Articles

Build #5 - February 2019

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Download the printable PDF of Build #5 here.

“Solidarity Forever.”

It’s a phrase used a lot in DSA. We sing the union anthem at most gatherings and use it as valediction in emails. We say it when our comrades are striving, be it on the picket lines or on the ballot. But what do we really mean when we say “solidarity forever”?

We mean that we, as socialists, are dedicated to standing with the working class, understanding our issues and struggles, and working to positively change our conditions. We mean that as believers in a universal right to a dignified and fulfilling life, we will forever and everywhere side with those being denied such a life against those who seek to deny it.

What makes a life “dignified”? As socialists, we understand that everyone deserves to live with honor and respect, but capitalist interests exploit and divide us. We fight to create the material conditions that allow people to continue the unifying struggle towards socialism.

What makes life “fulfilling”? A fulfilling life is not dictated by servitude for survival. When we build community and expend our energy on meaningful pursuits, that is when we are truly living fulfilling lives.

Capitalism seeks to compromise that fulfillment for its own gain; through alienation, through wage slavery and making our very survival dependent on our ability to work. To live truly fulfilling lives, we must break the chains of capitalism.

Finally, what makes a right “universal”? Universal rights are rights inherent to all, regardless of where we’re from, who we are, or what we do. Capital should not determine access to shelter, safety, healthcare, or sustenance.

So how do we put that into practice? Within DSA, we employ many tactics to create a symphony of forces for solidarity. We might one day set up a brake light clinic, and the next day canvass for a local initiative on rent control. Though these tactics are different, they place us in solidarity with our communities because they work to change conditions for our neighbors and comrades.

The material in this issue of Build shows DSA practicing solidarity, and doing it well. From the incredible work supporting the migrant caravan in Tijuana, Mexico, to a critical winter clothing drive during some of the coldest months of the year, and more. All across the country—and beyond—socialists are embodying the call for solidarity and showing up.

They’re showing up for workers, showing up for their communities, and showing up for each other.

“Solidarity Forever.”

In DSA we don’t just sing the phrase, we live it.

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Solidarity at the Border

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Solidarity at the Border

In November 2018, I arrived at the Mexican-American border between Tijuana and San Diego. The largest (yet) number of refugees traveling north together had recently reached Tijuana amidst the political theatre of the Republican-orchestrated “crisis at the border.” The situation appeared to still be at a climax, complete with thousands of troops and public flirtation with a declaration of a national emergency. Mere days before I had landed, border patrol agents fired tear gas on peaceful refugees, including children, attempting to cross the border into the U.S.

My first full day there, it was pouring rain. In the middle of a long drought and wildfires devastating the region, that drenched day and the havoc it wreaked on the refugees’ material situation was a harsh reminder of climate change’s increasingly dominant role in spurring ever-worsening refugee crises all over the globe, including the one at our own southern border. The rain prompted an outcry and demands from caravan participants for officials to address the flooded, unsanitary, and generally inhumane conditions of their packed shelter.

Fed up with waiting to be treated like human beings, a group of mothers from the caravan held a press conference to announce a hunger strike. They demanded, among other things, an end to deportations from Mexico, more rapid processing of asylum applications, and that humanitarian visas be made available to those waiting in Mexico. When they tried marching to the border area to stage the strike, the mothers made it barely a block before lines of riot police stopped them. In response, allies able to pass the lines began a hunger strike encampment near the border to hold space until members of the caravan could join, which they did in coming days. My own participation lasted three days, but the strike eventually lasted, with rotations, for two weeks culminating in another longer march which was met, once again, by riot police. Even without making arrests, the persistent presence of cops in riot gear sent a clear message: the City considered organized action by the refugees and their allies to be criminal.

I don’t know what solidarity looks like in Hell, but I think I’ve witnessed it in purgatory. That is the best way I can describe what Tijuana felt like. The sin, of course, of those waiting in this purgatory, was being born on the wrong side of a line that should never have been drawn. Let us never speak of a crisis at the border, because the preposition here is everything: the crisis is not at the border. It is the border. The physicality of being there and crossing on a daily basis drove home the maddeningly arbitrary, casual violence of the border in ways no remote observation could.

Crossing was a necessary step to accomplish routine tasks, such as picking up donations or attending a meeting. Yet, exactly that same thing – crossing the border – was the central, life or death matter around which every action and every mind of the caravan revolved.

A glimpse into the refugee crisis is important not only for the sake of every individual currently struggling through it, but also because history strongly indicates this is a precursor to more frequent and more dangerous crises. We already see far-right movements successfully stoking xenophobic resentment to gain institutional power around the globe. Every day, catastrophic climate change creates more eco-refugees who are forcibly driven from the frying pan of their devastated homelands into the fire of borders, camps, and jails that await them in more “prosperous” countries. Every day, resources become ever more precious to the billions of humanity who are not the obscenely wealthy. We see all of this, and know that Tijuana, like Calais before it, is a harbinger. We are fighting not just for justice, but for the very lives of working and poor people living in the path of extermination.

Tijuana showed me some of the most incredible work of solidarity and mutual aid that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. Solidarity there looked like an anarchist social center with a constantly humming kitchen, despite the ever-present language barrier between those chopping vegetables side by side, to produce meals capable of feeding hundreds of people a day, caravan refugees, Tijuana locals, and volunteers alike. It looked like meetings of caravaneros and volunteers, cooks and lawyers, old and young, Hondurans and Californians, and conversation inflected with myriad accents of Spanish and English and the background hum of translators whispering in ears. It looked like the self-organization of activities and spaces not only to feed, shelter, and clothe the people in need, but to create, against all odds, opportunities for sharing, learning, and joy. On my last day, I even had the good fortune to witness two weddings of caravaneros take place on our rooftop. These were beautiful moments of human warmth, snatched from forces bent on stripping people of their humanity.

The difficulty of fighting for justice and kindness at the border, though, can hardly be overstated. As I write, another even larger caravan is traveling north through southern Mexico. Its members are prepared for the journey and crossing, despite knowing the fate most refugees have met over the last few months. Riot police and tear gas. Crowded and unsanitary shelters. Hostile locals and even more hostile border officials. Even the luckiest few who manage to cross the border endure detention and yet more hostile immigration officials, with deportation still hanging over their heads.

This work will continue over the next months, years, and decades, as violence comes at the poorest and most exploited people in the world from all directions: from capitalist-driven climate change and “natural” disasters, from the borders and the imperialist state apparatuses that they reify, and from the capitalist class manipulating working class individuals on the other side of the borders into complicity with their reactionary agenda. In the face of this violence, like the dispossessed that Ursula Le Guin wrote about in her beloved and radical novel, we must come with empty hands and the desire to unbuild walls.

Base-Building in Maimi

Base-Building In Miami

One of the ironies of being a socialist in the 21st century is the declaration that we are “for the many,” and yet are so few in number ourselves. It’s easier said than done, but if we are to build a revolutionary force capable of altering our economic and political conditions, we need many more active socialists.

This is a point we often lose (or perhaps forget) in the insular hot take wars of the day, but our success—for it is possible that we will fail—will depend on engaging the unengaged, and radicalizing the already politicized. This can be tiring, unglamorous, and often thankless work, as the task of earning trust from people who neither know nor care about our project yields many more rejections than conversions.

In order for that to change, we must introduce and persuade more people to the ideas we have to offer. We must connect the crises faced and shared by our communities to our current socioeconomic conditions, and advocate for socialism not merely as the necessary antidote to these immediate challenges, but as an emancipatory project committed to the self-actualization of every human being.

But if the need is so apparent to us, why haven’t more joined a socialist organization? Only 6% of Americans put themselves into the far-left camp, and to the extent that Americans understand post-Occupy socialism not merely as an ideology opposed to capitalism, but as a political project in and of itself, it is by way of national coverage of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Bernie Sanders. This is to say the people we advocate for engage with our ideas most often on the terms set by mass media, as a subject of national conversation rather than a participatory movement. To rectify this, we must show in our base-building work with the public that not only is a socialist future possible, but it is necessary, and to treat our interactions with those we meet as integral to that realization.

In Miami DSA, we are beginning the slow work of organizing tenants to form unions so they can demand better conditions from property owners. We are careful, though, to posit that the main reason these tenants are being exploited is not primarily due to their landlords’ characters, but because improvements in their living conditions will take place only if it becomes profitable. Therefore, the struggle against these bad conditions is one part of a larger demand for housing as a human right.

In our canvassing on behalf of Medicare-for-All, our best conversations are not about the corporate greed of insurance and pharmaceutical companies or their nasty CEOs, but about how the profit-seeking of these companies are an obstacle to guaranteeing healthcare as a human right for all people. We also offer summer school sessions, one of which called for the nationalization of all healthcare research and medical development in order that breakthroughs in medical science would be owned by the people who publicly fund it.

During the campaign for Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to 1.5 million former felons, we connected advocacy for this measure to support for the prison work strike in early autumn. Many in our chapter called for the complete abolition of a retributive justice system that oppresses the poor and people of color with a restorative justice system that would promote real healing and development for all parties.

Given the many interests and priorities people have in their lives; their creative passions, their relationships, their everyday wants and needs, people will not see why the social ownership of work should be the ultimate goal of a political movement unless the benefits of that change—that profit-seeking would no longer take priority over the well-being of humans—are articulated. If we’re lucky, we’ll have 85 years to live. As socialists, let’s spend our time overthrowing a system in which those eight and a half decades would be wasted generating profits for the wealthy, and replace it with a socioeconomic system that sees the fulfillment of that life as the point of its existence.


To learn more about Miami DSA’s work, contact the chapter at: info@miamidsa.org

You can also follow them on…
Facebook:
Miami DSA
Twitter:
@MiamiDSA
Instagram:
@MiamiDSA
Website:
miamidsa.org

Coalitions in the Cold: Salt Lake City

Coalitions in the Cold:

Salt Lake City DSA

In December 2018, Alex Morales and Carlos Martinez, two dual-carding members of the Rose Park Brown Berets and Salt Lake DSA Mutual Aid Committee, and Gabe Cienfuegos, a local socialist organizer, saw an opportunity to fortify efforts in their community’s struggle with homelessness. Having collaborated before, they understood the lost potential when various socialist groups in Salt Lake City conducted isolated, yet similar, mutual aid work with the homeless population.

Putting collective action into practice, Morales, Martinez, and Cienfuegos engaged a network of allied organizations and activist circles. Their efforts brought together seven Salt Lake socialist organizations for one large event on December 29th: the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, Utah Against Police Brutality, Union for Street Solidarity, Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), Salt Lake DSA, and Rose Park Brown Berets. Amidst the holiday cheer and shared commitments, this diverse coalition held the Winter Clothing Drive, the largest unified mutual aid drive in the Wasatch Valley’s recent memory. Socialists of all stripes changed the material conditions of those most in need, while spreading knowledge about campaigns and initiatives happening in the surrounding area.

Unlike previous clothing drives which Cienfuegos had organized near Rio Grande Station, at Martinez and Morales’ suggestion, this Drive was located in Rose Park, the neighborhood where many Brown Berets members live. The decision to move the Winter Clothing Drive to this location served a dual purpose: to emphasize the Brown Berets’ critiques of Salt Lake’s segregated composition, while also committing to the Mutual Aid Committee’s work of building a socialist society in the community, with the community. Like many U.S. cities Salt Lake City (SLC) is structurally divided, both ethnically and economically, along East-West boundaries. The population of Rose Park, situated on SLC’s West Side, is significantly more Hispanic than Utah overall. This makes the community vulnerable to oppression through gentrification and decreased school funding, both of which the Rose Park Brown Berets are committed to combating.

The location change was also a strategic response to Operation Rio Grande, the ongoing citywide crackdown on homeless people. Officially named after the train station, historic district, and homeless gathering site where Cienfuegos organizes, community members have renamed the operation “the assault on the block” to explicitly illustrate its violent nature. Although officials sold the operation as a means to get homeless and low-income people off the streets and into treatment programs, in practice, police arrested and jailed thousands, with thirteen people arrested for every new person placed into treatment programs. After their release, the judicial system burdened many of these people with warrants, fines, and criminal records. Effectively, the operation’s purpose was to criminalize the homeless for existing.

Since institutional forces have forcefully evicted the homeless from their traditional community gathering sites, they have moved away from downtown SLC, towards western neighborhoods like Rose Park. Acknowledging the changing challenges and needs of their community, Morales and Martinez met the people where they were. Located next to a major mass transit stop and a new police station in Rose Park, the Winter Clothing Drive positively impacted a greater amount of people, while providing a serious political critique.

Beyond changing locations, the other factor in the Drive’s success was the ability of Morales, Martinez, and Cienfuegos to build the coalition. The greatest asset of Salt Lake DSA and the Rose Park Brown Berets is their multi-tendency, big tent structures. While the Brown Berets nationally arose from the Chicanx liberation groups of the 1960s, the local Rose Park Brown Berets are an autonomous chapter which maintains a foundation free of rigid or narrow ideological constraints. The chapter emphasizes the participation of youth members (aged 9-17) who make up a majority of their membership. This membership actively voted on joining the drive, reinforcing the Rose Park Brown Berets’ mission to build an informed and active youth movement on Salt Lake’s West Side.

With shared beliefs in the collective struggle of non-sectarian socialists, these two local chapters worked with five fellow socialist organizations. Rather than stressing the already strained capacity of Salt Lake City socialists, the coalition focused on their shared critiques of capitalism and more than doubled the resources regularly available at Cienfuegos’ clothing drives in Rio Grande. This large volume of volunteers and aid enabled an event which could only be achieved through solidarity.

With their strategic change in venue and a growing coalition, Morales, Martinez, and Cienfuegos realized that what was initially conceived of as a simple clothing drive was becoming much more. Through their collective efforts, the coalition gathered not only warm clothes, hats, and gloves, but also a variety of other essentials such as blankets, clean syringes, harm reduction kits, vitamins, sanitary wipes, condoms, and, of course, ample food and coffee.

The event, however, was no longer limited to distributing physical resources. Organizers increasingly focused on actively engaging politically with the homeless and workingclass residents of Rose Park, speaking with them about initiatives and campaigns relevant to the community. For instance, the Rose Park Brown Berets and Utah Against Police Brutality (UAPB) handed out “Know Your Rights” pamphlets, as well as flyers for an upcoming community council meeting. The community council meeting was particularly important to the Brown Berets and UAPB, as they organized a pack-in to confront the community council and demand answers regarding the Salt Lake City Police Department’s recent murder of Cody Belgard. Engaging Salt Lake’s entire community of socialist organizers, the Winter Clothing Drive became a space of solidarity, compassion, and learning for the local neighborhood and the organizers themselves.

Evaluating this event, the Mutual Aid Committee has analyzed what did and did not work, emphasizing how our future organizing can move this success forward. In Rose Park we saw firsthand the need to reach out to our base and begin the long march to relevancy. Bringing together a socialist coalition to collectivize resources is not the end but the beginning. The ultimate goal is getting the remainder of the community onboard. Seeing DSA, FRSO and PSL work together may seem like an exceptional accomplishment, but if we are not also involving the public in that process, it is all for naught.

While the Winter Clothing Drive provided a host of essentials, the percentage of Rose Park residents actively participating in organizing was relatively minimal. We must expand these efforts with community support, while growing the number of disadvantaged people who are directly aided. To us a successful day is knowing we have no resources left to provide, knowing that the people we assisted and community members who assisted us better understand their own ability to self-organize and fight for change, and knowing they are in a materially better position to do so. We must politically engage the public in new, constructive ways, and show the dedication necessary to become an organization seen as a part of the community, not one carpet-bagging through town.

In order to do this we will continue our work with the Rose Park Brown Berets and other socialists, striving towards solidarity while addressing the issues that affect our most oppressed and vulnerable. To this end, the Rose Park Brown Berets are already planning the next coalition drive for February, which the Salt Lake DSA plans to take part in wholeheartedly. With excellent examples of leadership in Morales and Martinez, the Salt Lake DSA Mutual Aid Committee will continue to organize with local socialists fighting to bring real change to the working class of our community. We must build socialism from the ground up, and to us that does not mean governing people, it means teaching ourselves and our communities how to organize themselves.


To learn more about the Salt Lake DSA Mutual Aid Committee’s mutual aid work, contact the committee at: saltlakedsa.mutualaid@gmail.com

To learn more about the SLC Brown Berets’ work, contact them at: roseparkbrownberets@gmail.com

Follow Salt Lake City DSA on…
Facebook:
Salt Lake Democratic Socialists of America
Twitter:
@slcdsa
Instagram:
@slcdsa
Website:
saltlakedsa.org

Migrant Caravan Support In Tijuana

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Migrant Caravan Support In Tijuana

I drove down from Los Angeles to Tijuana at the tail end of December 2018 because I’d heard there was a need for help transporting donations to shelters around the city. I’d been to Tijuana a few times before, and was traveling in the company of a trusted comrade, so I arrived feeling prepared. I wasn’t, but collectively the scores of volunteers who rotated through the doors of Enclave that week accomplished far more than I expected.

On my first day I drove a newly re-wed migrant couple to the shelter at El Barretal. They beamed with hope at the improved prospect of avoiding separation, promised by the documentation of the day’s ceremony. By day two, I found myself leading the tech team at Al Otro Lado. I don’t work in IT, hadn’t touched a PC in six years, and wasn’t exactly thrilled about office work, but it needed to be done, so I dove in and learned on the go. When a laptop wouldn’t print, I re-installed drivers. When a soft birth certificate image needed sharpening, I retouched it. And when an outreach lead was awaiting my redesign of the Creole version of the map to our building, and an officiant needed a document printed for a couple about to be married, and the printer went down, and I became visibly overwhelmed, a comrade saw my distress, calmly looked me in the eyes and said “take a break, I’ve got this.” And I did. And she did.

My techie role ended abruptly one night when I learned that my three roommates, all DSA comrades, had found themselves inside the warehouse where migrants were taking shelter near Benito Juarez. In an act of radical solidarity, they chose to stay inside when the entrance was blockaded, their bodies strategically stationed between the migrants and the riot gear-clad Mexican federal police. Seeing a need, another volunteer who’d just joined the tech team that day stepped up to take on my duties, freeing me to spend most of the next two days and nights supporting the occupation from the outside.

We coordinated watch shifts. We took up a collection and rented hotel rooms for migrants who lacked shelter from the rain. It was cold, and occasionally frightening, but it was joyous too. Street medics taught eye washing techniques in case of pepper spray (which U.S. Border Patrol used on migrants just two nights prior). Migrants inside passed extra blankets out to those of us in the street. We talked about how our involvement in DSA had brought us to Tijuana, and how we saw the struggle for these migrants as intertwined with the struggle against borders. But we were nearly always busy, so we expressed our politics mostly through acts of solidarity.

I don’t know how to gauge how much our work helped build DSA. We certainly built new connections among members across the country. Maybe more importantly though, we built a sense among all those who’d volunteered that we can contest oppression when we work collectively. We can learn from each other. We can self-organize. We can ask when we need help and step up when we see a need. We proved all this and more to each other, and in doing so I think we built confidence in the growing power of socialism.


To learn more about this caravan solidarity work, contact Andrew at: andrewjhall@gmail.com

The Robin Podcast

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The Robin Podcast

Broadcasting socialism from station to station

Organizing in Michigan was difficult during the Rick Snyder administration. They created Emergency Financial Managers to engage in union busting, and worked tirelessly to make Right to Work a reality in Michigan. Republican supermajorities controlled both houses of the Michigan Legislature, and the degree of transparency was murky at best. Reports frequently rated Michigan as one of the most corrupt states in the country. It was an all-out assault on anything that could hold power democratically accountable. Things were bleak.

Entering leftist politics at that time was gut wrenching, especially after Line 6B, an Enbridge pipeline, ruptured near Marshall, Michigan, spilling into the Kalamazoo River. Although it happened during the last months of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration, the task of holding Enbridge accountable, and the ensuing debacle over Line 5, became central to Snyder’s administration. There were only a handful of existing activist groups around the state’s west side, and most of them were older and unsure how to work with younger people. They focused on direct action, but without much explanation for their tactics, and while they passed around a lot of information, their work largely lacked a critical perspective.

American media has largely lost any geocentric news. The problem is, of course, that our political bodies are determined by our geography. The past two decades have seen a consolidation of print media into a single entity called MLive. What followed was predictable. Newsrooms were emptied and stories became homogenized. Without local analysis or reporting, local organizing becomes tied to national campaigns. Climate change, police violence, and neoliberal capitalism look different in different communities. In Michigan, multinational corporations have become household names. Enbridge, Nestle, and 3M have all presented unique challenges to the working class here.

Enbridge, for example, threatens the Great Lakes, and yet only maintains a staff of less than 300 workers in the entire state. Nestle, renowned for its human rights violations, has taken municipalities like Fremont and Osceola Township hostage. 3M is one of the main corporations behind the ongoing PFAS contamination crisis.

All of them are so close. Relatives and friends worked for these companies. It demanded that we explore those relationships. What interests a corporation in a location and how can workers organize against it? What happens if a corporation leaves? Jeremiah, myself, and a few friends decided to work on an internationalist media project to bring those relationships into focus. Calling it Borderless, we worked on it for a few years, but it was hard to hack it.

Simply put, we tried creating an audience from the network of internationally-minded organizations around us. Lacking capital, a cohesive movement, and facing struggles to decommodify the project or organize with it, eventually it became too much.

We joined the DSA after interviewing a number of Michigan chapters for the Borderless podcast. We interviewed the member of Borderless who started the Grand Rapids chapter of the DSA, Tj Kimball, first. Then we crossed the state going to Lansing, East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo. Most people were only just beginning to reexamine socialism and trying to toss in internationalism seemed a bit overwhelming. There was a pulse to the DSA missing in other organizing circles in Michigan, the most important aspect being that DSA wasn’t afraid to be public.

It might seem like an auxiliary issue to some, but the ability to stay connected to other organizing projects is crucial. There is a caricature on the left of a Trotskyite ranting about newspapers, and while it’s good to be able to laugh at oneself, the reality is that communication is important. Without the ability to reach a mass audience, ideas, tactics, and tendencies will sit unheard in the dusty corners of the internet.

Likewise, people cannot build coalitions if they don’t first publicize their presence. That’s the point of media. It can help broadcast to sympathetic people and allow them to explore these ideas. The national media is never going to pay attention to city level politics in Michigan; it’s our job to do that. Much of our following is explicitly Michigan-based activists. The list of our guests reads like a roll call of radicals from across the state.

Typically, activists have nowhere to turn to hear about other actions taking place. Major media outlets simply deride or ignore them. The photos and videos of twenty or thirty people don’t jive with the imagery of the Sixties and the millions that poured into the streets. The reality is that those movements were fueled by underground newspapers, coffeeshops, and office spaces. The movements had intellectual and physical form. People could find it in their cities. Granted, there’s a lot to be said about the lessons from the Sixties, but this one is poignant and recurrent.

Every mass movement needs its own media to define itself. Without it, people engaged in it have to rely on the depictions from the opposing side. Much of our inspiration came from the Maple Spring in Quebec: rather than relying on capitalist media outlets to disseminate the news about their protests, they published their own newspapers, just as radicals always have. The distillation eventually produced Ricochet, an incredible pan-Canadian news outlet that covers issues from a leftist perspective.

Our trip to Montreal to interview organizers from the Maple Spring, and the discovery of Ricochet, led us to ultimately shelving Borderless and creating The Robin. Internationalism will not happen unless it is undergirded by local organizing. Rebuilding and strengthening organizing efforts in Michigan became the goal. With one eye on local and statewide issues and the other on international solidarity, we began to change.

For the past eight years we’ve lived under the Republican trifecta, and they’ve controlled the state senate since 1992. Conservative officials sent Michigan, especially with the deterioration of Detroit and Snyder’s union-busting, into disrepair. This terrain calls for adaptation. There’s a lot of bitter tastes about unions in this state and general disillusionment. Simply reviving the UAW, AFL-CIO, and MEA won’t be enough to take on the neoliberal times we live in. Simply put, one tendency won’t be enough. By having guests from multiple tendencies on The Robin, we hope to examine how they might function together in Michigan.

Having guests on the show while simultaneously remaining accessible to other organizers means that if people hear about a project that someone is working on, they can reach out to us and we can help connect them. This has happened specifically with regard to prison abolition work and ecosocialism.

Before the Green New Deal action in Detroit, we had Jessica Newman on to discuss it. Over the course of the interview, we all stressed how vital conversations like that were. In its wake, DSA members from Detroit, Huron Valley, Southwest Michigan, and Grand Rapids began organizing a statewide ecosocialist caucus.

Coalition building is desperately needed and by sharing these conversations with groups around the state, we aim to connect listeners with non-DSA organizers. Aside from the MSU and Detroit DSA chapters, the rest are newly minted. Yet there are years of experience with activist and labor organizing and more in our communities. Hoping that people have enough time to get to conferences or run into people at protests isn’t enough. Building solidarity through communication is at the heart of all we do at The Robin.


To learn more about The Robin, contact the hosts at: michrobin@protonmail.com

Follow them online on…
Twitter:
@MichRobin
Website:
michiganrobin.com
Patreon:
patreon.com/michiganrobin

Punching Up Accessibility With Portland DSA

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Punching Up Accessibility with Portland DSA

Making self-defense open & inclusive

When I made the 50-mile move from Salem to Portland, Oregon, I had just come out of a long and ugly depressive episode. The move was spurred by a fantastic opportunity to work for the labor union I was previously a member of, and it allowed me to return to the path of feeling like me again, as I was only minimally and sporadically involved in activism since dropping out of university. While my new job was fulfilling in ways that felt totally out of reach a year before, I found myself feeling capable of and wanting more. A friend repeatedly told me about the empowerment she found in dedicating time and energy to causes she cares about, without the need to make rent and put food on the table restricting her actions within the organization. Her words rang true, so the hunt was on to get more deeply involved in my community.

I was fortunate enough to come across a self-defense class held by Portland DSA. Great! Their support for the Burgerville Workers Union, as well as their opposition to police brutality indicated that their values likely aligned with mine. This would be the perfect opportunity to scope out the organization’s culture AND learn defense skills to raise my confidence in going out and about alone in a new city, so I signed up. A few weeks later I found myself in a kettlebell club waiting for class to start.

The first sign that I was in the right place was a conspicuous lack of cis men in the class. The class prioritized women and trans people gaining this valuable skill, indicating a true understanding of equity for marginalized groups. During introductions, everyone was encouraged to share their pronouns, which made me as a genderqueer person feel seen and included. Later, as someone who was picked last and paired with the teacher all too often as a kid, my nervousness when it came time to partner up proved unnecessary: the DSA had cultivated an environment where everyone was welcomed and other participants ensured no one was excluded. Learning to kick the tar out of an attacker was the icing on the cake! I may well have found my people, I realized.

On the whole, the class was highly accommodating and accessible. However, I found myself unable to continue the class, due to the nature of being dependent on public transit. Portland is divided into the East and West sides by the Willamette River, and travel time to and from the class over the river pushed 3 hours. This is a hurdle I’ve found to be common among Portlanders who do not have the privilege of owning and driving a personal vehicle. My experience in class made me feel safe to approach the organizer and express that while this event was inaccessible to me, I wanted to get involved further and needed to know about DSA activities on the West side. She was incredibly gracious, respected my personal constraints, and introduced me to the folks building the Washington County branch on my side of the river.

Within a week I got coffee with a member and learned how I could attend the next meeting. Once the meeting came, I knew I made the right choice: other members supported what I had to contribute and offered all attendants carpools to future events. My experience goes to show that in order to build strong movements, we are only better when we foster a culture of inclusion and strive towards accessibility for all. To paraphrase a beloved quote: If it is not accessible to the poor, to POC, to immigrants and refugees, to the disabled, or any other marginalized group... it is not revolutionary.


To learn more about Portland DSA’s self-defense classes, contact the chapter at: info@portlanddsa.org

Follow Portland DSA on…
Facebook:
Portland Democratic Socialists of America
Twitter:
@PortlandDSA
Instagram:
@PortlandDSA
Website:
portlanddsa.org

Troy, NY Stands With Immigrants

Troy, NY Stands With Immigrants

ICE-Free Capital District and Troy DSA band together to fight for true sanctuary

When Siobhan Burke, an organizer for ICE-Free Capital District, told the organizing community that one of our neighbors was in need, we responded. Due to the precarity of their situation, she couldn’t tell us the name of who needed help, or any specifics about their case, just that they were undocumented and at risk of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detaining and deporting them. They came to ICE-Free Capital District for help because they were unable to work and their landlord had threatened to evict them in several days unless they could quickly raise several hundred dollars. Within a day, our GoFundMe campaign raised enough to cover their rent. Within 48 hours, we raised enough to cover three months’ rent.

While New York is nationally known as a “blue state,” much of the area outside of the NYC metropolitan area is not. Our county, Rensselaer, voted for Trump, and Troy, its biggest town of 50,000, elected a Republican City Council in 2015. As in much of the country, things changed after the 2016 elections. In early 2017, over a hundred people attended the first post-election meeting of Albany New Sanctuary for Immigrants. Before the election, this group had usually counted on single-digit attendance. Top priorities were providing direct aid to immigrants and taking political action to oppose Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. At the same time, Capital District DSA’s numbers swelled, and members organized to form the first Troy branch.

Recognizing the need for a region-wide approach, organizers created ICE-Free Capital District as an effort to stand with some of the most marginalized members of our community. Representing New York’s Capital District, which includes Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga Springs, and the surrounding region, ICE-Free Capital District provides direct aid to families which ICE threatens with persecution. We also organize to improve conditions for immigrant communities, regardless of their status. Simultaneously, affiliated activists in Troy started the Troy Sanctuary Campaign to designate the city as a “sanctuary city,” where officials would not cooperate with ICE.

Our Troy DSA chapter is participating in this movement as enthusiastic organizers, collaborators, and supporters by coordinating direct aid and actions which demonstrate solidarity with vulnerable communities. In addition, through the Troy Sanctuary Campaign, we are flexing our collective organizing skills and building community power.

Building Solidarity: Growing Networks of Trust and Resistance

Today, ICE-Free Capital District coordinates solidarity, direct aid, and accompaniment to vulnerable members of immigrant communities. ICE-Free Capital District started this work by accompanying immigrants to their check-in appointments at the ICE office in nearby Latham. They also responded to requests for fundraising and transportation.

Solidarity work really took off when ICE captured and imprisoned Dalila Yeend, a single mother living in Troy with two children. Prior to ICE imprisoning Dalila, a Troy police officer pulled her over for rolling through a stop sign. The Troy Police Department charged and detained Dalila for driving without a license, as undocumented immigrants are barred from having drivers’ licenses in New York. The TPD held her until ICE collected her and sent her to a facility several hours away for detention.

In response, our growing solidarity community banded together to support Dalila and her children. We organized a fundraising campaign to pay for her legal defense, while coordinating to meet her transportation needs and other necessities. After two months of detention, the federal government dropped her deportation case, undoubtedly thanks to the lawyer the community fundraised for. Today, Dalila is reunited with her family and has applied a green card and work permit. While those applications are pending, the community is supporting her financially.

Our work with Dalila popularized the Troy Sanctuary Campaign and built trust among undocumented community members, encouraging them to reach out and seek help. This, in turn, provided further opportunities for community members to provide solidarity and support, such as the Troy family seeking help with their rent. To Siobhan, the support network we are building provides a blueprint for popular resistance to current immigration policy: “I think that if we could scale that solidarity up we could really give ICE a run for the money. And it is our goal to abolish ICE. This is one big piece of how we could do that.”

Of course, solidarity comes in many forms, not just pooling money. Community members have stepped up in a variety of ways, from providing transportation to accompanying Dalila at a recent hearing on the Sanctuary City resolution. Sanctuary campaigner and DSA member David Banks is one of many who have participated. To David, “It’s just being someone with a car, really... it’s not hard.”

Building Community Power: Organizing for Sanctuary in Troy

In the first Troy city election after Trump took office, voters gave the Democrats control of our City Council, and added two progressive, non-machine Democrats to the council: David Bissember and Anasha Cummings. Troy DSA and ICE-Free Capital Region did not make electoral endorsements, though many members volunteered for their campaigns. While supporters did not make Sanctuary status a focus of the campaign, opponents did, distributing a fear-mongering mailer.

The mailer pitched Democratic candidates as the sanctuary slate and posed a scenario where local cops were powerless to stop an illegal immigrant drunk driver from mowing down the children of Troy. Voters overwhelmingly rejected this message. With this shift in power, the Troy Sanctuary campaign called on the new council members to move Sanctuary status forward. In November 2018, Council Member Bissember finally introduced the Troy Sanctuary City resolution, to the applause of sanctuary campaigns and the consternation of opponents. The debate mainly took place in two forums: Facebook, and in-person meetings. On Facebook, opponents, including the Troy Police Benevolent Association and its supporters, seemed to dominate the discourse, while at City Council meetings and public forums, supporters turned out in far greater numbers. The campaign turned out over a hundred community members to two separate Council meetings on the issue. Opponents appeared in smaller numbers.

However, just as the resolution seemed about to pass, two key Democrats announced that they would not support it: Council Member TJ Kennedy, whose vote was needed to pass it, and Mayor Patrick Madden, who would need to sign it. Both emphasized that they weren’t necessarily opposed to the measure, but lamented that the issue hadn’t been raised in the “right way.” They claimed it had “divided” the community, and further community outreach and dialogue was necessary. This began a pattern of community meetings and presentations where supporters repeatedly outnumbered opponents. Yet, neither official has changed their position. As of January 2019, it’s unclear what will happen next: whether a vote will be held, and whether it will pass.

Next Steps and Lessons Learned

Today, advocates are evaluating successes and determining their next steps. To Siobhan, the takeaway from two years of organizing around immigration issues in Troy is that “support for immigrants is even greater than we anticipated. We were concerned about turning people out for the public meetings, and then we were able to get more than 100 people out more than twice in one week.” Unfortunately, as she also notes, the lack of support from local elected Democrats demonstrates that “the treachery of liberals knows no bounds.”

To David, the next steps are clear: stake out our position and make the matter a litmus test for Democrats. As he concisely explains, “There are two positions: support or betrayal of our immigrant community. You have to pick one.” Though calling for a vote carries the risks of losing, “that at least frees us up to do something else.”

The next steps will provide a test of our organizing strength and clarify the allegiances of local elected Democratic officials. In the meantime, we are growing our community and finding new avenues to get the word out. While Troy neighborhood Facebook groups are frequently cesspools of reactionary and xenophobic commentary, David has embraced “normie shit” tactics by starting a rival community Facebook group for his neighborhood after being kicked out of the mainstream one.

For those interested in replicating this work, Siobhan offers the following advice: “Our group is completely volunteer-based and most of the people who have gotten involved didn’t have any special qualification. They’re not wealthier or less busy than the average American; most of us have jobs and/or kids, and we’ve still managed to scale up our ability to offer direct aid and have an impact on local politics. I would encourage everybody to do that and get involved and start figuring out what they can do in their community.”


To learn more about Troy DSA’s sanctuary and direct aid work, contact the chapter at: info@capitaldistrictdsa.org

Follow the Troy branch of Capital District DSA on…
Facebook:
Capital District DSA
Twitter:
@TroyDSA / @CapDistrictDSA
Instagram:
@TroyDSA
Website:
capitaldistrictdsa.org

Recipe: Spicy Praxis (Salsa)

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Communist Cookbook

Spicy Praxis Salsa

I was born in raised in the San Fernando Valley, a 260-square-mile suburb of Los Angeles home to over one million people. I love the Valley—an attitude most transplants to LA never express. I know it isn’t the sexiest part of the city, but it is home to some of my most treasured memories and favourite restaurants. My family has spent six generations here, and though we’ve lost some of our cultural traditions, like having quinceñaras, food remains important to us. Cooking was a big part of my childhood, from making misshapen tortillas to deep frying buñelos over the holidays with my Grandma.

My love of Mexican food means I eat at every burrito place, taco truck, and panadería I can find in LA. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with Nachos, a small family-owned restaurant in Granada Hills. Eating their food felt like eating my grandma’s meals—perfectly mashed frijoles and fluffy arroz rojo that filled the room with its aroma. If you’ve ever visited me in LA, you’ve eaten at Nachos. Whenever I returned from a trip out of town, it was the first place I would visit after landing at LAX. Nachos was where I ate with friends to process difficult experiences and celebrate achievements.

The adjacent businesses were never in direct competition with Nachos (you can’t eat tires!), so it served as the only spot to get a quick burrito in the area. Then two years ago, Chipotle moved in down the street. This was the first time in four decades on Balboa Blvd. and Devonshire Blvd. that you could get a burrito somewhere else. With its focal location at the center of Devonshire and Sepulveda, Chipotle immediately absorbed a lot of Nachos’ business. After forty years, Nachos closed in 2017. I waited in line for an hour to order my last dinner.

I was devastated.

For weeks leading up to their closing, I asked Rosa, their cashier/manager/greeter, for their salsa recipe because it was (and still is) the best I’ve ever had. I overheard other customers ask during their last weekend, too. We all knew we might not ever get to drown our burritos in their irresistibly delicious salsa again. Their Facebook page echoed these same sentiments—some people even asked for a full cookbook. Months later, the recipe was shared as a photo on Facebook, handwritten on two pieces of paper, much like my Grandma’s recipes.

I’ve perfected this recipe since joining DSA-LA. I’ve made it for larger multi-committee meetings, NOlympics coalition events, and last year’s Chapter Convention. I really enjoy making this for comrades; cooking is such a true labour of love and I am so honoured to be able to share this recipe with others, as it’s so special to me. I hope you enjoy this salsa as much as I do and spread #spicypraxis wherever you are.


Equipment

  • Blender (otherwise can use patience and a strong, concise dicing method)

  • Knife

  • Large pot

  • 2 large mixing bowls (only one if you’re halving the recipe)

  • Large spoon

  • Can opener

  • Garlic press

  • Lemon juicer (or your hand)

Ingredients

  • 6 Serrano peppers

  • 6 wax peppers

  • 2 large white onions

  • 1 bunch cilantro

  • 50-60 oz tomato sauce (this depends on how thin you like your salsa)

  • 1 garlic head

  • 1 large lemon

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Estimated Cost of Ingredients – $9.35

Serving Size: 1 Gallon


Directions

  1. Rinse and boil all peppers in a large pot for one to two hours. I find that the longer I leave them boiling the less spicy the salsa. I’m not sure if there’s any science to this, but it’s something I’ve observed.

  2. While the peppers boil, prepare everything else. Chop the onion up into tiny squares. The onion won’t be blended so ensure the pieces are small enough to eat. Set aside, with one chopped onion per mixing bowl.

  3. Rinse cilantro. Put into your blender of choice with about half a cup of water. Blend until it looks almost like green juice! You want it liquified. Evenly distribute between mixing bowls.

  4. Split garlic head in two, one half per bowl. Press the garlic cloves directly into the bowls. You can add more garlic if you wish, but I find one garlic head enough for a serving.

  5. Cut lemon in half. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into each bowl.

  6. Open cans of tomato sauce. I like to use one 29-oz can for each bowl (total of 58 oz of sauce). Dump into each bowl (slowly! This gets messy!). I like to use a bit of the pepper water to ensure I get each bit of sauce out of the cans and into the bowls.

  7. Take peppers off the heat and let them cool. Keep the water. The peppers should be tender enough that their stems come off easily. Once each stem is removed, place 3 of each pepper into blender with half a cup of water (it’s okay to use the pepper water here). Blend until liquified. Add to bowl. Each bowl should have 3 Serrano and 3 wax peppers total.

  8. Start mixing! You can add in more water if it feels too chunky.

  9. Add salt and pepper to taste!

  10. Pour salsa into whatever container you want. I use glass jars or some other kind of reusable container that fits in my fridge. You can serve the salsa hot or cold, but Nachos always refrigerated their salsa, so I like mine cold, too.

Reading Commentary — Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy of the U.S. Working Class by Mike Davis (1986)

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Reading Commentary

Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy of the U.S. Working Class by Mike Davis (1986)

In Prisoners of the American Dream, Mike Davis thoroughly details labor’s history and its sometimes fraught relationship with the U.S.’s working class, as well as economic growth in the 20th century through Reagan’s first presidential term.

Davis describes a movement that, even at its peak, had unique challenges compared to its European counterparts. Geographic spread made it difficult to organize where there were not strong socialist ties. Labor leaders were also generally more conservative, often icing out socialist organizers. This benefited those unionized while post-war prosperity rose, but backfired catastrophically later. Having focused on maintaining internal gains while atomizing and suburbanizing legislation and tax structures spread, unions were caught out in a downturned economy.

Naturally, Davis’s account frustrated me. While noting major wins like the Cost of Living Adjustment, he also describes a white male-dominated movement that redbaited, colluded with management, and hired staffers at the expense of training more shop floor organizers; a movement that neglected organizing newer sectors (like the mostly female clerical workers or predominantly black and brown agricultural workers in the South).

The most sobering aspect of Davis’s analysis comes early, and distinctly parallels today’s Left. He describes leadership’s neglect of Southern organizing and refusal to engage with (and sometimes outright hostility to) the Black liberation struggle – both key for a unified working class movement. The CIO’s failure to work alongside the Civil Rights Movement, for example, kneecapped the Democratic Party’s recomposition in the 40s. Davis writes:

“Only a massive unionization campaign closely coordinated with full support for Black civil rights could have conceivably generated the conditions for interracial unity and a popular overthrow of Bourbon power … The national CIO’s gradual backtracking on civil rights (a trend again intimately connected with the rise of anticommunism) left the Black movement even more vulnerable to the racist backlash which swept the country in the late 40s.”

But this is far from the only time white male workers failed to see the importance of a united working class. The New Deal explicitly excluded female and non-white-dominated sectors like service work and agriculture. By valuing certain laborers over others, the state deliberately advantaged white male workers at the expense of their female and non-white counterparts.

Post-New Deal, big unions focused on staffing and protecting gains for already-protected workers (e.g., tiered union memberships and wage structures) rather than organizing new sectors. In the Treaty of Detroit in the 50s, union leaders even agreed with management that profit was necessary!

This inward focus on defending gains made the civil rights movement bloodier than it would have been with a united solidarity movement with a long-term strategy. Additionally, siloing racial equality and labor rights into separate legislation institutionalized the bifurcation between attempts to address both. In short, the mistakes of the labor movement are still with us, and will take significant work to overcome.

Davis, writing in 1986, predicts the only way forward is a people of color-led mass leftist movement. He talks warmly of the hope the Rainbow Coalition stoked in much of the working class, and sharply criticizes the Democratic Party for forcing the RC out.

While there is more to say about Prisoners, the above challenges our movement today. Can organizers of color lead, or are they stymied by white organizers, intentionally or not? Do white organizers give our time to the projects of our black and brown comrades? Each chapter’s answer will be different, but I believe we need to ask ourselves these questions if Davis’s view of the future is the right one.

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

Silicon Valley DSA: Losing Our Voices, Finding Our Footing

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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.”

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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

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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

North Central West Virginia: Black and Pink Holiday Card Party

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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

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Richmond, VA: The People’s Survey

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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.

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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.

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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

Reading Commentary: Daughter of Earth (1929)

Daughter of Earth is the story of Marie Rogers, a young woman, thirty years old as she stands at the edge of a Danish sea and retells, in the manner of the great novelists of remembrance, her life. Unlike those men-writers of remembrance, though, nostalgia is absent. Or, nostalgia would be absurd, even grotesque, because what she remembers us into is a life of a proletarian woman in the Mid- and Southwest in the early 20th century.

From her vantage point at the edge of the Danish sea, Rogers reveals to us the expanse of a struggle that has outlived her and her author, Agnes Smedley. The struggle is towards socialism, certainly, as Rogers’ younger life of brutal poverty—her mother’s economic dependence on a husband whose heart and mind and body have been destroyed by bosses, by mining companies, by the vagaries of weather by which those without the means of suitable shelter are battered like shallow-rooted trees, like birds unable to migrate for want of cashflow—prime a young Rogers for a commitment to life on the left.

But more critically, Rogers’ struggle becomes of the left. As socialism offers her a language (which is power) through which to struggle against the structural oppressor of capital, she nevertheless encounters within that language an identical powerlessness to that perpetuated by capital: an ongoing silencing specific to women, to female bodies making the mighty attempt of struggling alongside male bodies. In socialism broadly, Rogers finds yet another language, becoming deeply invested in the Indian liberation movement, but here again she finds for all the rhetoric of liberation, the violence of silencing, violence perpetrated and perpetuated in its uniquely gendered, i.e. sexual, form.

Wikipedia calls this book an “autobiographical novel,” and certainly its author used her own life to shape the story. However I reject qualifiers of “novel”—such adjectives do the work of qualifying, diminishing, positioning. “Autobiographical novel” signals to the left that this is “safe” literature, i.e. that we read this and can use it as text because it really happened. The materialism is indeed historical. But literature must be read for precisely its unreality. The unreality of literature is praxis. It is the compiling of what-if?s, an enormous effort of imagination: asking, and answering, “What shall come to pass, if material conditions are thus? When what comes to pass does come, what will be the material effects on real people, or people who look and sound and suffer precisely as real people do?”

Daughter of Earth is inspiring and should be read for its glorious portrait of a woman committed to the liberation of all people everywhere, through her belief in socialism. But Daughter must also be read for its cautions. It reminds us, emotionally and intellectually in the way only great literature can, that the language of solidarity, powerful indeed as it is, is not a bulwark for violence that has always been and continues to be exercised against those who are not male, through gendered power, political power, social power. It is only by dismantling the violence inside our own struggle that we will achieve anything close to the vision of socialism we strive relentlessly towards.

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

Recipe: Bread

Bread

Bread is a staple food in much of the world that is essential to human activity. Its cultural significance is as wide as it is varied. Juvenal satirized the public as only caring about bread and circuses. The Bolsheviks promised peace, land and bread. “If the people have no bread, let them eat cake” has been attributed to various oblivious French princesses. “The worker must have bread,” Rose Schneiderman spoke, inspiring the poem, “but she must have roses, too.” “Bread” and “dough” both mean money in English slang.

The domestication and cultivation of grain is a human endeavor that directly connects our labor to the land. Bread is sustenance. It is nature transformed by human labor. Breadmaking is simple, and learning to do it well, to understand its science and art, can deeply reconnect us to nature.

Below is a recipe for a “rustic” sourdough boule.

Equipment

Kitchen scale

Nonreactive container, such as stainless-steel, glass or food-grade plastic

Large bowl

Stand-up mixer (optional)

Sharp knife

Starter

100 grams whole wheat flour per feeding

100 grams cool or lukewarm water per feeding

Day 1:

Combine the flour and water in a container large enough to hold the starter as it grows over the next few days. Loosely cover and store at room temperature, away from disruption.

Day 2:

To feed your starter, discard half by weight and combine another 100 grams of whole wheat flour and 100 grams of water.

Day 3:

Your starter should begin to bubble. Feed twice today by discarding half and adding 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water.

Day 4:

Your starter should be ready today or tomorrow. It will have a tangy aroma that is acidic and alcoholic but not overwhelming. If your starter has not approximately doubled since you started, or isn’t showing signs of bubbling, keep feeding as above, twice daily, until it does.

Day 5+:

You may keep the starter covered in the fridge. Feed it weekly, as above, or naturally as you bake bread once a week.

Recipe

400 grams all-purpose flour

60 grams whole wheat flour

30 grams rye flour

260 grams starter

292 grams water

13 grams salt

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

A few tablespoons oil, as necessary

1 egg white

  1. Combine ingredients in a standup mixer or by hand until thoroughly mixed into a sticky ball.

  2. Knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until a soft, stretchy dough ball is formed. Add water or flour in very small amounts as needed.

  3. Cover the bowl and set aside in a warm area to rise for 1 to 1.5 hours, until doubled in volume.

  4. Place the round on a greased baking sheet and cover for another 1 to 1.5 hours. Near the end of the rise, preheat oven to 425°F.

  5. Before baking, score the bread with a sharp knife, making a couple long slashes across the top of the loaf, forming a cross. Brush with egg white. Bake on a stone or baking sheet for 40 minutes to a bit less than an hour, depending, until it is golden brown on the outside.

  6. Remove and let rest, cooling on a rack.

The Prison Strike

When analyzing the law, there is a phrase that occasionally arises: “the exception that swallows the rule.” Essentially, it describes when an exception to a law becomes so large in practice or so morally egregious that it effectively nullifies the law.

If you open a typical history textbook to the section covering the Civil War and read the description of the Thirteenth Amendment, it will likely read something like, “The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery.” This is false. The Thirteenth Amendment does generally prohibit slavery, but it includes an important exception: “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” In a country that imprisons more people than any other and demands their uncompensated labor at the barrel of a gun, the Thirteenth Amendment is a law swallowed by the overwhelming blood and cruelty of its exception.

In response to this ongoing atrocity and the lives it has stolen, on August 21, 2018, incarcerated people at prisons in the United States initiated a nationwide strike. The participants, organizing with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, made ten demands:

  1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

  2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

  3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

  4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

  5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

  6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

  7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

  8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

  9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

  10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.

On August 20th, DSA announced its national endorsement of the strike, using social media and meetings to encourage members to take part in events in support of its organizers and participants. Methods of support for the strike included phone zaps to prisons, donations to a national strike fund, and writing letters of solidarity to prisoners who faced retaliation for their participation in the strike.

In addition to the national organization’s endorsement, individual chapters around the country also endorsed the strike and showed support through a variety of means. Chapters and working groups in at least 28 states endorsed the strike and released statements of solidarity, including: Alabama, California, Connecticut, DC, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. These statements, exemplified by those from the Birmingham, Quiet Corner (CT), Boise, New Orleans, and Portland, almost uniformly centered the strike participants and organizers as the focus of attention by including their stated demands and justifications.

Members from these chapters, as well as many others which did not officially endorse the strike, also showed solidarity by joining and coordinating events in support. Chapters in North Texas, Philadelphia, Broward County, and San Francisco participated in phone zaps to prisons to voice support for prisoners such as Heriberto Garcia, who held a hunger strike at New Folsom Prison in California. Members in Suffolk County similarly provided court support for organizer Stephen Figurasmith.

As members in Albuquerque, Middle Tennessee, and San Mateo County marched, chapters in Palm Beach County, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Milwaukee held letter writing events. In Des Moines, Central Iowa DSA presented the strike’s demands and demonstrated at the offices of Iowa Prison Industries, while Kansas City’s Prison Abolition Reading Group discussed the grand jury report on the inspection of Jackson County Detention Center. Connecting the struggles forcing the strike to the need for democratic representation, Central Arkansas DSA worked to help former prisoners restore their right to vote and created instructions on how they could do so on their own.

Sacramento DSA embodied DSA’s embrace of a diversity of organizing tactics. Although the chapter did not officially endorse the strike, it held an information session at a general membership meeting, in addition to publishing an article on its website in which a member detailed the reasons why socialists must support the action and how they could do so. Members also presented the strike’s demands to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, distributed demand flyers at a brake light clinic, organized a phone zap, and held a letter writing night. Finally, the chapter hosted a screening of 13th, a documentary on the prison-industrial complex directed by Ava DuVernay, as part of an education night on the prison-industrial complex.

Although the strike ended officially on September 9th, the conditions which inspired it persist, demanding continued organizing. In the words of incarcerated organizer Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “This movement needs not just public awareness but public support, not just allies, but comrades on the outside.”

All power to the people!

North Texas DSA: Why We Support the #PrisonStrike

“I appreciate you treating me like a human despite my incarceration. Yes, I’ve made some mistakes in my past, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily a bad person...it just means I’m human indeed!”

- Ezzial Williams, organizer currently incarcerated at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida

North Texas DSA’s Racial Justice Working Group proudly joined other chapters in supporting the nationwide prison strike that took place from August 21st to September 9th. Although the strike has ended, we continue to support the strike demands that call for swift improvements to the conditions of prisons; an immediate end to work without wages; a rescindment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Truth in Sentencing Act, and the Sentencing Reform Act; an end to the over-charging and over-sentencing of black and brown people and racist gang enhancement laws; prioritized state funding and access to rehabilitation programs for all; and voting rights for all confined citizens.

We endorsed the strike because our members are working toward a future of total prison abolition. This means the eradication of all forms of the carceral state, including policing, detention centers, and public and private prisons. As socialists, we recognize prison labor as slavery: as is explicitly allowed by the law under the 13th Amendment. Given that all slavery is categorically unacceptable, regardless of its nominally legal status, we call for an end to the largest detention center in the world. Although we recognize that the above demands of the strike could be viewed as reforms constituting a compromise of our support for total prison abolition, we instead argue that these changes are necessary for two primary reasons. First, the sheer scale of the physical and mental suffering currently inflicted on those incarcerated demands immediate alleviation. Second, these changes represent a necessary step toward positioning the strike’s organizers to move for the full abolition of the carceral state. We remain committed to working toward building alternatives to policing and mass incarceration that are rooted in a fair and equitable society, with the emphasis that liberation demands housing, health care, food, rehabilitation, mental health care, and the protection of our vulnerable communities. We acknowledge that we must collectively work toward a future of true liberation, where justice is restorative and not punitive, and where we unequivocally recognize the humanity of all.

One way we buttressed the work of organizers on the inside was writing letters to those being retaliated against for bravely engaging in coordination of prisoners to fight for their rights. Ezzial, the comrade mentioned above, is currently serving 18 months of close management for his efforts. In Florida, close management entails sitting for 23 hours every day in a 9x7 cell no bigger than the average parking space. And still, his letters radiate gratitude. He wrote that our letters “lifted his spirits to heights undreamt---a very welcome change from where they had been for so long.” Our hope is that we will be able to continue correspondence and supply organizers like Ezzial with both words of comfort and support, as well as literature to keep their spirit strong for the fight ahead. Many of the other letters we received contained zines and recollections of their struggles. This correspondence is useful in building an understanding that our mistakes do not automatically mean we forgo our humanity, and that our humanity is incomplete without liberation. We aim to ensure their voices ring out beyond the unforgiving cells that currently house them.

In addition to letter writing, another prison organizer in Louisiana contacted us to request that his words be made into flyers for distribution. Their continuing work with Decarcerate Louisiana strives to connect organizers both inside and outside the prison system in order to, collectively, work on undermining the prison industrial complex while also ensuring that incarcerated people gain and maintain some control of their lives. These flyers serve that same purpose: retaining and strengthening the bonds between prisoners and their communities.

Furthermore, these exchanges can assist in demystifying the very idea of prison itself. For most, their understanding of what it means to be incarcerated and navigating the system comes from television. It’s easy to reduce prisoners to racist tropes and inherently amoral individuals, rather than face the reality of the predatory and unforgiving nature of the prison industrial complex. As we engaged in this work, we have strengthened our political education on the issue by reading “Are Prisons Obsolete” by the great Angela Davis. Her words regarding the very nature of prisons and what they mean on a grander scale are particularly poignant in highlighting public’s eagerness to build and populate new prisons. She creates a resounding reason for the acceptance and normalization of a place which she deems the ultimate harbor of human division. Davis writes, “The prison therefore functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs-it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” As capitalism kills our creativity, and thus, our ability to imagine solutions for our community that don’t involve isolation or separation, society will continue to populate places like prisons with those who fall victim to systems that require constant feeding to survive.

In order to effectively push for a better world that heals rather than fosters and profits from division, it is vital that we paint a clearer picture of the complicity of this system. As an incarcerated comrade from Decarcerate Louisiana pointed out in one of his emails, “today, enslavers have multiplied to become a complex system of representatives, senators, mayors, governors, sheriffs, political action committees, the police, surveillance state, prosecutors, judges, wardens, and a billion dollar prison enterprise.” It is imperative that our work illustrates this system’s complexity and highlights pressure points where collective action can not only undermine, but obliterate, these positions of power.  This is how we will work together to end mass incarceration and create an alternative rooted in restoration and justice, not confinement, punishment, and the degradation of our very humanity.