DSA chapter supporting union efforts, but in our case acting with initiative and imagination, rather than waiting for instruction, worked well.

“Marriott Marriott rich and rude, we don’t like your attitude.”

Cooking up spectacles was the most creative aspect of our work. From dance performances to a novelty cake, silly ideas became power on the picket line. One member offered to bring her cornet, and at 7 a.m. the next morning she was up and ready to play reveille for guests crossing the line. Strikers gave her a wild reception, encouraging her to play while walking the line. Here and throughout the strike, the workers generously showed us the ropes when it came to annoying guests and being heard.

“All day, all night, this hotel is on strike.”

Sometimes we had to redefine the meaning of success for our efforts. In late October, the convention center adjacent to the Marriott hosted TwitchCon. Tens of thousands of gamers and gaming fans crowded the streets all weekend. Many attended convention events in the Marriott’s ballrooms or stayed at the Marriott while the strike continued. As drunken attendees approached the line or badgered workers, we developed a plan to insulate the picketers from uninformed visitors and divert the negative energy of the attendees in a positive direction. Over two days, we distributed flyers explaining why hotel workers were striking, directed attendees to the strike solidarity fund, and invited convention-goers to join a “picket line party” on Saturday evening.

“Respect our work, respect our time, do not cross our picket line.”

Despite us passing out nearly 1,000 flyers and having great conversations with convention attendees about the strike, only one person from TwitchCon attended our picket party, and almost nobody joined the picket line. Yet, at the same time, convention goers contributed to a noticeable uptick in strike solidarity fund donations. Being persistently visible also attracted media attention, as the popular gaming news blog Kotaku covered the strike, and one SV DSA member spoke to The Nation about labor issues in streaming services such as Twitch. The experience taught us sometimes success doesn’t come in the ways you always expect, and reminded us that there isn’t a clear-cut formula or measure for a successful action.

“Don’t check in, check out! Don’t check in, check out!

Walking the picket line can be loud and intense, but it also frequently offers opportunities for reflection. Fighting capitalism can start with a single workplace and clear, worker-generated demands. In this case, workers at 21 hotels in seven cities took on the largest hotel chain in the world and won. Their victory continues to inspire us and other workers, unionized or not, to realize their collective power. “Who’s in the fight? Local 19. Who’s gonna win? Local 19.”

Over 37 days, we found, lost, and found our voices again. Those who worked on strike solidarity are no longer “comrades” as a generic descriptor; we are bonded by the experience of collective action. Together, we fought sleep deprivation and did things that terrified us. Our comrades became the first people we texted in the morning and the last ones we texted at night. We are already looking for the next reason to pull out our communally-painted “DSA [heart emoji]s union workers” banner. Now that we know the breathtaking feeling of shifting from Sí se puede to Sí se pudo, we are more prepared than ever to build power for the working class.

“Sin contrato, no hay paz. Sin respeto, no hay paz. Sin dinero, no hay paz. Sin justicia, no hay paz.” [No contract, no peace. No respect, no peace. No money, no peace. No justice, no peace.

Silicon Valley DSA hopes you enjoyed the chants included throughout this piece. Like all great chants, they are meant to be shared far and wide, so bring them to a picket or protest near you! You can also read more about the specific solidarity actions we did in our SV DSA Strike Solidarity Kit. We hope this demonstrates that much of our work can be replicated by others with substantial rewards for both workers and our organization.

“Marriott, escucha, estamos en la lucha”[Marriott, listen up, we are in the fight]


To learn more about DSA’s work supporting striking Marriott workers, contact Silicon Valley DSA at: info@siliconvalleydsa.org

You can also follow them on…
Facebook:
Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America
Twitter:
@SV_DSA / @SV_DSA_SJ / @SV_DSA_LP
Instagram:
@Silicon_Valley_DSA
Website:
siliconvalleydsa.org

#ExposeFakeClinics: Discussing Reproductive Health Care

stethoscope.png

#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.

cpcs.png

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

North Central West Virginia: Black and Pink Holiday Card Party

envelope.png

North Central West Virginia:

Black and Pink Holiday Card Party

On December 5, 2019, North Central West Virginia DSA held its second annual Black and Pink Holiday Card Party at Apothecary Ale House and Café in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Black and Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies dedicated to the abolition of the prison industrial complex. During the holiday season, they allow groups such as ours to request a specified number of non-denominational holiday cards that come pre-addressed to incarcerated persons in their database of pen-pals.

Given the prevalence of prisons in Appalachia and our organization’s goal of prison abolition, we believe it is critical for chapters such as ours to support those on the inside. Hosting a holiday card party fit right in! The holidays can be a challenging and lonely time when you’re locked up and away from loved ones, especially for our LGBTQ friends. Receiving a holiday card helps let a person know they are not forgotten.

We first heard about Black and Pink’s holiday card program last year through Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture) on Twitter. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to plan our party, so we had to provide our own cards and print our own address labels. We also didn’t get much of a chance to promote the event.

This year we were able to give enough notice to receive the pre-addressed cards. We began pushing the event well ahead of time on our social media accounts. We worked with the WVU LGBTQ+ Center to promote each others’ Black and Pink events. We even distributed flyers at a drag show where North Central West Virginia: Black and Pink Holiday Card Party where we were previously asked to table.

This December, we had about a dozen people from our chapter and the community come together (despite the snow!) to decorate and write a total of forty holiday cards. We provided our guests with cookies and candy canes, and they provided us with enough donations to cover postage. It was a successful event that gave us the opportunity to engage some new and potential members, while giving everyone the chance to make a difference, however small, in the lives of people who need it.


To learn more about NCWV DSA’s support for incarcerated persons, contact the North Central West Virginia DSA at: ncwvdsa@gmail.com

You can also follow them on…
Facebook:
North Central West Virginia Democratic Socialists of America
Twitter:
@ncwvdsa

4-stream.png

Richmond, VA: The People’s Survey

4-survey.png

Richmond, VA:

The People’s Survey

Background and Purpose

The Richmond People’s Survey is a base-building project that emerged from collaboration among comrades of the Richmond chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the Richmond branch of the Organization for a Free Society (OFS) in the winter of 2018.

Because Richmond lacks independent working class organizations, Richmond DSA focuses on popular organizing strategies rooted in mutual aid programs and coalition-building. Similarly, OFS is a cadre organization working to build a popular base for social revolution through grassroots organizing, with a collective praxis rooted in visions of a queer and trans feminist, decolonial, participatory, and ecological communism. At present, Richmond OFS has more than a dozen members organized into five clusters: the Richmond Feminist Collective, Free University, Uprising Cinema, Teachers Inquiry Project, and People’s Survey. Richmond DSA and OFS have collaborated on several projects prior to the People’s Survey, including the International Women’s Strike and the Richmond May Day Coalition.

The People’s Survey aims to assist the construction of an independent, grassroots, and rank-and-file working class organization by combining methods of grassroots community research with people power organizing. We chose to conduct community research because we believe organizers must develop projects and campaigns based on “a concrete assessment of concrete conditions.” In other words, a Richmond, VA: The People’s Survey30program for action must arise directly from the needs and desires articulated at the base.

In addition, militant community research does more than merely furnish “hard data ” on the material living conditions of working class communities in various neighborhoods and institutions. Such research provides a more comprehensive map of our operational terrain, revealing the contours of power structures within and across communities. The methods deployed by researcher-organizers can assist the formation of lasting interpersonal networks rooted in solidarity, comradeship, mutual aid, and common experiences of struggle.

4-moose.png

Through the People’s Survey, we believe grassroots socialist/communist organizers can learn from and apply the organizing principles of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN, or Zapatista National Liberation Army), a revolutionary movement of primarily Indigenous communities 31based in Chiapas, Mexico. In particular, we have embraced the Zapatista principles of mandar obedeciendo (“leading by obeying” - organizers should follow the needs and desires of the broader working class community); and proponer y no imponer (“propose and don’t impose” - organizers should only propose ideas to receive feedback from the community, with the people ultimately deciding the course of action).

Survey Design, Implementation, and Revision

The initial survey had two sections. Section one posed several Likert scale questions regarding transportation, education, policing, etc. (i.e. “Do you worry about being able to make rent, about maintenance or poor upkeep from your landlord, or about being forced out of your home? Please circle your level of concern.”). Section two posed open-ended questions to facilitate broader conversations on the respondent’s needs and desires (i.e. “What is the most significant issue that you would like to see your community work to address?”).

This initial survey was revised through trial and error, and ultimately proved to be too broad to be useful in the long-term. However, we believe community research is a social and iterative process, necessarily moving from the general to the concrete through multiple rounds of social investigation. In this sense, the initial broad survey helped researcher-organizers develop a common orientation. Once concrete issues are identified, we can assist the process of connecting particular local struggles to systemic dynamics.

To ensure the survey’s effective implementation, we organized educational sessions on local history, research and organizing basics, and digital security for data collection and storage. We also conducted preliminary observational research at various sites (i.e. bus transfer stations, shopping plazas, public housing, etc.) to determine the suitability of potential survey locations. Finally, in order to cover more ground, we conducted survey research in small teams. Over 32the past year, we have conducted the survey with more than 150 people.

Responses and Impacts

Through our research-organizing teams, we have made new friends and comrades at Richmond’s main bus transfer station, the Southside Plaza shopping center, and the Hillside Court public housing complex. Based on an analysis of our collective capacities, we’ve decided to concentrate our efforts in Hillside Court, whose primarily Black residents (99%) live in Richmond’s largest food desert and lack many basic necessities, such as functioning heating systems, community-controlled public spaces, playgrounds for children, etc. With an average household income of $8,500 and a 70% unemployment rate, Hillside encapsulates many of the core contradictions of racial capitalism within the U.S. empire. Like most public housing complexes, Hillside is geospatially designed to enable the rapid deployment of police occupation forces, and is secluded from neighboring communities.

While Hillside residents were particularly responsive to the People’s Survey, and showed interest in attending mass meetings co-hosted by researcher-organizers at the Hull Street Library, we have had difficulties soliciting resident participation. Following a self-critical assessment, we concluded that we needed to change our strategy, and show we could establish meaningful mutual aid programs within Hillside itself. It was unreasonable to expect residents to attend a meeting beyond walking distance with members of an organization yet to prove its ability to challenge and transform the conditions of everyday life.

Our first step in changing direction has been to shift our primary emphasis from surveying to organizing mutual aid. Rather than conceive of these difficulties in terms of setback or failure, we recognize them for what they are: the limits of the project’s first phase. We started the survey without 33defined objectives, and came to learn that Hillside residents had immediate needs that could be directly met by our group in order to establish lasting bonds of trust and solidarity. Forming these bonds lays the basis for more direct challenges to the local power structure in the immediate future.

As with many organizing projects, the moment presented itself when a sewage line ruptured, filling one residential block with sewage waste and the stench of sulfur. As we mucked through the sewage to conduct our usual survey work, residents informed us that their water was non-potable, and coming out brown from the tap. One resident shared their experience: “With a lot of bleach, I’ll use it to wash dishes. But that’s about it.”

On investigation, it became clear this was a common problem, so we asked if providing free bottled water would be useful. Receiving an affirmative response, we set about distributing free water for the week, and requested for a comrade who works as a chemist to conduct water quality testing through their laboratory. We hope this integration of the social and material sciences with grassroots political militancy will set a methodological precedent for future organizing projects in Richmond.The sewage leak affected 18 units in the housing block, so we purchased and distributed 18 crates of bottled water. Attached to each crate was a leaflet reading:

CLEAN WATER IS A HUMAN RIGHT!
Dirty water is the product of a dirty system - the capitalist system - that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

This water is provided for by the Richmond People’s Survey, an independent working class organization that believes in housing fit for the shelter of human beings, clean water and nutritious 34food for all, safe and beautiful living environments, and collective control of the decisions that affect our lives and the resources on which we depend.

Based on our survey of more than 100 Hillside residents, it’s clear that RRHA is failing to provide basic services, such as clean drinking water, proper sanitation, and adequate heating. If you are interested in organizing against these injustices and holding RRHA accountable, please contact the Richmond People’s Survey. All Power to the People!

The following week, we again distributed water within the same block, while expanding outward to open conversations with neighbors of the next block over. This second round of water distribution opened space for deeper conversations. Residents invited us into their homes and showed us problems ranging from mold infestation to leaky plumbing. Through these conversations and regular weekly communication, we have solicited more community participants and arranged to have a springtime barbecue and public organizing meeting hosted by a resident community leader.

This work manifests our aim to build people power infrastructure by combining social and material sciences, ethnography, and political organization through patient conversations and mobilization. This infrastructure is cultivating a more comprehensive understanding of the interlocking social, technological, and ecological factors that shape everyday life for Hillside residents, and developing popular political forms that can effectively challenge and radically transform the conditions of everyday life toward greater freedom and equality.

Conclusion

We hope conducting the survey, aggregating and publishing research results, building a network of researcher-organizers and community leaders, and hosting mass meetings will enable us to co-design and co-organize projects rooted in the needs and desires directly articulated by respondents.

4-wheat-fist.png

By conducting the People’s Survey, we hope to have made a minor contribution toward the politicization of public spaces and the construction of alliances grounded in the principle of autonomy within solidarity. We can continue to help build the power necessary to liberate and defend space for the self-organization of the class to whom the future belongs: the international working class.


This article was co-authored by members of Richmond DSA and Richmond OFS. To learn more about OFS, visit afreesociety.org or email: organizationforafreesociety@riseup.net

To learn more about Richmond DSA, email: DSArichmond@gmail.com

You can also follow them on…
Facebook:
Democratic Socialists of America - Richmond
Twitter:
@DSARichmond
Instagram:
@DSARichmond
Website:
dsarichmond.org